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Subject: For atheists: connotations of the word "religion" when people would apply it to you rss

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Moshe Callen
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First, let me state the context of the question.

Several times here in RSP-land, I have seen atheists take offense atother posters description of atheism as religion. Now, I will grant that any number of forms of atheism exist so that if one applied the term one would have to refer to atheism as a class of religions rather than a single one (again just supposing for the moment the word "religion" does in fact apply at all)-- sort of like paganism could refer to any number of religions throughout history from antiquity to the present.

Now my understanding of religion is that it is principally defined as a set of beliefs about G-d, gods etc with whatever concomitant beliefs may or may not characterize the given religion. Now, to me therefore atheism would seem to be defined as the belief that G-d, gods, etc, simply do not exist. Therefore seemingly to me, atheism would fit at least as a class the definition of religion. Yet I have seen that atheists will often take offense at this description.

So, my question is for those atheists so offended what is the nature of the offense and/or connotation of the word religion to you?

NB: Please do not anyone try to make this a flame-war either against atheism or against religion.

edit: typos
 
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Some atheists might find it insulting that they're being compared to those who believe in, what they consider, fantasy involving an invisible friend with emotional problems.

I don't though.
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Dispaminite wrote:
Some atheists might find it insulting that they're being compared to those who believe in, what they consider, fantasy involving an invisible friend with emotional problems.

I don't though.

You make atheits sound like they're convinced they're "superior". I can't understand that as being an accurate description of them.
 
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whac3 wrote:
Dispaminite wrote:
Some atheists might find it insulting that they're being compared to those who believe in, what they consider, fantasy involving an invisible friend with emotional problems.

I don't though.

You make atheits sound like they're convinced they're "superior". I can't understand that as being an accurate description of them.


No more so that Theist are convinced that they're "superior".

Keep in mind, everyone is an atheist, it's just a matter of degrees. We just believe in one less god.
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Sven Hendrickx
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ok here we go again,

Let me introduce myself first, Hi I'm Sven and I am an a- 'imaginary pink elephantist', an a- 'theist' and an environmentalist. So I don't believe that imaginary pink elephants are real, that doesn't mean that therefore I believe that imaginary blue elephants are real. Also it doesn't imply that by definition I have a beef with the imaginary pink elephantist, or with any other kind of imaginary elephantists for that matter. It just means that I'm out of the whole imaginary elephant business.

So if imaginary pink elephantist label me in terms of some sort imaginary elephanthitis that doesn't offend me much. At most it annoys me somewhat that those self centred imaginary elephantist tend to view me (and everyone else) in terms of imaginary elephants. Just as I was slightly annoyed by the fact that during the introduction of the euro, most Americans labelled the currency euro-dollar because the only knew the concept dollar.

Something that does bother me is that some of the (self proclaimed) inner circle imaginary pink elephants tend to believe that that imaginary elephantism (and especially the pink variant) is the only source of concepts like moral, ethics or meaning. Therefore an a- imaginary elephantist has no real reason to get up in the morning. And if the get up (somewhere around noon one may assume) the have no reason what so-ever to not do the evil thing.

I for example get up in the morning to be a tiny gearwheel in the process to avoid a Malthusian scenario for this planet. Plenty of imaginary elephantist (of all colours) have the same goal or are at least sympathetic to the cause. The reason why they do so are not always clear to me. But hey, that ok for me, as long as they're willing to save the planet they're A grade material in my book.

As a final note I want to remark that real elephants unlike their imaginary counterparts are an endangered specie. So if this post has frustrated or enraged you, please do not take it out on the real elephants.
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Sven;

1. For the record, this was not intended as a troll.

2. You do make it sound as if you think all atheists are anti-religious bigots but I've known enough atheists in my lifetime to know this is not the case.
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I wouldn´t say that really people get offended by the label. It is the argumentative use of such label, and the fallacy lying behind it, which is perceived as dangerous - as it is systematically used to undermine and diminish atheism.
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whac3 wrote:
So, my question is for those atheists so offended what is the nature of the offense and/or connotation of the word religion to you?


I'm not offended by it any more than you are offended when someone uses the word "isotropic" to describe a universe that looks the same in all directions from only one specific reference frame. It's not "offensive" that a word with a perfectly good meaning was misused, it's just a mistake that it was. Often, I'll try to correct that mistake.

Quote:
Now my understanding of religion is that it is principally defined as a set of beliefs about G-d, gods etc with whatever concomitant beliefs may or may not characterize the given religion.


And here's the mistake. This is not really what religion is. Wikipedia actually says it pretty well.

"A religion is an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to a higher power or truth.[1] It may be expressed through prayer, ritual, meditation, music and art, among other things. It may focus on specific supernatural, metaphysical, and moral claims about reality (the cosmos and human nature) which may yield a set of religious laws, ethics, and a particular lifestyle. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and religious experience."

That is religion and atheism is not that.
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As an atheist (really a strong agnostic), I don't really care what anyone calls me.
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I think it's a question of history.

Most of the time a theist calls atheism "a religion" he or she doesn't simply mean "whatever you believe about God". It usually comes part and parcel with calling atheism "faith-based", an ideology, our worldview, etc.

It sounds like when you say, "Atheism is a religion" you mean "Non-belief or disbelief in G-d/gods is the set of beliefs about G-d/gods held by people who self-describe as atheists". I don't think anyone would object to that. It's just that you're in the distinct minority (in my experience, at least) in how you use the terms.
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I'm reminded of a friend of mine who was fond of reminding us that definitions are not true or false but rather common or uncommon, consistent or inconsistent, useful or not useful, etc.

If you and whac3 mean "religion" and "religious statement" nothing more than that it relates to one's beliefs about God, then cool. That, however, is not what most people (again, in my experience) mean when they say that atheism is a religion. It's those latter people I disagree with.
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Koldfoot wrote:
Atheism is a core belief.


I don't agree.

I think that atheism seems like a core belief to theists because theism is generally a core belief and atheism is seen as a counter-part to theism.

It's like in my Star Trek thought exercise. My belief that Star Trek is fiction isn't a core belief...and it wouldn't become a core belief even if most of the people around me thought that it was real and answered their most profound questions around that belief.

Quote:
Atheists will at some point in their lives need to ponder issues from a religious perspective


Only because you've categorized things like morality as "religious". We have to think about morality, sure...but the only reason I can see for categorizing my moral ponderings as religious is that a bunch of other people's moral ponderings are religious. I don't think that's a very useful way of categorizing it, just as I wouldn't think it was very useful to categorize them as Trekkish.
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Koldfoot wrote:
I did not mean that atheism is a core belief around which you structure your life. I meant "core belief" as a single belief around which there are other issues that need to be pondered once you have embraced that point of view. The nature and degree of those ancillary issues varies from person to person, just as they vary amongst religious people.

Yes. It was a poor choice of words.


I don't think it was a poor choice of words so much as that we disagree.

When one person believes in something, it can seem that any counterpart to it must be of a comparable nature. You believe in God and it's a core belief around which you ponder other issues. "God exists" is perhaps the single most important belief you have about the nature of the universe, morality, etc. For someone else, Karma might be the most important concept and they ponder morality in that framework.

"God doesn't exist" simply doesn't occupy that central a position in my worldview. I don't ponder morality around the non-existence of God, any more than I ponder it around the nonexistence of Karma or the fictionality of Star Trek.
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Marshall;

Thanks. I think now I understand and although it's not where I was coming from it makes sense.

edit:

Chad;

You're comments are useful too but they seem to confirm whatMarshall said. Let me repeat back my understanding to see if I have it correct.

Attempt to understand 1:
Relgion connotes in most people's minds (whether I accept Wikipedia's definition or not as accurate) beliefs about G-d, gods, etc. Usually, therefore the usage in terming atheism a religion is condescending as if to say, "Oh, REALLY, you do believ in G-d," [or gods ,etc] and so implicitly to belittle the idea of atheism and the genuineness of the non-belief.

Have I got it more or less correct?
 
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whac3 wrote:
Attempt to understand 1:
Relgion connotes in most people's minds (whether I accept Wikipedia's definition or not as accurate) beliefs about G-d, gods, etc. Usually, therefore the usage in terming atheism a religion is condescending as if to say, "Oh, REALLY, you do believ in G-d," [or gods ,etc] and so implicitly to belittle the idea of atheism and the genuineness of the non-belief.

Have I got it more or less correct?


No, not for me. While there are theists who do say, "Deep down you know God exists, you're just rejecting him," that's not what I take someone to mean when they say that atheism is a religion.

I think Marshall's point is simply that religion generally means more than "whatever one believes about God". But in any case, my point is that usually when theists say that atheism is a religion it is part of an attempt to describe atheism as something much more than, "I don't believe in God," e.g. an assertion that non-belief in God is "faith" or that atheism is the core of my belief system.
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whac3 wrote:
Now my understanding of religion is that it is principally defined as a set of beliefs about G-d, gods etc with whatever concomitant beliefs may or may not characterize the given religion. Now, to me therefore atheism would seem to be defined as the belief that G-d, gods, etc, simply do not exist. Therefore seemingly to me, atheism would fit at least as a class the definition of religion. Yet I have seen that atheists will often take offense at this description.


I think you're being too broad with your definition of religion here. Religion isn't a set of beliefs ABOUT God/gods/etc, but IN them. To broaden the term "religion" is to render it useless; by your definition, every human being that is, has been, and ever will be is "religious".

So, I don't think we're "offended" so much as attempting to correct the misuse of a term. But maybe that's just me.
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An analogy:

I might believe that Sacksono, the god of gaming, sneaks into my game boxes to scramble the bits. I might even call my believe a religion. You might reasonably believe that the problem is that I didn't bag my pieces. But if I told you that meant that you had a religion called asacksonoism, you might reasonably say that you have a perfectly good religion already, and that I can't define your religion by your lack of belief in mine.

To call atheism a religion suggests in my mind that it takes faith NOT to believe in gods, or a particular god. But to me it seems no more valid to call atheism a religion than it does to call asacksonoism a religion.

So I'd say that calling atheism a religion does not belittle the genuineness of one's non-belief, but rather it belittles the reasonableness of those non-beliefs. It doesn't take a religion not to believe in Sacksono, and it doesn't take a religion not to believe in any other given god.
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Koldfoot wrote:



As it pertains to this thread atheists are trying to split hairs. Once one rejects the notion of God or gods, one must still define for himself how to deal with issues that normally fall under the purview of religion. These issues matter to varying degrees to different atheists.

Some of those issues are: How did life begin? What is the nature of the universe? What is morality? Is marriage a construct of religion? How certain am I that there is no afterlife? Is obedience to laws a religious artifact? What is my duty to those around me? And on and on.



That's interesting, because having been brought up in a non-religious household in a pretty non-religious country, it would never have occurred to me to consider those questions as "normally falling under the purview of religion", apart from the one about an afterlife. "Normally" is a social construct. So I don't feel that I'm consider those questions specifically from an atheist viewpoint but more from a general rational and ethical one, though I acknowledge that if I believed in a God or Gods my answers might be different.
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To put it another way, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume that you (Moshe) don't believe in most gods. You don't believe in Poseidon, in Shiva, in any of the many other gods that other people might believe in. But would you want someone to label that lack of belief a religion? If not, than why would it become a religion when one more god is added to that list?
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dakarp wrote:
To put it another way, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume that you (Moshe) don't believe in most gods. You don't believe in Poseidon, in Shiva, in any of the many other gods that other people might believe in. But would you want someone to label that lack of belief a religion? If not, than why would it become a religion when one more god is added to that list?

You're right that I don't. I will confess that "religious" is not a word that means much to me. For example, Judaism is not fundamentally a religion, but our set of Laws and customs. Belief or non-belief makes no basic difference. Likewise, it says little or nothing about "afterlife"; as a rav of mine said, it about life not afterlife. Yet I am normally termed to be quite religious.
So basically, I'm trying to understand a term applied to me that doesn't quite seem to fit as well ast understand(respectfully) atheists' views-- which will of course vary widely.
 
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For me:

Atheism is just a single answer to a single question.

Religion, as I understand it, is not JUST an answer to one question or a set of beliefs, but a complex interaction of behaviors, social functions, and typically some beliefs.

If someone said they were a deist, but never prayed, congregated with fellow deists, and furthermore that belief did not inform any other beliefs the person held, then I would say that person is not religious.

Even if someone said they were a theist but behaved and thought exactly as the above deist, I would not consider that person religious.

In your case, Moshe, you do have some beliefs, although they are not central. However there is a behavioral element (laws and customs) and a social elements (OUR set of laws and customs). In that way, it is a religion.

Same with Buddhism, even the more austere Western Buddhism. They are also not concerned with belief but practice and community, therefore I consider it religion.

Best,
Kevin
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This is a shocking question.It is not an offense to say atheists are religious people. It is just wrong, and wikipedia or any other enciclopedia or dictionary should solve the matter.(no offense intended, really).

Atheism is a rational opinion, not a faith belief. An opinion based in facts, hypothesis, arguments an so on. This opinion can be defended or attacked, argumented and debated based in proofs and lack of proofs without the need to resort to personal "faith". It has nothing in common with religion.

You can not term atheism as religion just because atheists talk about religions when they analyze them.

It is a bit like sexism. Some people think that males should retain or regain some kind of social privileges over females (a form of sexism: male chauvinism) while other people thinks that females should gain some kind of social privileges over males, like affirmative action (a form of sexism: female chauvinism, well I don't know how do you term it in english, but nonetheless it is a discrimnation based in sex). Now, other persons think that gender should not be used to rate persons, that sex gender can not justify any form of privilege. I don't know what is the english term for this later opinion, but I am for sure that you could not call it "another kind of sexism" just because it deals with sex, gender and discriminations. No. It is the negation of sexism, it is not another form of sexism.
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whac3 wrote:
So basically, I'm trying to understand a term applied to me that doesn't quite seem to fit as well ast understand(respectfully) atheists' views-- which will of course vary widely.


A childhood friend of mine went from a very non-religious life to a highly conservative/orthodox Jewish life. Over the decade or so of transformation other childhood friends who have always held a pretty atheistic perspective and I'd watch on as the'd argue with our friend who was becoming more and more religious.

What remains confounding to one of my atheistic friends is that when you plumb the depths of belief of our jewish friend, he doesn't have a very "spiritual" perspective on why he's being observant. This doesn't compute for my other friend and he gets more and more exasperated as they'd have their conversations.

Anyway, all of that is really just to lead up to observant behavior. On a practical level, being "religious" is spending time being observant with your belief system. The more observant, the more time and energy you spend focusing on the belief system, then the more religious you are.

At least one atheistic perspective (which I heard over and over again) would simply be, "why are you wasting all of this time on this stuff? Come on, lets go do something fun!"
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I can state with certainty that when my dad uses the phrase "the religion of atheism", he is doing so in order to try to put theism and atheism on exactly equal footing, in terms of how valid they are. He will claim that you can't prove a negative, and that therefore atheism itself requires faith, and that therefore theism and atheism are both precisely equally justifiable and defensible beliefs.

I can say with much less certainty that I think he also uses the phrase because he knows how much it irritates me.

When I hear the phrase "the atheist religion" or some variation thereof, I do feel personally attacked. It feels as if the speaker is being condescending and patronizing; the implication is that I think I don't believe in God for one set of reasons, but in reality the speaker is able to see that I actually don't believe in God for another reason entirely (an act of irrational faith). With one phrase, the speaker dismisses as trivial every reason and every argument that the atheist believes; his non-belief in the existence of God is reduced to merely one of many possible equally valid beliefs about God, each one requiring an equal leap of faith. That's pretty galling to someone who firmly believes that his non-belief in God is, in fact, the result of seeing the world as it really is, and not indulging in a comforting fantasy.
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andrewgr wrote:
When I hear the phrase "the atheist religion" or some variation thereof, I do feel personally attacked. It feels as if the speaker is being condescending and patronizing; the implication is that I think I don't believe in God for one set of reasons, but in reality the speaker is able to see that I actually don't believe in God for another reason entirely (an act of irrational faith). With one phrase, the speaker dismisses as trivial every reason and every argument that the atheist believes; his non-belief in the existence of God is reduced to merely one of many possible equally valid beliefs about God, each one requiring an equal leap of faith. That's pretty galling to someone who firmly believes that his non-belief in God is, in fact, the result of seeing the world as it really is, and not indulging in a comforting fantasy.


Classifying atheism as a religion implies that atheism is not a disbelief in the existence of god(s), but a replacement for theistic religion. It's like someone saying, "You call my beliefs irrational, well, you do the exact same things I do, except you place disbelief at the center and have different rituals."

I'm not offended by it, just a bewildered because, as Iñaki pointed out above, it seems like a trip to the dictionary clearly separates the two.
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