Fandango’s Provocative Question #163

Do you believe that atheism is a set of religious beliefs or is a religion in any sense? If so, why? If not, why not?

Do you maybe have no opinion on the matter or just don’t care one way or the other?

I grew with an atheist mother and a father who practiced nothing, Maybe that’s why I’ve always found religion so interesting. I want to know how and why people believe, or more to the point, have faith. How do they do it? I am willing to believe that there are things that are “out there” that cannot be proven scientifically, yet do exist. But do I have faith in them? Do I think they have any practical effect on my life? No, I don’t. God would have to show up with a picture ID. That might convince me. Or not.

Atheism isn’t a set of religious beliefs, but it can be a set of beliefs that are deeply important to you.

I often thought my mother was an atheist because she felt that god wasn’t behaving like god. I’m pretty sure the Holocaust finished off whatever remaining beliefs she might have had before then. If ever I so much as mentioned a bible story or some vaguely theological idea or concept, she was on me like a tick on a dog. It wasn’t her god and it sure as hell wouldn’t be mine if she had anything to say about it. Mind you my brother got his Bar Mitzvah because it’s a hell of a party. I was offered a Bat Mitzvah and I believe my response was: “You’ve got to be kidding.”

No matter how many gifts I might have gotten, I’m not quite that hypocritical.

My mother in 1944, three years before I was born

In a way, mother’s lack of beliefs was a kind of belief system, even those beliefs weren’t religious. As far as she was concerned, if there was a god, he was a failure and not worth worshipping. And anyway, why would a god need to be worshipped? Was he unable to stand on his own without worshippers?

I spent a lot of time studying religions. The psychology of religion, the philosophy of religion, the history of religion — about 30 credits worth over all. It was more credits than my real supposed major, except for the minor detail that religion wasn’t a degree offered by my school.

One of the things I learned is that there are two very different ways of defining religion. Since I was in school, they’ve changed the definitions again, but I think regardless, what I learned holds true.

The first school, represented by William James, says religion is a defined set of beliefs such as Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on. There is more to it beyond this, but that’s the simplest definition.

The other version and I can’t believe I’ve forgotten his name, said that any set of beliefs that is most “propriate — closest to your self (def: Propriate: Of or relating to the self or proprium) — is your religion. So for a lot of people money would be their religion. When something is propriate (central) in your life, you may not think it’s a religion, but others might not agree. I don’t know how you feel about atheism. My mother felt strongly about it, but there were many other things more central to her than her lack of belief in god.

I was more inclined to the second point of view, but over the years, I have come to accept both views as valid. In context.

So is atheism a religion? It depends on how you feel about it. Is this a central issue in your life? If you drew a big circle and in the middle, a small circle representing you, the circle that was closest to you in the middle would be your religion. Whatever it might be. I don’t know, maybe art? Music? Literature? Would “atheism” be your closest circle?

You would know if you chose to think about it. If it you didn’t think it important enough to think about, that would suggest it isn’t a religion to you, just a set of beliefs you hold among many other beliefs.

You see? College does teach you stuff!

Categories: #FPQ, Anecdote, Provocative Questions, Religion

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8 replies

  1. I enjoyed your post Marilyn, and it makes so much sense. Fandango raised an interesting question here. I think that in a very long-winded and waffled manner, I was trying to make a similar point in my comment on Fandango’s original FPQ post – that two people may claim to have the same view, but it may effect them in different ways. One might practice a belief (whatever that belief may be) in a religious-like manner.


    • And many philosophers and theologians agree with you, though others don’t. I don’t think this is a subject on which everyone can agree. If we can’t even agree on what a religion IS, we are unlikely to agree on any other aspect of it.

      I think dogmatic religions — the ones with names and millions of adherents — have caused a vast amount of harm. The irony has always been (for me) that none of the religions that have been used as the reason for wars and slaughter ever suggested that. It’s really not religion that’s the problem. It’s people.


  2. I don’t spend much time focusing on atheism. In fact, about the only time I give it much thought is when I’m criticized for not embracing God and Jesus and told that by rejecting them I am a lesser person. But otherwise, not believing that God exists is NOT central to my life. It’s just that I’ve not seen a single shred of evidence that suggests that God is not a human construct. And that is why I don’t think that atheism is, in any way, religion.


    • There are people for whom it probably is a religion, but you aren’t one of them. ANYTHING can be a religion. Maybe foot fetishists worship feet and each toe is a saint or mini-god. I wouldn’t know. Probably if you put me in the middle, that close circle would be knowledge. I don’t believe in any known religion, though I am open to the idea that there’s something out there — but that’s not religion. More like wishful thinking or maybe hope. But as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading and searching for something. I’m not even sure what it is I’m searching for, but something that might make our world make sense.

      As far as I can tell, nothing makes sense anymore. Maybe it never did and it took me this long to realize it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Everything that used to make sense and you could count on is no longer there. The world and the people in it have gone mad.


        • I think maybe they were always mad and we didn’t notice because we weren’t paying attention. We had our own friends, our own interests. We didn’t pay attention to all those other people. I know I didn’t. I didn’t know for years that there were stupid people in this world because I had never known any stupid people. My family was smart. My friends were smart. Some were really REALLY smart, but there were no dummies in the crowd. I knew there were bigots and anti-semites, but the world was moving forward and I was looking forward. We were all going forward and we were sure the future was going to be brighter still.

          Garry and I were talking about this today, how we never thought of ourselves as “firsts.” Me first in my field — one of the first it that field before it even had a name and he one of the earliest Black news guys. But we didn’t think of that. We just wanted what we wanted and we went out to get it. We got it. It’s only lately that people are so super sensitive and everyone who thinks they are different believe NO ONE has ever had an experience like theirs before, apparently unaware that pretty much everyone who isn’t 100% standard white protestant upper-middle class American has had and possibly is still having.

          I agree that it feels like the world has gone mad, but I think it’s possible it was always mad. We just weren’t paying attention. If Trump did nothing else for us, he brought us into a reality that we thought had nothing to do with us. Now, we can’t escape from it — and oh how I wish it would go away.

          Liked by 1 person

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