Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Is atheism a religion? 

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has recently ruled that "atheism" can be a religion (a prison inmate's religion, in the case at bar). If so, Cassandra (careful, as always, not to get her "Hanes Ultra-Sheers all into a knot") wants to know what this does to Establishment Clause jurisprudence:
So where does that leave the ACLU's quest to remove all mention of God from the public square? Since Atheism is, by definition, disbelief in God and our august Court has just ruled that Atheism (like secular humanism, which is really more of a philosophy than a formal movement) is a religion, does this not turn the ACLU's drive into a religious crusade?

That's a good G_d-damned question.

I'm not a prayer-in-the-schools buff, but neither do I understand or respect the passion of some activists for driving all expressions of faith from the public sphere. I have thought for twenty years that the courts were, by and large, grossly overreading the Establishment Clause. This case does not change my mind.


By Blogger Rob, at Tue Aug 23, 10:33:00 AM:

The ruling may be odd, but Cassandra's attack on it is not to the point. Her question really isn't that good.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Tue Aug 23, 10:50:00 AM:

What is your objection?

This is a legitimate question: I'm curious.

Either the ruling is bogus (and atheism is *not* a religion and therefore deserves no protection under the Establishment Clause, at least as ruled by the 7th Circuit) or it *is* a religion, in which case in demanding that there be no religious symbols in the agora, is the ACLU not enforcing their "oppressive atheist religious values" on deists in the same sense that they say believers in a Supreme Being do, by allowing the mere presence of what in many cases amount to no more than historical monuments like the 10 commandments or, worse, things like a mission cross on the LA county seal?

And before you answer, keep in mind that I don't have a dog in this particular fight.  

By Blogger Renaissance Nerd, at Tue Aug 23, 07:44:00 PM:

Atheism as defined by the dictionary is certainly not a religion; as practiced it certainly is. It is essentially faith that there is no God as opposed to faith that there is. It is a missionary faith, constantly searching for new recruits, and willing to use force to impose acceptance on others, viz the cosmic nihilist version of evolution that is regularly preached to the captive audience in schools. Atheism is rigidly dogmatic and brooks no questions from its adherents, and heaps scorn on all who disagree. Unlike other religions it has no particular code of ethics or morality, except that it apes the mores of other religions so as to avoid excoriation.

Of course the definitions are always a sticking point. Many who call themselves atheists are really either doubters or agnostics, and atheist is too short a term for the fanatical types such as the ACLU. I would say the religious strain adds reflexive materialist evolutionism, allowing no dissent from that bedrock belief, moral nihilism while following the mores and laws of their host culture, and an active, militant detestation of and disbelief in God rather than mere unbelief, and last of all they despise believers with the fervor of the most ardent zealot. Those who meet each criterion are religious atheists and their beliefs constitute a religion, and it REALLY irks them to be told so, which makes me do it every time.

I can't believe the court got it right, but this con they're talking about is just such a one.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 26, 03:54:00 PM:

Cassandra offers a false dilemma fallacy because of misreading the court's decision. Atheism was not declared a religion; instead, the court ruled that atheism should be treated as a religion "for First Amendment purposes" and "for this inmate." Those are two huge qualifiers. It means that atheism isn't declared a religion for any other context or for any other person.

Effectively, atheism as a "religion" is a legal fiction in the same way that corporations are "persons" for the sake of things like property. It's unfortunate that it has to be this way, but it's the same basic reasoning as behind declaring non-religious philosophies "religions" for the purposes of "religious exemptions" for the draft.

What, should only religious pacifists get a chance at an exemption? Of course not. Courts recognized that this impermissibly favored religion over non-religion, so they ruled that non-religious philosophies could and should be treated as if they were religions in narrow circumstances. This is no different. If there is some other way to prevent religion from being improperly favored, courts haven't come up with it yet - and this ruling can't be criticized without also undermining the ability of non-religious pacifists to get out of military service.

Thus, the ACLU is not enforcing atheist religious values by insisting that the government not promote some particular religion. It also isn't enforcing Christian religious values when it sues to prevent the government from placing restrictions on private citizens' ability to express their Christianity in public. What it comes down to for the ACLU is who is doing the expressing. Is it a purely private expression or is the government expressing or endorsing the message?

Renaissance Nerd is 100% wrong in everything written. Atheism isn't faith in the absence of gods, it's the absence of belief in gods. There are atheistic religions, but mere atheism itself is no more a religion than mere theism is. There are atheists who are dogmatic, but that doesn't make atheism a literal religion than being a dogmatic Hegelian makes Hegelian philosophy a religion. Why? Because dogmatism isn't an essential component of religion. There are atheists who promote atheism, but that doesn't make atheism a religion any more than iPod is a religion for people who promote how neat they are. Why? Because promoting something isn't an essential element of religion.  

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