What is Atheism?

If you are reading this far you probably already have an idea of what atheism is, or at least what it means to you. If that is not the case, perhaps you are looking for such. In either case this post is what atheism means to me. I’m going to reference a couple of other blog posts for reference because it is not easy to describe how I think others get it wrong without showing how they did that. In doing this it is my hope that more people come to understand the definition of atheism in the way that I do. So what is it that inspired this post you might ask. A post at ‘The Friendly Atheist‘ regarding comments by PZ Meyers (famous for stealing a cracker LOL).

Lets start with Merriam-Webster

archaic : ungodlinesswickedness
a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
   b : the doctrine that there is no deity

The word doctrine can be a bit confusing, so lets see how Merriam-Webster defines it:

archaic : teachinginstruction
2 a : something that is taught
   b : a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief : dogma
   c : a principle of law established through past decisions
   d : a statement of fundamental government policy especially in international relations
   e : a military principle or set of strategies
I put the important parts in bold italics. One conclusion that we can draw from these definitions is that there is no requirement for clubs, memberships, organizations, rules, rites, rituals etc. In fact we can quickly look up religion to see how they compare:
1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year ofreligion>
  b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatura
    (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
And we find that in fact clubs, memberships, organizations, rules, rites, rituals etc. ARE required for religion. Now we can clearly conclude that by definition atheism is not a religion, it does not require the rigor that religion does. In fact it requires only one thing: a lack of belief in gods/deities etc. I’ll add ghosts, supernatural beings, and other such things as are attributed supernatural qualities.
Now that we have that out of the way, you might be wondering what it is that atheists do? If they don’t gather or go to a church what can they be doing. The truth of it is that they are doing all the same things that anyone who is not a stamp collector might be doing. Not as a group, but as individuals. You may well think that this is odd but in reference, we don’t often worry about what people who don’t believe in santa claus are doing with their time, do we? Likewise we don’t wonder how to find and join the congregation for people that don’t like blue cars nor the club for people that don’t believe in the tooth fairy.
It should seem clear enough now that atheists have nothing in common with one another except for the lack of belief in gods/deities. That’s it. They don’t all like one another or feel it necessary to use secret handshakes. In fact they don’t even recognize one another on the street. There is no way to spot an atheist walking down your block. They are just like you or me or anyone you know… except that they don’t believe in gods. They probably also don’t believe in santa claus or the tooth fairy, but that is not guaranteed. There are some atheists who start clubs, meetup groups, and social communities because they like those things and like to do them in religion free atmospheres. Though there are such groups they do not speak for all atheists. They don’t even speak for large numbers of atheists. In fact you may find it hard to find an atheist that will say they speak for other atheists.
PZ’s comment was simple enough.
But freethinkers ought not to be shackled by rote and rites. And they especially should not be led by “chaplains” or whatever the hell they’re going to call them. No gods, no masters, no dogma, and no goddamned priests…not even atheist priests.
I think what he is saying here is that church is for religion. Atheists don’t need religion or church and pretending to be a church replacement is nothing more than a hindrance to really being an atheist.
That said, lets look at what Hemant said in reply:

Except no one is demanding that all Humanists participate (or give a mandatory tithe). It’s just nice to have the option to participate in a like-minded community and I know a lot of atheists would be glad to join such a group if one formed in their area.

No matter what it may resemble, though, it’s not “religion.” (Even if a random headline writer calls it a “Church for the Churchless.”)

If Greg and company happen to take some pointers from churches along the way, so be it. There’s a reason those damned things are so successful. Except we can do it without the lies and guilt. We can keep the good stuff, keep it secular, and do it better. Don’t want to join in on the secular “meditation” because it’s too touchy-feely for you? No problem.

It’s just one way to do things. And it’s clearly working.

It sounds like PZ is complaining just for the sake of being a contrarian. He’s not going to stand in the way, but since it’s not his thing, he can’t let it go without trashing it along the way. It’s unnecessary.

Oh no. It sounds like Hemant is speaking for other atheists. That is just bad form for a start. He’s judging in a negative light, and that is more bad form. Yes, of course I’m doing the very same thing here to make an example. Hemant wants you to believe this group is not a religion, it just looks like one. PZ calls bullshit on the whole affair. Hemant seems to have hurt feelings over the exchange. awwww
For my part, I was an atheist long before I ever heard of ‘the four horsemen of atheism’ or Hemant or any group for atheists. I pretty much thought it was a private thing and people just kept it to themselves. The rhetoric after 9/11 made me rethink this and I discovered lots of atheists in the world even as they were discovering each other. Like PZ I don’t want a church replacement, I just want more honesty in government, society, and culture. The kind of honesty that starts with admitting there is absolutely no reason to believe in the existence of gods/deities. I don’t need a support group. I need honest government and society. They don’t come from psuedo-religious non-organizations. Every time that some half baked organization tries to tell you what atheists are and why good atheists are like them, there is only one thing you can be sure of: they don’t know what they are talking about.
You can become a trusted confidant of mine if you earn it. Disbelief in gods/deities doesn’t give you any advantage, nor should it. If your lack of belief relies on a support group, you’re not an atheist, you simply want to be one. Giving up your faith and seeking a church group without gods is just a form of methadone. You cannot be an atheist until you decide firmly that you do not believe no matter what anyone else has to say on the matter. If you still have to have a church fix, you’re doing it wrong. That is what PZ was saying and he is right.
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    • John Morales
    • October 18th, 2011

    Nice post.

  1. plr hello,
    just came across you on yahoo. Excellent article, I was just thinking around some thing comparable. May well start writing a blog myself! Thanks plr articles

    • Randall
    • October 19th, 2011

    Just for the record, PZ didn’t steal the cracker. It was given to him and he desecrated it.

    • Yes, I know the story, but I wanted a short ‘sound bite’ rather than full explanation for PZ. You’ll find that I rather much agree with him on most things. Not all, but most things.

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