Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An argument I wish people would stop using: Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

A meme has being going around the internet for a while now. It's usually something like atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color, off is a T.V. station, not collecting stamps is a hobby or other similar witticisms.

This is a response to theists suggesting that atheism is a religion. It's not a particularly convincing or useful in my opinion; for one thing I'm not a big fan of pretending an analogy is the same thing as an argument. Now, don't get me wrong I'm not going to argue that the atheism actually is a religion. What I will argue is that this is designed to be a sort of quick witty sound byte, with out any substance or meaning. It does not encourage any sort of discussion about the claim and will likely cause both of you to walk away from the interaction without learning anything about one another or yourself. Religion is a broad word with a lot of different meanings, so dismissing the statement without exploring what the theist means does no one any good.

Perhaps they think we are like a religion because we have meetings and social groups and some of us involve ourselves in activism. In this since I would be happy to admit atheists are like religious people, but only that we are all human and desire social interaction with others, and we also often wish to improve the world in which we live, and make it better for ourselves and our family. What's wrong with any of that? I didn't reject religion for anything here.

Or perhaps they think we are like religion because we are outspoken and possibly evangelistic about our beliefs. This one is only partially true. Of course some atheists, like myself, are quite outspoken, and I think there are good reasons for that, but I do think there is a significant difference between me and many religious evangelists. Most evangelism relies heavily on emotional arguments, not rational ones. In fact I was often told in my religious days to not rely on facts too much because the only thing that would ever convert people was "experiencing the risen Christ." The evidence isn't there so evangelists rely on personal testimonies and salesmanship so tricky an Amway representative would feel shame. Emotional manipulation is not a path to truth, people should be convinced of your claim because it is backed with good evidence.

Of course I often hear is that atheism is a religion because atheists have just as much faith that god does not exist as theists have that he does. On this point I obviously disagree completely. If they agree that faith is belief without evidence then it cannot possibly take faith to reject their claim and if they do not accept that definition then they still need to present evidence for their version of god. In other words this criticism is nothing but a smoke screen to attempt to move the burden of proof.

The point is, instead of using an argument that is completely dismissive, I would suggest asking the theist for clarification of this statement. How exactly is atheism like a religion? What specific thing do we do that they think is something only a religious group would do? Rather than shutting down the conversation this requires the theist to justify their position, and might just change their mind a bit about atheists.Comparing atheism to baldness or inactive televisions does none of this. It is the verbal equivalent of flipping off your opponent, it might make you feel better but it's not useful.


  1. The point is... Atheism is the absence or rejection of religion.

    There is no sane way to label the very lack or rejection of anything as a type of that thing. Never. Ever.

    The analogy between "not collecting stamp being a hobby" and "atheism being a religion" is tight and nearly perfect.

  2. My point was not to dispute whether or not it was an accurate analogy but whether it was a useful statement to make in a debate. If you aren't interested in changing anyone's mind then by all means use it.

  3. It seems useful as another arrow in the quiver.

    It can also be followed up with a little more explanation to drive the point home.

  4. I guess I just don't see it as useful myself. As I said the term "religion" is so vague I just find it more effective to put the onus back on the theist to defend the claim at the outset, a more Socratic method if you will.

    Ask questions and let the theist explain exactly what they mean. Otherwise we run the risk of arguing against a strawman.

    Again, I don't see anyone changing their minds because we use pithy catch phrases. It was originally said to be funny, but it is too over used at this point to be that anymore.

  5. I agree that we shouldn't just spout slogans - it can be both boring and unconvincing. However, I do feel that the analogy is a reasonable one, and can be used to illustrate what you mean if someone isn't understanding you.

    The thing to remember is that in a debate you need to be as clear as possible about what your position is. If this analogy helps with that, then use it - if it's getting in the way then don't.