I'll start this post by saying that I love Thom and his show. I've found in Mr. Hartmann a talk show host who I find intellectually stimulating, articulate, and very well researched in his opinions.

I've only found one bone of contention I have with Mr. Hartmann and that is his stance about atheism as a religion. If we go with the loosest definition of religion from Merriam Webster's dictionary, religion could loosely be defined as a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

Atheists do not have beliefs or faith in anything. Atheists reject organized belief systems, especially belief systems where there is no evidence to support claims of the supernatural or divine.

Thom claimed that atheism could be as fundamentalist as religious zealots. Not so. Some atheists can be extreme in their views, but their view is not based in belief, but in the rejection of faith and belief. If anything, atheists are anti-religious, anti-supernatural, anti-superstition, and opposed to any system of thinking not grounded in reality.

If there appears to be an outspoken number of atheists coming out of the closet and getting active, its because atheism is overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of people in the world. Something like 90% of the people in the world believe in a God, or some sort of divine being. Atheists, reject that gods exist. Atheists, probably more than any other minority, need to be guarded in their opinions.

It's not really a bogus claim to say that something that can't be verified doesn't exist. If anything, some atheists can take an extremely ideological slant in their beliefs and can take an active anti-religions stance in society. I'd wager most atheists tend to keep their opinions to themselves, and that they are pretty resigned to the fact that they live in a world dominated by religious thinking.

Be that as it may, not all atheists reject ideas or beliefs of theistic thinkers. Ideas are what unite or divide societies. Common beliefs of justice, liberty, opportunity, and compassion for our fellow human being are not unique to theists or atheists, but common human beliefs.

I would request Mr. Hartmann rethink his position about atheism as a religion. Most who become atheists don't become so because of beliefs, but because the beliefs they were taught just didn't add up logically. For example, how can God be omni-benevolent and send people to Hell for eternity? How can God be omnipotent and unable to stop evil in the world, or worse unwilling to stop evil in the world?

I think what has made atheists become more extreme in America is because Christians have bent toward radical right-wing Christianity. When groups are pushing hard to teach intelligent design or creationism side by side with the theory of evolution in science class, advocating the elimination of birth control, forcing the Ten Commandments on people, and pushing their ideology into the political sphere, that has caused the opposite extreme to arise. Right-wing Christians are advocating an anti-science bias, and want to push a Biblical world view on everyone that matches their interpretation.

It's not a surprise to me to see guys like Dawkins or Hitchens begin to rip the Bible apart, and religion as a whole apart.

Lastly, just because an atheist can look up at the stars, or at a beautiful sunset and be moved by the experience, does not mean he is present to divinity. Being moved by beauty and the overwhelming awesomeness of the universe is one of the things that makes being human rock. We can observe this fascinating universe we live in, wonder about it, and be held in awe of it's spectacle. It holds many mysteries, and its arrogant for any human being to claim infinite knowledge about it. It's also arrogant for anyone to claim to have special knowledge about godlike beings that would/could have such knowledge.

Bottom line, atheism is not a religion, at best it's a rejection of religion and superstitious thinking. Not all atheists reject religious beliefs, as some of them are grounded in ideas that are not tangible. (ideas like love, compassion, and charity). We all live on this spinning wet grain of sand in space together. According to the current known laws of physics, it looks like we're going to be stuck on this planet together alone for a long time.

What we need now is dialogue that unites us in our common humanity, not tears us apart. Religious thinking denies things like evolution and global warming. That's dangerous thinking. I don't think one has to be an atheist to see that.

That's my beef. I mean no disrespect toward Mr. Hartmann, and mean no offense. I just get offended when people try and claim atheism (or science) is a religion.

Thanks for producing a great radio program. Keep up the good work.


ihatefascists's picture
ihatefascists 9 years 10 weeks ago

You are exactly right. I'm an athiest and I completely agree. I could not have said it better myself. You saved me a lot of writing.

Jackie-Chicago's picture
Jackie-Chicago 9 years 10 weeks ago

I can understand your frustration but please be careful when lumping all Christians together. I am a Christian and I probably find the right-wing neo-con psuedo Christians just as offensive as many athesists. I do not believe in Creationism, intelligent design, or the literal interpretation of the Bible. I support the teaching of evolution and science. I have a hard time believing that such Christians have read the gospels when they seemingly take an un-Christian stance on things such as immigration, poverty, health care, social justice, war, etc...

Please do not lump me in with such people. Most Christians I know are horrified by the right-wing Christian faction. We all need to get poltically active, Christian, atheist, etc. to counter-act what I would call their non-Christian influence in our country.

bobbler's picture
bobbler 9 years 10 weeks ago

RE: "but please be careful when lumping all Christians together"

I just got on this thread.. I doubt the lumping of all xians together was intended (but I clearly see how it looks that way).. When we atheists talk on our message boards, and we say xians, we all know it us the hateful fundys we are referring to..


I think this a great example of what thom is doing to atheists.. Just as our enemies the religious right does, Thom is attributing negative things to atheists (yes, a few do fit that definition, but not the clear majority), and referring to us in belittling terms as though a few atheist whackos represent the whole atheist community.

But I do feel also that whenever we atheists speak uo to defend ourselves, we are accused of attacking..

As someone else mentioned, I agree with thom 99 percent, and this very odd atheist issue is very annoying.. Thom needs to treat is like any other minority (see that we are only trying to defend our rights and all other minorities have had to do).


bobbler's picture
bobbler 9 years 10 weeks ago

Debunking the Myth that Atheism is a Religion


Debunking the Myth that Atheism is a Religionby Al StefanelliNov 09, 2010
Applying the Definition of Religion Toward Atheism is an Oxymoron
It is suggested by many people that Atheism is a religion. Applying the definition of religion toward atheism is an oxymoron and I concur with others who have come to the conclusion that the religious are are so caught up in their own beliefs that imagining another person without having any religious beliefs is largely incomprehensible to them. Either that or they simply don't care that what they are stating lacks any sense. Those who claim that atheism is a religion do not have a clear understanding of what atheism is, and when religious terms are used to describe atheism, it is the always the beginning of the end of a sensible argument.
Contrary to the argument of those who insist that atheism is a religion, it takes mental gymnastics to attach the narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual andmaterial aspects of religion to atheism because atheism is not a structured system with defined rules. It is simply the lack of a belief in the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural. It has no uniform beliefs and is not a means of understanding our existence. Atheism is not philosophy of life. My unbelief in Santa Claus is not a philosophy of life, and thus my unbelief in god isn't, either.

Any comparisons that put atheism in the same context of religion are a dishonest dialogue. The definition of atheism does not include anything even remotely similar to the dogma and doctrine that is part of religious belief. Atheists can and do adopt a wide variety of points of view that can include anything except the belief in gods and still fit the definition of atheism. Even those of us who are outspoken, widely read and well known cannot be intelligently compared to religious leaders, and atheist organizations cannot be compared to religious congregations. There exists none of the aspects that command such designations.

We do not have our "preachers", nor do we have our "congregations". There are many groups that have leaders, such as the United Way or a political party, but to suggest that these groups are religious is preposterous. As well, the belief that atheist organizations mirror religious bodies is equally preposterous. The inherent characteristics of empiricism and skepticism and the lack of "faithful believers" do not allow for anything parallel other than the assembly of human beings in one place. Even the purposes are opposite, as one group has a belief, and the other does not.

While atheism is merely the lack of a belief in god, religion has very specific characteristics. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in an article on Religion includes characteristics that in no way reflect someone who lacks the belief in supernatural beings. Atheism does not include any distinctions between sacred and profane objects. There are no ritual acts or a moral code believed to be sanctioned by god(s), or any characteristically religious feelings such as awe, a sense of mystery, guilt or adoration. Atheism includes nothing even remotely similar to prayer or other forms of communication with the supernatural.
Religion is a system of belief and atheism cannot be classified as a system of belief because there is no belief and there is no system. There are no rituals, practices, rules, doctrines or dogma. Atheism does not concern itself with gods and it is definitely not a "faith" that includes unquestioning belief requiring no proof. Atheists live according to reason. We do not apply a reference to a higher power in our actions. Atheism is a scientific approach to theistic belief systems. It is not a theory, requires no faith and has no hidden agenda. While an Atheist may seek to contradict theism by using rational thinking and scientific theory to debunk the dubious and irrational assertions of religion, atheism merely awaits evidence to confirm the existence of god.

Defining atheism as a religion is embellishment and bad philosophy. Atheism has no dogma, no rites, no holy books, no places of worship and no clergy of any description. It offers no moral guidance, no political opinions and no world view. Atheism is a religion like "off" is a channel on your television or bald being a hair color.


Ulysses's picture
Ulysses 9 years 10 weeks ago

Putting the "a" in front of "theism" simply means without theism. Theism connotes theological belief, of whatever stripe.

Putting an "a" in front of most English language terms denotes absence of the part of the term that the "a" precedes. Thus, "amorality" denotes lack of morals, as separate and distinct from "immorality," which denotes bad or negative morals.

So, atheism is simply lack of belief. It can only be considered belief if considered belief in nothing theological except the absence of supreme beings and religion. It only becomes belief when the term is used to denote one's religious point of view. One example of this was when the Soviet government used to state that atheism was the national state religion of the Soviet Union. Thus, most of the argument is semantical rather than substantive.

One can also thus be an atheist without being anti-religious or wanting to persecute the religious for their beliefs. Zero belief is distinct from anti-belief, although one can reasonably argue that zero belief and anti-belief enjoy a high positive correlation in the minds of large numbers of their adherents. The main distinction is that zero belief does not include being actively anti-religious, while anti-belief usually does.

Fundamentalist Christians who insist on injecting their beliefs into the body politic are not content to live and let live alongside those atheists who want to live and let live because the Fundies refuse to acknowledge that freedom of religion also means freedom FROM religion.

dgrhm's picture
dgrhm 9 years 10 weeks ago

I totally agree. I don't want to lump the rabid right in with Christians as a whole. It's like lumping radical Muslim terrorists in with Islam.

Sanford Russell's picture
Sanford Russell 9 years 10 weeks ago

i've just posted an excerpt from an 1888 Decoration Day speech by Col. Robert G. Ingersoll (an atheist, soldier and - according to reports by those who had the chance to listen to him - a magnificent orator). You might enjoy reading the entire speech and I believe you would also enjoy reading Wikipedia's biographical sketch of him:

Speech: http://www.holysmoke.org/ll/ingersoll-decoration-day-1888.htm

Biographical sketch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll

dgrhm's picture
dgrhm 9 years 10 weeks ago

I think the common ground for theistic and atheistic progressives is humanism defined at wikipedia.com as such:

"Contemporary Humanism entails a qualified optimism about the capacity of people, but it does not involve believing that human nature is purely good or that all people can live up to the Humanist ideals without help. If anything, there is recognition that living up to one's potential is hard work and requires the help of others. The ultimate goal is human flourishing; making life better for all humans, and as the most conscious species, also promoting concern for the welfare of other sentient beings and the planet as a whole. The focus is on doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world a better place for those who come after."

I would also add to make life better for all life on Earth. Taking care of our fellow life forms on our home planet also benefits humans. (The world is going to be sadder and lonelier place when gorillas, tigers, and many other species go extinct as a result of unrestrained industrialization.)

This philosophy is secular in nature, allows for people to be religious or not, and is a collaborative perspective instead of a competitive perspective. I think ultimately this is the kind of world people want to build that is sustainable. I don't think we'll ever reach a perfect/utopian society, but I think it can't hurt to work toward one.

My vision of what this world could look like is from Star Trek the Next Generation.

bobbler's picture
bobbler 9 years 10 weeks ago
Quote dgrhm:

I totally agree. I don't want to lump the rabid right in with Christians as a whole. It's like lumping radical Muslim terrorists in with Islam.

Nor should Thom lump in a few crazy atheists in with the larger atheist community (if thats what he is doing).. Its the only thing that makes sense (but I have never got a response from him trying to figure it out)..

Thom is my hero, except for this one very annoying issue.. It does seem thom hates it when atheists try to defend themselves, which feels like belittling the "uppity" minority (insert minority here; but in this case "atheists" seem to be the only ones thom singles out to belittle)..


bobbler's picture
bobbler 9 years 10 weeks ago

Since hearing thom repeat the religious right nutjobs take on atheism, I have been surprised to see how much there is on the atheism=religion issue. .


From: David Rand <rand@videotron.ca>
Date: Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 6:16 AM
Subj: [AAIIMG] Agnosticism and the Atheism=Religion Myth
To: AAIIMG@yahoogroups.com

Of course atheism is not a religion. Anyone who promotes this myth is either foolish or dishonest. Al Stefanelli has done a very good job of refuting it. The task of refutation is unfortunately necessary because the myth is a favourite of religious propagandists. By labeling atheism a religion they hope to pull the rug out from under those who criticize religion by labelling them just as religious! It is a silly argument, but very commonplace.

Patrick Herlihy gives the example of an agnostic who believes and promotes this myth. Many agnostics do this. But in the ensuing discussion, apparently no-one has recognized the obvious link between agnosticism and the assertion that atheism is a religion.

As David Eller has convincingly argued in his article "Agnosticism: The Basis for Atheism, Not an Alternative To It" (http://www.atheists.org/Agnosticism%3A_The_Basis_for_Atheism), agnosticism is not a position or a conclusion, but rather a technique or a method. Basically agnosticism is just the application of doubt or scepticism to some assertion. When this technique is applied to Christianity, Islam, astrology, Scientology, homeopathy, astral travel, reincarnation, etc., then it leads inevitably to the rejection of these assertions. In general, all theisms (poly- or mono- or whatever) are found to be baseless. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that evidence is lacking. There is no longer any doubt. The verdict is in. Christianity is false. Islam is false. The application of coherent agnosticism to theism leads inevitably to atheism. The only way to save the god-hypothesis is to adopt a definition of "God" which is so vague as to be effectively meaningless.

Agnosticism can be a valid tentative conclusion (but only tentative) in the absence of sufficient evidence. For example, one could argue that it is reasonable to be agnostic with respect to the existence of an historical Jesus. If more complete historical research becomes available, we may be able to resolve this doubt.

But many people who call themselves "agnostic" mean a conclusion of agnosticism with respect to theism. This is an example of the fallacy of the mean -- or as I call it, the fallacy of symmetric interpolation -- which is the assumption that if there are two diametrically opposed hypotheses, then the correct hypothesis must be found somewhere about half way between them. They reject theism, and they reject atheism: therefore both are half-wrong and they adopt a middle position. If this attitude were applied to the justice system, them a victim of rape would in general be half-guilty for the rape, and a bank which had been robbed would be half-guilty of the theft. If applied to the paranormal, then it would be impossible to reject astrology or any other such system.

The fallacy of the mean is a staple of bad journalism, where the principle that "There are two sides to every story" is widely used. In reality, there are not two sides, but rather 4721 sides, or maybe millions of sides. Reality is complex. If two people disagree, then maybe one is 100% right, or 90% right. Or maybe both are completely wrong. And maybe the truth, if we can find it, is nowhere near a straight line connecting the two poles.

So agnostics of the symmetric kind reject both theism and atheism and, thinking symmetrically, consider both to be religions. They thus adopt the position which the religious often push: that atheism is just another belief system, another faith. This allows agnostics to rationalize their illogic and their intellectual capitulation to religious propaganda.

What can we do to counter the atheism=religion myth, other than refute it in a straightforward and cogent manner as Stefanelli has done? Here is one idea: We can remind religious propagandists that if they consider respect for religious beliefs to be so important, and if they think atheism is a religion, then they are duty-bound to respect our "belief"! Of course the danger of this approach is falling into the trap of appearing to accept the myth. But it has the merit of pointing out their hypocrisy.

But I think that one important thing we must do is what I have tried to do in the above paragraphs: explain the fallacy of a symmetric attitude towards belief and non-belief.

-- David Rand

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