Saturday, April 6, 2013

Atheists Have One Thing in Common

Trey Smith

I have read several articles over the past few weeks that talk about the new atheism or rational atheism as led by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins (among others). Some writers have applauded these folks and some have criticized them. But most of these writers have treated these modern versions of atheism almost like a religion. I have a bone to pick with that assessment.

There is only one thing that atheists have in common: A lack of belief or disbelief in a god or gods. That's it. If that is all one needs to view something as religious, then all people who don't believe in the tooth fairy, that the world is or that global warming is real belong to specific religions that deal specifically with those singular issues!

Atheists come in all shapes and sizes. While any two atheists might agree there is no evidence for a god or gods, these two people might not agree on anything else! One might be a flaming left wing radical and the other might be an old time conservative. They might not agree on gay marriage or defense spending. One might be a racist, while the other is not. These two might not even agree on the arguments concerning why there isn't a god or gods.

Consequently, because of the diversity of opinions and perspectives among atheists, there can be no dogma or orthodoxy. There are no shared creeds or rituals. There is nothing that binds atheists together as a homogenous group. The ONLY thing atheists share in common is not having a god or gods as their starting point for understanding and living in the world.

If atheism is tantamount to a religion, then so too is aclausism (all the people in the world who don't believe that Santa Claus is real)!


  1. Is Buddhism not a religion because they lack a God?

  2. "There is only one thing that atheists have in common: A lack of belief or disbelief in a god or gods."

    Actually, that's not true, because you are leaving out the most essential difference. What distinguishes an Atheist from a New Atheist (also referred to as a militant atheist) is that a New atheist doesn't simply disbelieve in god, they are actively hostile toward it and intolerant of all religious thinking. You could even say that they are proselytizing against religion. The view of New Atheism is that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises."

    Your comparison to the belief in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus is absurd, because whoever believe's in those things is not on a crusade to convert as many people as possible to their beliefs. While the New Atheists are. Just like the religious missionaries, but instead of trying to convert people to religion they're trying to convert people away from religion. And in the process of doing so they are often just as intolerant and hateful of that which they disagree with as the most radical religious fundamentalist.

    1. In other words, atheists don't believe in god, the supernatural, or religious thinking, but aren't trying to convert anyone to their beliefs; whereas the New Atheists rather than simply disbelieving in god, the supernatural, and religous thinking seek nothing less than to abolish all religious thinking on earth.

      Also, when you hear of New Atheism being tantamount to a religion, it is usual in reference to its similitaries to fundamentalism, rather than religion per se.

  3. I'd say that Buddhism in its original form was not a religion - it was a philosophy asking people to question everything - in this way the new atheists could also be a Buddhist with no contradiction. Sam Harris is a keen meditator and I believe uses a Buddhist method.

    Buddhism that has mixed with other cultures has become religion-like. When people worship Buddha this is not true Buddhism but is still atheistic.

    When a Christian invades a land of non-Christians, be they Buddhist for example, the invaders would label Buddhism as a religion and not as a philosophy or way of life. That's just unfortunate ignorance.

  4. I recognize the freedom for all to do as they please and also the folly of demanding that people just change overnight - yet - I fully recognize the arguments of the atheists and I am an atheist, anti theist and the kind of person who picks people up on their beliefs at any opportunity.

    1) people generally support the religion they are born into - The religion is not chosen for its values but accepted like eye-colour.

    2) many religions give justification to abuses.

    3) one must first have good judgement before they follow a religious doctrine - one must know that if the book says someone did one act that this is good and to be followed and that another act is bad and should be taken to be obscure metaphor.

    4) as scientific progress provides us more answers, religious people are forced to deny reality more, and hold on to old ideas, or recognize how even more of their book than before has now become metaphor and not fact.

    5) the idea that goodness can not come from science but only religion is an argument that has never been developed beyond even essay level without falling apart.

    Recently an Indonesian of Chinese decent who I work with asked me if I had celebrated Easter - he expected, due to my English decent, that I'd be impressed over his devout Christianity. He had converted as a teen, went to church, regular meetings and spoke with a high reverence for his actions. In a few sentences I had him questioning himself. Was it strong belief that he had then or just that he had not been exposed to an educated person who celebrated the mystery and the joys of questioning and learning. In a few YouTube links or science books I'm sure he'd drop this ancient gobbledygook.


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