Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Atheism a Religion?

If I will get 1 Peso every time I see this claim, I'm already a millionaire :P. Anyways...

According to some Christians (and some atheists?), "Atheism is a religion of the unbelievers." Let’s see if this is right.

They accused atheism of having a set of belief that’s why atheism is a religion. Well… that’s not new.

The Encyclopedia of Religion defines religion this way:
In summary, it may be said that almost every known culture involves the religious in the above sense of a depth dimension in cultural experiences at all levels — a push, whether ill-defined or conscious, toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behaviors are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience — varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture.

Daniel Dennett defines religions as social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought. That includes Buddhism and Jainism since both religions still believe in the existence of “devas” and demi-gods. The English word religion clearly derives from the Latin word religio, as do its cognates in other European languages, but the derivation of the Latin noun is uncertain. It is most commonly linked to one of two Latin verbs, religare (to bind or fasten) or relegere (to collect again, to go over again [as in reading]).

Friedrich Schleiermacher defined religion as “feeling of absolute dependence” absolute as contrasted to other, relative feelings of dependence.

Lindbeck defines religion as, "a kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought… it is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.”
Therefore, in reading these following definitions, we can say that atheism is not a religion since it’s not about anything that is “ultimate” regarding ultimate concerns on someone’s life. The rule is quite simple; atheism is about not believing in a supernatural being which people call a god or gods.

William Alston suggested that the presence of an unspecified number of any of the following characteristics would make a set of cultural practices a religion:
(1) Belief in supernatural beings (gods).
(2) A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
(3) Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
(4) A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods.
(5) Characteristically religious feelings.
(6) Prayer and other forms of communication with gods.
(7) A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. .
(8) A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view.
(9) A social group bound together by the above.
(Alston 1967, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 7. New York, 1967. pp. 141–142)

Now that we have some proper definition of what religion is, we can now try to determine if Christians (and some atheists) are right in declaring atheism as a religion.

Atheists do not believe in supernatural beings called “gods”and they do not consider any object as “sacred". The term sacred in this paragraph means, “something declared or believed to be holy; devoted to a deity or some religious ceremony or use”.

They do not have any religious rituals. There are no consensuses in atheism regarding any moral code (some atheists believe in an objective morality while others believe in relative morality.) They do not have any religious feelings and they never do any prayers.

Atheism a worldview?
According to Christian apologist Razi Zacharias, atheism is a worldview (See: Can Man Live Without God p. 17). But what is a worldview anyway? Personally speaking, I think a worldview is how you see the world. It is the concoction of a person’s philosophy, ideas, ideology, knowledge, understanding and conviction in describing the universe. Others think that it’s how a person perceives reality. Whatever way a person describes it, generally speaking a worldview is how a person interprets his universe.
Sigmund Freud defines it as, “ ... an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place.”

James W. Sire, defines world view as
... a set of presuppositions ... which we hold ... about the makeup of our world.

So to put it together, a worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influences a person perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing. Simple isn’t it?
Worldview includes the following:
• epistemology: beliefs about the nature and sources of knowledge;
• metaphysics: beliefs about the ultimate nature of Reality;
• cosmology: beliefs about the origins and nature of the universe, life, and especially Man;
• teleology: beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the universe, its inanimate elements, and its inhabitants;
• theology: beliefs about the existence and nature of God;
• anthropology: beliefs about the nature and purpose of Man in general and, oneself in particular;
• axiology: beliefs about the nature of value, what is good and bad, what is right and wrong.
(From Hunter Mead's Types and Problems of Philosophy)

We have already had an idea on what a worldview is; now we’re going to see if atheism fits the bill.

According to Christian philosopher Ronald Nash, a worldview consists of five major topics: God, reality, knowledge, morality and humankind. Now does atheist entail any belief about epistemology, ethics or humankind? No, it doesn’t. The problem lies when a god-believer thinks that any worldview that has atheism in it is an "atheistic world view". When a believer thinks a certain philosophy or rationalization exclude his god he automatically place the whole thing in a can and place a large label outside it which spells “ATHEISM”. That’s because most religious believers erred in believing that worldview and doctrine are synonymous, and they really consider atheism as Satan’s doctrine. A good example of this is the Theory of Evolution. Most believers consider evolution is atheistic because it is deemed to be a materialist’s version of how life was created without God (which is unfortunately incorrect since evolution is about the development of life, not the creation of life). Yet there are some believers who are quite comfortable with evolution (mostly the Roman Catholics).

Now let us elaborate the issues.  On the issue of ethics - atheism does not logically necessitate any theory of ethics. In that department, any atheist can believe any theory of ethics, he sure thinks is correct. As they always say, an atheist can even develop his personal moral code. He can be a nihilist, a relativist and objectivist or a mixture of all of those “ism” in the dictionary for all he cares, as long as such theory doesn’t conform to any theological interpretation. Also, atheists vary in the belief of morality. Some non-believers like Sam Harris and Paul Kurtz believe in absolute morals while there are atheists out there that believe in relative morality.

It is also the same with the sense of meaning (teleology). I personally believe that an individual creates his own meaning in life. That is my own belief…but it doesn’t reflect my atheism. Not every atheist that I know agrees to that, and they even say that my outlook in life is more of a Satanist than an atheist. For some, the meaning of life depends on how society perceives it, yet we are atheists.

Another good example is philosophy. Majority of Filipino atheists are Marxist. They are also into dialectic materialism.  But there are also atheists who are into Utilitarianism. We also have existentialists  atheists and into Wittgenstein’s “Ordinary Language Philosophy”. Shucks! I have even meet a non-believer who is totally into some kind of irrational version of rationalism. Speaking of metaphysics, atheists also seem to be diverse in this concern. There are materialist atheists, a spiritual atheist, an ethical atheist, a rationalist atheist, and an objectivist atheist and so on. There are even some who declared themselves as Christian atheists! (Hmmmm…sounds like an oxy-moron? Whatever…)

Personally, I am a little Hegelian when it comes to the Theory of Knowledge. But atheism has nothing to do with my epistemology. I just like how Hegel dismantles Kant’s “ding-an-sich”. When it comes to the philosophical explanation of morality, I believe it came from reasons just like Immanuel Kant.

In the issue of truth, some atheists are defending the correspondence theory of truth while others are still into John Dewey’s pragmatism. Hmmmm are there agnostic atheists?

In the concept of cosmology…wow! Here a lot of atheists seem to ride on different boats! A majority believes in a scientific explanation or should I say a more natural explanation of origins. Yet you will be surprised that there are non-believers who believe in Zacharias Sitchin’s “12 planets”. You know the theory that says we were created by intelligent alien life forms from Planet Nebiru! Oh yeah! There are also those who believe that the universe is just a part of other universes – or should I say, multiverse.

And who says all atheists are the same in matters of theology? We say that Buddhists are atheist in some sense just because they don’t believe in an anthropomorphic, personal god. But how about when it comes to other god-concepts? Some Filipino atheists declare themselves as pantheist or deists. Some even say they are atheists because they don’t believe in the Bible. Speaking of god and religion, atheists also differ on the issue of religion and science vs. religion. To some atheists, we must destroy religion, yet there are atheists who are passive in the subject. Some atheists believe religion and science must not mix together yet other believes in NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magistrate).

Now how can I picture this? I can exemplify worldview and atheism to a fruit salad. Let say a banana is a part, an ingredient of a delicious fruit salad, yet a banana is not a fruit salad. That’s the same with atheism. Atheism is about not believing in a god or gods,  right? It may be an influence to some of the subjects that complete a worldview,  but that doesn’t make a whole worldview. It may be a part of an explanation of why an atheist is an objectivist, a rationalist or a relativist. But that doesn’t make atheism a complete justification why he considers that the world operates that way. A worldview must contain the whole element to make it coherent and livable.

According to Christians, atheism has different doctrines regarding the origin of the thought that there is no God. Therefore, it is considered as a religion. Perhaps they think that the word “doctrine” is synonymous with being religious. Maybe it is best that we first define the meaning of the word “doctrine”.

Simply put it, a doctrine is a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school. Most dictionaries record two related senses of the term doctrine: according to the first, it is the affirmation of a truth; according to the second, it is a teaching. As the statement of a truth, doctrine has a philosophical cast; as a teaching, it suggests something more practical.

As a statement of truth, philosophical discourse reveals more variation: according to the context, “the doctrine of the equality of man” may be taken either as a precise axiom belonging to a political theory, or as a practical maxim designed to guide political action.

Base in the definition, a doctrine does not automatically connote on being “religious”.  For example, Marxism or we can call it the doctrine of Marxism is not religious. Religious doctrines  tend to be characterized by their practical intent rather than philosophical discourses.

Christianity uses the terms doctrine and dogma to designate the teachings through which salvation is offered to all those who hear and respond. In case you don’t know, dogmas are truth revealed by God (directly and formally), which is presented by the church for belief, as revealed by God, either through a solemn decision of the extraordinary Magisterium (Pope or council) or through the ordinary and general Magisterium of the Church (episcopacy). It must be accepted through faith.

Christian doctrines for example, teach proper action for a believer to enter heaven (salvation). OK, here are some examples of Christian doctrines: The person of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, sin and grace and the concept of Redemption.

So now, you know the difference between doctrine and religious doctrine.

Atheist arguments are not doctrines. Atheists use arguments in expressing their case against theism. Those are not “doctrines”.  Arguments are sequences  of statements such that some of them (the premises) purport to give reason to accept another of them, the conclusion. These may be a certain fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true. It is also defined as a course of reasoning aimed at demonstrating a truth or falsehood.

Hope I made it clear for everyone.


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