What saying “Atheism is a Religion” is really about

I get pretty riled up every time someone says to me “atheism is just another form of religion.”

It is such a common statement that you can find dozens of pages arguing both for and against the claim.  I, of course, think the statement is ridiculous but the thing is, the argument isn’t important.  It simply obscures the real question – which is the evidence for why I believe what I believe.

What bothers me is not the question of whether or not atheism is a religion. I am bothered by the intent behind the statement.

Nobody ever says “Christianity is just another form of Islam” or “Paganism is just another form of Hinduism.”  The concept is exclusively reserved for atheists.  Specifically, atheists who have made the decision to come out of the closet.

The phrase is used as an insult and only an insult. Nobody says it to enter into a logical debate. They view it as a slam dunk comment – a statement that has no counter. I’ve always seen it used as the final point. The final nail in the coffin of atheism. It is meant to tell atheists that they can’t effectively argue their point of view as counter to any particular religion because they are “just another religion.”

We all know that most atheists are at least indifferent and at most hostile towards organized religion.  By telling an atheist that what they believe is a religion, they are essentially telling an atheist they are what they despise.  How can anyone say such a thing without recognizing the highly personal nature of the statement?

A fair response would be that many prominent atheists call religion a “crock,” a “sham,” a “fantasy” and so on and these phrases are, in fact, pretty offensive to someone who believes their religion is correct. They feel insulted, why shouldn’t they be able to insult right back?

If they were just using it as an insult, I wouldn’t react so negatively.  Thing is, it is more than just a term meant to demean an opposing point of view.  It is a statement meant to start an argument with poorly constructed reasoning.

To what end? When a theist says it, they are just trying to score points. They are trying to “prove” that an atheistic view of the world is identical to a theists view of the world and if they actually succeed, what have they proven? That their interpretation of reality is just as valid as ours? Or just as ridiculous?

When an agnostic says it, they are trying to differentiate themselves from everyone else. “Both these sides are so sure,” they say, “and I’m better than both of them because I’m not sure!”

Then they group the atheists and theists together under the easy umbrella of “religion” as a way to tell atheists they are, to the agnostic, just as crazy as the theists.

Well hell, then just say that! Why do you feel the need to use the term “religion,” which you know is insulting to an atheist, to make your point? Why not just say “you are so certain there is no god. In fact, you seem just as certain as most theists who believe there is one. They haven’t proven their point but I don’t think you have either. Don’t you see the problem?”

I don’t but that statement would start a good dialogue.

There is no such thing as a good dialogue with a theist who makes the statement because the moment they say it, they are trapped in their own circular reasoning. If atheism is a belief system that is based on the unprovable, then any other belief grouped with “religion” can be reasonably assumed to be the same. Thus, the only thing any theist accomplishes by calling atheism “another religion” is advancing the agnostic point of view.

It isn’t a logical argument about what I believe, it is a logical argument about how to categorize what I believe.

What I (and all atheists) should say is “fine, categorize me how you like because all you are doing is avoiding the real argument. Now let’s be respectful and look at the evidence we both think we have.”

Reading “proofs” for why atheism is just another religion (like the one linked to above) makes me angry because they are so full of logical fallacies that I want to scream.

But that is the goal. The goal is to make me angry. The goal is to score a cheap “point” by saying “you can’t disagree with what I’m saying because you are just like me. I believe in Jesus and you believe in Charles Darwin. Nyahh!”

I could be a smart ass and say “well at least Darwin wrote his own fucking book” but then I’m being as much of a jerk as someone who says “atheism is just another religion.”

The phrase is used to dismiss my point of view entirely. You don’t have to argue with me about what I believe and what you believe.

But if you dismiss my point of view with a flip phrase that can’t even be backed up by a good argument, you have ensured I no longer have any respect for what you have to say because it will be clear to me you have given what you believe no more thought than what I believe.

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About Petsnakereggie

Geek, movie buff, dad, musician, comedian, atheist, liberal and writer. I also really like Taco flavored Doritos.

4 responses to “What saying “Atheism is a Religion” is really about”

  1. Albatross says :

    I interpret the phrase “Atheism is just another religion” as having an invisible “Oh, you’re not so special…” tacked on the front of it. And that in turn is a projection of the threat theists feel from atheists.

    In other words, theists assume atheists believe that atheists are better than theists, and that atheism is better than religion. So by saying “You’re nobody special, atheism is just another religion” they are trying to knock atheists down a peg to their own level.

    Because if atheism is the equivalent of theism, then any differences amount to simple matters of taste, rather than an inherent superiority. Atheism versus theism becomes trivia on par with preferring the awesome flavor of Cool Ranch Doritos versus that disgusting concoction called Taco Flavored Doritos.

    The reason theists may believe that atheists consider themselves superior to theists might be due to the number of times atheists say “atheism is superior to theism” either explicitly, or through statements dismissive of theism. Adding to theistic insecurity is likely the growing cognitive dissonance between observable reality and theistic dogma – whether it’s the Earth actually orbiting the sun, or the widespread use of contraception by Catholic women, dogmatic faith and observance is challenged by pragmatic necessity and real-world experience. And every time a child dies because of medical neglect justified by religious dogma the theist’s position becomes less and less secure.

    Theists feel threatened, and atheists represent everything they fear. To theists, atheists appear to be smug, arrogant, and dismissive of theists. So of course they want to knock atheists down to their level by saying “You’re just like me, blindly following a religion you don’t fully understand.”

    They’re sadly mistaken: they don’t understand the burden of proof, or scientific method, and they have the cause-and-effect relationship between morality and religion reversed (religion doesn’t guide morality, morality guides religion – ask the slaves). But their anxiety is understandable and their reaction to it predictable. The real question is, if they are sincere in their faith, why should atheism threaten it?

    When someone says “Atheism is just another religion” they are displaying their insecurity, projecting their perceived inferiority, and revealing the shallowness of their understandings of both atheism and their own faith. One response might be “It sounds like you feel pretty threatened by atheism.”

  2. Dean says :

    I just find it interesting that everything here could just as well support the opposite argument.

    • Petsnakereggie says :

      I just find it interesting that you neither define what the “opposite” argument is or explain why you feel this post supports that argument.

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