03 October, 2010

If they walk like a duck, and quack like a duck....

What constitutes a 'religion'?


RELIGION: (Noun)


1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.


2. a specific, fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects


3. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience


The above definitions, taken from Dictionary.com, focus attention on the essence of what constitutes this universal human phenomena called 'religion'. One might think that the pantheon of religions would contain a relatively static number of belief systems, but as was recently demonstrated in Britain with the acceptance of Druidism, 'new' religions are continuously added to the list. In other parts of the world, partisans promoting cannabis, 'the Force' (a la “Star Wars) and Elvis have tried to claim membership among the faiths recognized by various governments as legitimate religions.


Yet there is one group that seems to meet the above definition yet bristles at the idea that they constitute a religion: atheists.


Perhaps it is because atheists see themselves as opposing those who profess to be religious. They root their faith, not in the nether world of supernatural beings, but instead choose to put their trust in science to explain creation. To them, the label of 'religion' implies acceptance of superstition in lieu of cold, hard scientific facts. Yet looking at their belief system objectively, atheism does indeed seem to appear to fulfill the definition of a religion.


Atheists hold to a set of beliefs concerning the 'cause, nature, and purpose of the universe'. The cause being the 'Big Bang', its nature being explainable by the application of the scientific method and the universe exists without any ultimate purpose – as much an answer based upon their initial assertion of the denial of a supernatural realm as traditional creedal communities have answered this initial question in the affirmative. One need only peruse the comment threads that follow any 'religious' article on the Internet to confirm that atheists strongly and devotedly promote their conviction that God (or 'Sky-Faerie') does not exist. Their devotion to their cause matches the passion and resolve of any committed partisan of religion. In a strange manner, the very fact that so many atheists regularly troll the religion sections of newspapers and websites is evidence that, (perhaps unconsciously) they think of themselves as a religion. Were this not the case, would they not be spending their time involved in conversations on websites dedicated to science rather than religious sites?


Despite claims to the contrary, atheism's devotees act in a religious manner in promoting their creed. “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck....” Atheists should accept the fact that they are an ascendant religion in the 21st century. They might have more success in their attempts to proselytize if they admit that, as a religion, they offer an answer to the eternal questions of life.

5 comments:

  1. No, Tim. You're engaging in binary thinking, here, and that is leading you into a common error -- that there are only two ways of looking at a thing, and both involve something you call "belief."

    Atheists have NO BELIEF. It is not that they believe there are no gods; it is that they do not believe there are any gods. Can you not tell the difference?

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  2. Sorry Lady Janus. I truthfully do not see the difference. To my way of thinking, it is an 'A=B/B=A' type of argument.

    One the one hand:
    'they believe that there are no Gods'
    On the other hand
    'they do not believe that there are any Gods'

    How are they different?

    Thanks.

    Your binary bud,
    Fr. Tim

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  3. The difference is in the focus of the thought, and when you are dealing with theism and atheism, the focus is belief, not existence.

    A theist believes in god(s).
    An atheist does not believe in god(s).
    An antitheist believes there are no gods.

    It's not atheists who oppose religion in others -- that belongs to the antitheists. And if you look at the roots of the different words, you will note that "anti" means "against," but "a" means simply, "without."

    How can one without religion have a religion?

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Lady Janus: Thank you. In response may I note that I had not considered that there was a differentiation between atheists and anti-theists. I assumed that they represent differences in degree than in species or kind.

    May I ask you: Can being without religion BE a religion? I think that is the question at hand.

    What a subject possesses is a belief. One group believes that there is a God(s)/supernatural force. Another group holds to a different belief that such a being/force does not or could not exist.

    I appreciate that atheists do not completely encompass the fullness of the definition of a religion. But at the same time, I hold that they do meet the minimum standard.

    Did you have a chance to see the article in the Ottawa Citizen? Although our arguments are only tangentially related, I take as a measure of validation that there are others in the culture who are thinking along the same lines.

    Fr. Tim

    P.S. The arrival of autumn has continued the wave of deaths in our parish. It's interesting how it is that we are truly part of the cycles of life that waxes and wanes around us. Blessedly, these deaths have all been of individuals who have quietly died in their very old age. The celebrations of their funerals carried for all a sense of joy and appreciation for the gifts the deceased had been for them for so many years. It's affirming and humbling to share in these events in so many people's lives.

    To be a priest is truly a 'blessed' vocation.

    Fr. Tim

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