Friday, February 10, 2017

Atheism as Religion

I think that most people would consider Atheism to be outside of the bounds of religion.

After all, it is the opposite of Theism: the belief in God.  And if belief in a god, gods, or some kind of supernatural is within the realm of faith and religion, then it follows that the worldview of Atheism, materialism, naturalism, and the epistemology of reason alone comprises the very opposite of religion.

I'm also friends with many principled Atheists - people who simply do not believe in a supernatural or metaphysical realm, or at least reject belief in the God articulated by the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (or the Deity confessed by those who may reject the Bible but believe in a "watchmaker god" who created the universe and set the laws of physics in motion).

But even their Atheism is grounded in faith: faith that what they perceive in their senses and the conclusions that they draw from reason are real; that they are not "brains in vats" nor are they deceived by sensory or neural malfunction.  And the consequences of the worldview of materialistic Atheism include various outlooks and philosophies on what it means to be human, the purpose of life, and the big questions about the teleology of the universe - even as Theism likewise leads to such questions and systematic conclusions about existence.

My good Atheist friends and I have mutual respect for our differences in belief as well as for our common humanity and shared interests.  They respect my confession of a Deity, are not threatened by it, do not feel the need to convert me to their way of thinking, nor see a reason to take hold of the apparatus of government to stamp out the religious beliefs of other people.

However, there is another strain of Atheism, an unabashedly religious variation, complete with zealous evangelism and excommunication and an inquisition of sorts.  This is the Atheism that seeks to be The State Religion, with even the trappings of a clergy and "church" of sorts, and a desire to evangelize the world in its faith.

Sometimes this brand of Atheism prefers the label "Humanism" and sees itself in triumphalistic terms, seeking state recognition and using the public schools as preaching stations:

As John Dunphy wrote in an article entitled: "A Religion for a New Age" (The Humanist, Jan-Feb 1983):
I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level—preschool, daycare, or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent with its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of “love thy neighbor” will finally be achieved.  (emphasis added)
The American Humanist Association publishes a manifesto - the current incarnation being the third version.  The initial manifesto (1933) openly refers to Humanism as "Religious Humanism."  One of the signatories of that document was the Socialist John Dewey, one of the founding fathers of progressive education in America, the leader of school reform that transformed American public schools away from the locally-administered classical model of education to what they have become today.

Clearly, the Humanist sect of Atheism sees public education as an evangelistic outreach of their religion.  Christians and other adherents of traditional faiths should be aware of what has filled the vacuum when the diverse faith traditions of local communities were excised from local schools at the behest of activist judges in recent decades.  What we have is not a religion-free public school, but rather a parochial school system of the "Atheist Church - Humanist Synod."

Atheism can't have it both ways.  Either it is a religion, or it isn't.  And if it is a religion, with chaplains and tombstones and transcendent values and evangelism, it should not be given preferential treatment in public schools.  For the belief that one can have one's cake and eat it is not a matter of faith: it is a performative contradiction that defies the dogma of reason.

Veterans Administration religious symbols permitted on military gravestones
Note the religions of Atheism and Humanism are recognized

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