Reason Rally in Washington This Weekend — Is Atheism a Religion?

Some real atheist heavy-hitters...

It’s a growing debate.  Naturally, any good atheist will tell you the answer in a split-second with no hesitation.  Atheism is anything but a religion.  And yet, many pundits are claiming that the practice of atheism has become a religion in and of itself.  Now, with a huge rally planned for atheists to flock to in Washington, D.C. this weekend, Common Sense Conspiracy analyzes the evidence.

Atheism is defined as not believing in any gods of any sort.  It is a “belief” or “non-belief” that is growing across the United States.  The Reason Rally scheduled for this weekend in our nation’s capital spotlights some of the authorities on the subject, with keynote speakers and representatives from the American Atheists, a society dedicated to atheism.  President of American Atheists David Silverman says that the purpose of the rally is to let everyone know that atheists are here, and they want equality.

Our friend Richard Dawkins, who we recently published a great article explaining why he most certainly did not accept the existence of a higher power in an interview, is the main attraction.  The rally is being advertised as the biggest gathering of atheists ever, with over 30,000 expected to attend, although bad weather predictions may reduce the number significantly.  Don’t worry…Christians are well aware of the event.  The Westboro Baptist Church, famous for being the wackos of Christianity, have registered for a piece of the land pie to protest the event.  Apparently there were no dead soldiers’ funerals to picket this weekend.

At the root of the debate on whether atheism has morphed into a makeshift religion itself finds the definition of religion at its heart.  Now the definition of religion is as wide as the Grand Canyon, but some have tried to narrow it down to a few categories.  Some of those that wish to insinuate that atheism has become a religion point to Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion as the litmus test.  This has apparently been accepted by scholars and anthropologists as a good gauge of religion in general.  We will look at each of these seven characteristics attached to religion and debate the idea that atheism fits this test.

1.  Narrative — This refers to the idea that every religion has stories and teachings associated with it.  Obviously, for Christians, it is the Bible.  Those that wish to insinuate that atheism is a religion point to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as the “bible” for atheists.  Darwin’s theories do provide an explanation for life as we know it without the necessity of a god or other deity.  However, Darwin’s musings hardly have any day-to-day value for an atheist as far as behavior and outlook on life in general.  We think that this is probably not one of the categories that the Christians will win when going after atheism.

2.  Experiential — This term refers to the idea that someone in the suspected religion had an experience.  In Christianity, an example of this would be when Jesus Christ’s disciples touched his resurrected body.  Some proponents claim that Darwin himself had religious experiences because he observed evolution in play.  Of course, this seems a little like a reach because every one of us would have had the same experience.  Hardly something to sit down and write a “bible” about.

3.  Social — This refers to a hierarchy in place for a religion.  We can’t find any reason to think this applies to atheism.

4.  Doctrinal — This is the concept of philosophies that arise from a religion.  Outside of just not believing in a god in particular, the atheists have nothing to offer here.

5.  Ethical — This is one of the categories where things get a little shady.  After all, your average street atheist still adheres to the usual moral code that most religions do.  Is this because of their “religion” or because of a desire to fit in?  Or could it be that human beings just have a certain set of instinctual ideas that govern our general view of what is right and wrong?  Coin flip.

6.  Ritual — This is normally the area where atheists can shine the most.  They don’t have churches, they don’t participate in rituals.  And yet, events like the Reason Rally challenge this.  Why is there such a need in this day and

It's a great day to be an atheist, huh?

age for atheists to get in touch with other atheists?  Do you need some back-up for your non-beliefs?  Why do you want to know that there are others out there that feel the same way you do?  Or is this just a natural byproduct of the human condition.  Once again, coin flip.

7.  Material — This refers to creations of a physical nature that arise from a theology.  Once again, atheists don’t seem to fit in this category.  We have yet to see the Roman Atheist Cathedral.

So, regardless of what you believe, religion’s own guiding posts for what is a “religion” seem to exonerate atheism for now.  However, it does seem that more and more people are gravitating toward this, and a congregation of sorts seems to be forming.  Your views?
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