Dismantling The Obscene – Part 3
This is part 3 of a blog post about 15 Questions Atheists Are Sick Of Answering
8) Isn’t atheism a religion too?
There are hundreds of sound bites on this one. That would be a blog post all by itself. There is something deeply unnerving about this question. It makes me think that the questioner is actually of the opinion that we must have a religion whether it is theirs or some other version, they have been indoctrinated so deeply that they cannot understand not having a religious affiliation. The simple fact is that no, it is not a religion.
I really like Merriam-Webster so lets see what they have to say:
1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>
b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural
(2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
You can see where someone might get a loose understanding that any set of beliefs is a religion. This is simply not so. I know chefs that have an ardent set of beliefs about their kitchens but we do not call this a religion. We might joke that he is religious about his kitchen, but we do not call his kitchen beliefs a religion. Clearly we’re going to need a bit of guidance on this one. I can think of no better place than the body in the USA which has a duty to consider what is a religion and what is not: The Supreme Court Of The United States. Here is what is said about SCOTUS decisions. Emphasis is mine.
To determine whether an action of the federal or state government infringes upon a person’s right to freedom of religion, the court must decide what qualifies as religion or religious activities for purposes of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has interpreted religion to mean a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to the place held by God in the lives of other persons. The religion or religious concept need not include belief in the existence of God or a supreme being to be within the scope of the First Amendment.
As the case of United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 64 S. Ct. 882, 88 L. Ed. 1148 (1944), demonstrates, the Supreme Court must look to the sincerity of a person’s beliefs to help decide if those beliefs constitute a religion that deserves constitutional protection. The Ballard case involved the conviction of organizers of the I Am movement on grounds that they defrauded people by falsely representing that their members had supernatural powers to heal people with incurable illnesses. The Supreme Court held that the jury, in determining the line between the free exercise of religion and the punishable offense of obtaining property under False Pretenses, should not decide whether the claims of the I Am members were actually true, only whether the members honestly believed them to be true, thus qualifying the group as a religion under the Supreme Court’s broad definition.
In addition, a belief does not need to be stated in traditional terms to fall within First Amendment protection. For example, Scientology—a system of beliefs that a human being is essentially a free and immortal spirit who merely inhabits a body—does not propound the existence of a supreme being, but it qualifies as a religion under the broad definition propounded by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has deliberately avoided establishing an exact or a narrow definition of religion because freedom of religion is a dynamic guarantee that was written in a manner to ensure flexibility and responsiveness to the passage of time and the development of the United States. Thus, religion is not limited to traditional denominations.
The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion has deeply rooted historical significance. Many of the colonists who founded the United States came to this continent to escape religious persecution and government oppression.
This country’s founders advocated religious freedom and sought to prevent any one religion or group of religious organizations from dominating the government or imposing its will or beliefs on society as a whole. The revolutionary philosophy encompassed the principle that the interests of society are best served if individuals are free to form their own opinions and beliefs.
When the colonies and states were first established, however, most declared a particular religion to be the religion of that region. But, by the end of the American Revolution, most state-supported churches had been disestablished, with the exceptions of the state churches of Connecticut and Massachusetts, which were disestablished in 1818 and 1833, respectively. Still, religion was undoubtedly an important element in the lives of the American colonists, and U.S. culture remains greatly influenced by religion.
That gives us a pretty effing good definition to work with. It allows for the FSM and Jedi as well as traditional religions. What it does not do is indicate that a lack of belief in gods is a religion. Atheism is nothing more than a lack of beliefs in gods (and like myself, some will add ‘the supernatural’). This one point is not a system of beliefs nor does it occupy the place in one’s life that is occupied by traditional religions for adherents of the traditional religions. Atheism does not pass the test for qualification as a religion according to those who are charged with making such decisions. You don’t have to trust me, trust the SCOTUS, it’s their job.
We can carry on and talk about why atheism and Christianity or any other religion are not alike. We could spend all night doing so. It’s pointless, so let’s examine possible motives for asking the question in the first place:
- Atheists show that religions are not all that great – atheism is a religion too so as to negate the negative value placed against religions
- Atheists show that theism brings no real value to life – again, if atheism is a religion it allows the theist to feel equal
- Atheists show they seek truth and not bronze age wisdom – if atheism is a religion then science is no more effective or useful than other religions
Essentially, the claim that atheism is a religion is an attempt to put the theists beliefs on the same table as fact, truth, science, and everything else that can’t be argued with. For the theist to admit that atheism and theism are different means that there is no compatibility and that their religion is at odds with science. This is something that they don’t want to happen because most theists actually believe what science tells them. It is, after all, the best method yet found to know things about the world around us. This dissonance means that they must begin working to reconcile emotional beliefs with science that tells them differently and they are not prepared nor equipped for this task. We can call this question a ‘rope-a-dope’ technique. With that reference in mind when you are asked this question it is time to start punching your opponent in the face, fast and furiously. See my other posts for pointers on how to land the blows.
9) Why can’t atheists let people believe what they want to believe?
Here we see the persecution complex in full swing. The person that asks this question is feeling persecuted, cornered, and boxed in with no plausible way out. Perhaps that is a bit dramatic but I’ll own it. The person who asks this question is unaware of the damage done by religions, the oppression they force on the world and cannot seem to see religion as a bad thing. Lets restate that: the person that asks this question is naive and seeks either to remain isolated from the discussion or seeks to stop people asking them to validate their beliefs. Every billboard and discussion and Youtube video is a challenge to their bubble. Anything which is in opposition to their beliefs is seen as a challenge to their beliefs. It does not matter that there is no atheist movement or agenda or conspiracy. If they see billboards and 1st amendment challenges it is seen as an attack on their position and beliefs. Atheists are not pushing for them to change their views, at least not this atheist/anti-theist. I _AM_ pushing for them to stop pushing their beliefs on the rest of us through school curriculum changes, law changes, public displays etc. What atheists are asking for is conformance to the law, not for theists to stop believing as they want. What the theist does in their head or home is their problem. Atheist don’t want to be involved until and unless the theists are breaking the law and trying to force their beliefs on others. The theist, by twisting the plot this way, gets to act like they are doing nothing wrong. They ask this question to prevent having to defend wanting to (or actually) break the law to push their beliefs on others. Monotheism demands that they proselytize to others so the think anytime they are not permitted to do so freely it is an infringement on their beliefs.
Please note that this question is a non-compatiblist position: atheism and theism are not compatible to such a person as asks this. This is another problem altogether. Such persons as think the two are not compatible will often enough think that their faith is not compatible with science… and down the toilet we go.
10) One Nation under god, right?
Wow. It’s hard to believe that this one still gets used. It has been refuted time and again. There are a couple of very active historical revisionist Christian apologists that I blame for this. No matter how many times the evidence is shown and the argument put to rest, these assholes revive it by pitching crowds into a frenzy with semi-accurate accounts and lies about the founding fathers. The short answer is – wrong!
The facts in brief: (see this for more)
- In god we trust was added to paper currency progressively added to paper money over a period from 1957 to 1966
- In god we trust was added to coinage : The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908. Since 1938, all US coins have borne the motto.
- The official motto: The law was signed by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, and the motto was progressively added to paper money over a period from 1957 to 1966. (Public Law 84-851) The United States Code at 36 U.S.C. § 302, now states: “‘In God we trust’ is the national motto.”
This argument is not a single sound bite kind of thing. Many facts have to be strewn together to understand. Unlike the evidence for Jesus, there is actual historical documents which are verifiable to show what is true here. There are hundreds of pages on the Internet which explain all the issues. I don’t want to repeat them here, rather I want to say that you should know and remember the facts rather than the sound bites. So go and read a bit: here and here and here and here and here and here and here
Please recite facts when discussing this question and don’t rely on sound bites. It forces the questioner to actually come up with more than sound bites themselves… and they can’t. It’s an easy win.
This is getting a bit too long for reading in one sitting, so I’ll stop here and continue in another post. I would like to say that I hope these posts serve as a call to recite facts and discuss facts, not just the sound bites. These questions and ideas are very important and deserve the time and effort it takes for us to discuss the facts, not just quick sound bites. Truth requires effort in most cases. It is often enough not readily apparent or intuitive. This is why we have great thinkers like Einstein et al who push our species forward through much hard effort to work out the details. Try to give their effort the credit it deserves by talking facts rather than sound bites.