Atheism is a religion!By Eric Seymour
"Atheism is a religion." Now, there's a statement that isn't likely to fall upon many ears without provoking some sort of response. It might confuse some, or anger others, but I bet most people would just think that statement is ignorant or otherwise invalid. But I hope you will continue to read this column, and by the end you'll see why atheism is a religion.
First of all, we need to define the terms in this discussion. On far too many issues, the real substance of the subject is lost in the words we use. (Such is the case with evolution, but that's a topic for a column some other time.) In this case, the definitions of faith, religion and atheism would be most instructive to begin the discussion. According to Webster's:
By the above definitions, I would obviously acknowledge that everything from Christianity to Buddhism to Wiccanism both requires faith and is a religion. I also concede (though some might disagree) that there is no direct material evidence for the existence of God. Therefore, there can be no scientific "proof" for our faith in the same way that the laws of gravity or electromagnetic force can be proven. To those of us who believe, the proof is on a different level, because it addresses nonphysical aspects of our lives.
But by the same definitions, atheism falls into the category of both faith and religion. First of all, just as there is no material evidence for the existence of God, there is none against it, either. The fact that we can describe our world in scientific laws has nothing to do with the actual origin of it, just as understanding the structure of a house surely does not mean that there was no architect who designed it. As the cartoon below states, it is logically impossible to prove a negative. Therefore, a person cannot know there is no God; this belief requires faith.
Furthermore, atheism is a religion by the above definition. More often than not, atheists hold to their belief not as they do the theory of gravity or some such fact, but with a fervor rivaling that of any other proselytizing religion. Atheistic scientists and professors have been known to openly mock those believing in a God.
Finally, just as a code of conduct follows most organized religions, atheists also follow a code of behavior. If there is no God, then the greatest virtue, really, would be a sort of selfishness, a la Ayn Rand. It can be summed up in the statement, "Do what you will, as long as it does no harm." Interestingly, this is the actual first rule of Satanism.
What is left, then? Is every person on earth actually following some sort of religion? Perhaps. But the most important part of this discussion is where it touches public policy. Can our government actually take on a secular disposition, avoiding all religion? Is it possible to teach science without teaching a religion along with it. Consider the definition of agnostic:
This idea, that the existence or nonexistence of God cannot be proven, is ultimately the only truly "secular" position for government to take. Whether it is actually possible for a person to hold to such an ambiguous belief is another matter. Next issue, I will examine the ramifications of this conclusion on government policy, especially in light of the oft-repeated doctrine of "separation of church and state."
"Dilbert" Copyright 1997 United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
(2) For brevity, only those definitions relevant to the discussion have been cited.