Atheists are NOT just another religion

One thing that pisses me off in political threads (ranted about at length here) is the idea that the two sides of the political debate are automatically equivalent to each other, just opposite. But in that context, at least the two groups in question are both basically the same kinds of groups defined in the same way. But there’s another, even STUPIDER, arena in which people on the SDMB and in real life keep trying to set up false equivalences, which is in the question of religious people vs. atheists/agnostics, or more commonly, fundies vs. “extreme atheists”, whatever the heck that means.

I’ve seen a remarkable number of rants against “evangelical” atheists, and seemingly-fair comments like “oh, well, there are extremist assholes on both sides”, which basically attempt to claim that there’s a fundie atheist movement that is just as nasty and dogmatic and politically-hellbent as the fundie Christian movement, just a bit smaller because there are fewer of them in general. The implication is that pretty much every sin committed by Christians, or atheists, must be balanced out by a sin on the other side, because, oh, you know, we must be even-handed in our view of all issues and conflicts.

And silly as this idea is in the political arena, it’s VASTLY sillier in this one.
Let’s consider, for a moment, a devout (American) Christian:
-Every Sunday he goes to church
-He has an active community (his church) of people around him who are also Christians and who he interacts with specifically because of, and in the context of, their Christianity
-He has a prewritten book of morals and guidance that instruct him on how to live, which he may believe to be inerrant
-He has specific authority figures who he trust and reveres who help him interpret this book, and who provide guidance for him at difficult times in his life
-All the major rituals of his life (weddings, funerals, baptisms) come with church rituals and observances
-He is likely part of a national or international organization with its own stated political beliefs and aims
-He very seriously believes one or more things about the universe that are not taught in schools, and are either not addressed by modern science, or (in some cases) appear to be in conflict with modern science
-He may perceive himself as being part of the Bedrock of American Culture, dating back to the founding fathers, and counting almost all Real Americans as part of his group.
-All of the above is very, very important to him - perhaps the single most central element of his existence.
NONE of these things are true about your average atheist or agnostic. Being an atheist or agnostic is HUGELY different than being a devout Christian. And not just in the sense that being a devout Muslim or Hindu or Pagan is different than being a devout Christian. It’s just a totally different kind of statement about someone.
If atheists and agnostics made up the same portion of the US that Christians do now, would there be atheist or agnostic equivalents of:
-“In God We Trust” and “One Nation, Under God”?
-The Christian Broadcasting Network and Pat Robertson
-Jehovah’s Witnesses and other missionaries?
-The Christian home schooling movement?
-The anti-gay-marriage movement?
and so on and so forth?

Now, I want to make a very important point here, which is that all of these differences I’m trying to point out do not make Christans WORSE than atheists. In fact, there are plenty of contexts in which all of the above things I was listing are strengths. A cohesive community of people with a strong moral code can be (and has been, and is, and will be again) a fantastic thing doing incredibly good things for America and for humanity. When disasters strike, the faithful can go to their churches and have a pre-built organization already dedicated to charity around which to build their relief efforts; there is no atheist or agnostic equivalent (not that atheists or agnostics can’t give to charity, of course). Having faith and moral guides can help people grow up to be ethical and decent human beings, and in fact many enormous strides in the progress of American morality (for instance, abolitionism) have been driven by Christians motivated by their faith. But my point here is that they are NOT JUST TWO SIDES OF THE COIN.

To sum up: atheists/agnostics are NOT just like Christians, only different. Any abuse by Christians is NOT automatically going to be equivalent to an abuse by atheists/agnostics. They do NOT just believe different things, but in precisely the same way. And whoever these rumored extremist atheists are, and whatever they believe, they are NOT particularly similar to extremist Christians. (For instance, they may be far more likely to be condescending assholes, but are certainly far less likely to want to legally restrict what consenting adults can do in the bedroom.)
End of rant.

A cite that people have said otherwise would help.

Usually the discussion centers around the idea that SOME atheists are militant evangelicals and just like those they despise so much. I think you may be missing the qualifiers; but even if not, linking to a few posts where people say what you’re claiming they are may make your point more convincingly.

Thank you for saying this. I get accused of using atheism as another religion and it just makes my jaw drop.
Having said all that, I wonder if it would be possible to create an organization that would take the place of a church for atheists. More of a support-network.


You may remember them from an NPR short. It’s usually thought of as “that well-meaning group with the very silly name.”

I’ve thought of this, too. But I came to the conclusion it wouldn’t work. Mainly, I believe, because there would be nothing to re-affirm. It’s the belief in the supernatural the binds religions together. Without this need to support each other in this you’re-right-to-believe-in-magic concept, Atheist’s meetings might as we card games.

Actually, if you define a religion as “a set of beliefs about God, based on an unproveable assertion”, atheism is just another religion.

And the fact that atheists don’t generally practice their “religion” in ways equivalent to believers is not particularly relevant.

The most memorable instance of this kind of thing seems to come in response to some atheist claiming that “religion has killed more people than any one else” or something similar, when talking about the Crusades or suicide bombings or whatnot. To which the counter-example of the mass murders under Stalin and Mao is usually supplied. The argument “well, that doesn’t count because atheism isn’t a religion” strikes me as dishonest, an attempt to rule out a counter-argument by definition.

A movement is either discredited by its most extreme members, or it is not. If you argue that Christianity is discredited by clinic bombers, then atheism is discredited by Pol Pot. Or both philosophies should be judged on their own merits.


(Bolding mine)

That is a very narrow definition that I wouldn’t use in this case.

The point is that Atheism is not a “movement”. Any political leader who kills has their own unique (usually) reason and is not acting on behalf of a set of beliefs about a supernatural being that are long held and approved by society at large.

There certainly are, though you might not see it as such coming from the atheist side.

Movement to get God out of in God we trust, and One Nation under God
Most broadcasting I would say is not Christain, when Pat Robinson is on, change the channel, you will find most likely a few hundred shows to watch which are ‘Godless’.
Recurtment, well the public schools are much better at recruting Athiests then the Johova’s Witnesses are in recruting Christians.
There currently is no reason for a atheistic home schooling movement since public schools don’t teach about God.
Are you saying that there is no pro gay marriage movement, that’s how the thing started in the first place.

And if you define ‘atheism’ as “a set of beliefs about God, based on an unproveable assertion” then all Christians are atheists.

In other words, I don’t think that’s a very good definition of a religion, IMO. Religions have certain characteristics which separate them from mere beliefs. Religions, especially monotheistic ones like Christianity, are organised, structured, and hierarchical. Atheism has none of those. I don’t think you could really call atheism a religion without robbing both words of their meaning.

Is it relevant that we don’t practise anything remotely connected to any deity?

Where did you get this strawman? No one has ever said that those don’t count. What has been said is that killing in the name of Hitler or Pol Pot was not because of atheism, but because of a ruthless yet charismatic dictator. A dictator who essentially said “Don’t put your blind faith in God, put your blind faith in me.” A cult of personality. In short, a religion.

Uh. No it isn’t. Atheists don’t have beliefs about god. They lack beliefs about god. There’s a difference.

Thanks, I’m a member. I guess I was thinking of something a bit more local, something I could get more involved with. I’d happily coach an Atheist Kid’s softball team or something although with my skills I’d be more appropriate as a waterboy.

Maybe it’s like Hombre says, it would be more like a card game.



Again, you are trying to exclude the problem by definition.

Not to mention that Stalin was acting, at least in part, on a set of beliefs about a supernatural being, had long held those beliefs, and Soviet society at least officially approved of those beliefs. Same for Lenin, Pol Pot, and Mao.

But, again, you are essentially looking for reasons to say “that doesn’t count” for atheism. “Belief in God” = theism; “disbelief in God” = atheism. That’s what the words mean. I don’t see a relevent reason why everyone in the first class can be discredited by the actions of their extreme members, while those in the second, can’t.

Unless you are in that class and say “I don’t agree with the actions of my extremists”, which is perfectly honorable.

For either side.


Huh? Schools don’t “recurt” atheists, they provide mandatory education to students of all belief systems. What a stupid thing to say.

Not quite. The crusades, suicide bombinbs, abortion clinic bombings et al…, usually specifically refer to doing god’s work. I never notived any of the dictators above refering to doing the work of ~god while committing their crimes. For them to have done so would have been nonsensical anyway. They never killed in the name of atheism, but in the name of power.

Well, the dogmatic, “fundamentalist” atheists mentioned in the OP make a positive assertion about God - that He doesn’t exist.

Of course, it is quite common for them to back off from the assertion when asked for proof of it, and change the subject to get theists to prove that God does exist, but that is rather similar to creationists wanting always to try to disprove evolution rather than offer evidence in favor of creationism. It’s more a rhetorical device than a coherent position.


Well, yeah. Look at archive footage of 1930s Germany, where crowds are shouting “Seig Hiel”, and tell me that’s not religious fervor.

But how many shows are actively ‘Godless’ in the same way that Robertson’s shows are ruthlessly proselytising?

Um, is this snark or an attempted statement of fact? If the former, I would contend the existence of religious studies classes, as well as the ever expanding encroachment of religion into science classes make this unlikely. If the latter, cite please?

I’m not American so I can’t say for sure, but I’m really having a hard time believing this. How can American public schools teach renaissance art, philosophy, or classical music without mentioning God? Come to think of it, if they don’t mention God, what reason do they give for arrival of the Pilgrims in America? They just fancied a change of scene? :slight_smile:

But a pro gay marriage movement can only be considered the atheistic equivalent to the anti gay marriage movement if the pro gay marriage movement was deliberately antagonistic towards Christianity in the same way the fundamentalist anti gay marriage movement is antagonistic towards the gay community. As I understand it, the gay marriage movement is all about getting equal rights. Pissing off the fundies is just a fringe benefit :slight_smile:

I think to believe is the wrong verb to use when talking about atheists. Our verb is to think. We don’t think there is a god. We have considered it and then dismissed the whole thing as illogical.

The American Ethical Union, a Federation of Ethical Societies in the United States