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Atheists & Religion: Do Atheists Hate Religion? Are Atheists Anti-Religion?


There’s No One Atheist Position on Religion:

There are frequent debates not only between atheists and theists, but also among atheists on the subject of religion. Why? Because there is no unanimity among atheists on religion. Different atheists believe different things about the value, nature, and future of religion and religious beliefs. It’s impossible to ascribe one overarching position about any aspect of religion to all atheists or even most atheists. Atheists are as diverse on this issue as are theists.

Can Atheists Be Religious?:

It’s often assumed that atheists are necessarily irreligious, but that’s not true. Some atheists are part of a religion because some religions don’t require theism. Examples of this include Ethical Culture, Religious Humanism, Humanistic Judaism, Raelians, some forms of Buddhism, and one form of Hinduism. Atheists who are part of a religion will naturally view religion differently than irreligious atheists, even when it comes to religions other than their own.

Can Atheists Be Anti-Religious?:

Even more extreme is the assumption that all atheists are anti-religious, not just irreligious. This obviously isn’t true, since some atheists are religious, but some atheists are indeed anti-religious. Opposition to religion can in fact be common among atheists; at the same time, you can find anti-religious views among some theists, too. Sharp criticism of religion isn’t limited to just atheists, but perhaps they are more willing to voice their objections and concerns publicly.

Atheists & Church/State Separation:

There is a general consensus among atheists on separating church and state. Atheists may disagree on individual cases, but atheists do generally agree that church and state should be separated, that religious institutions should not have authority over the general public, and that civil laws should have a secular rather than a religious basis. Individual believers may have religious reasons for supporting a law or policy, but the law or policy itself must be defensible on secular grounds.

Atheists & Religious Privilege:

A similar consensus among atheists can be found on the subject of religious privilege, assuming that they are aware of the concept. Atheists generally agree that religious beliefs, religious institutions, and religious believers should not be given special privileges not accorded to others in society. This applies to religion generally and to specific religions like Christianity in particular. Religion should not be a basis for inequality or favoritism.

Atheists & Religious Values:

Atheists differ in their opinions about so-called “religious values.” Atheists who are religious obviously have what they would call religious values. Irreligious atheists may agree with religious believers on the importance of some values and ethical principles, but wouldn’t necessarily label them “religious” values. For believers to communicate with atheists about them, it might help to be able to articulate them without explicit scriptural or religious references.

Atheists & Religious Holidays:

Atheists differ wildly on their reactions to religious holidays. Some refuse to recognize or participate in them in any way — even going to the office on Christmas, if it’s a normal work day. Some don’t think much about holidays but participate for the sake of family. Others continue to enjoy aspects of traditional religious holidays and participate in them as much as possible. There can be friction, however, between even these atheists and religious believers over holidays. Read More...

Atheists vs. Religious Believers:

Are atheists necessarily hostile to religious believers themselves? Some certainly are, and if you think that atheism is anti-religion, it will seem that atheists must be hostile to believers. Because atheism is not necessarily anti-religion, though, atheists also aren’t necessarily hostile to believers. Some are, and the reasons for this are varied — they might have had a lot of bad experiences with believers, for example. Others are not, though, and may have no problem with believers.

Atheists vs. Proselytization:

One thing that atheists do often object to is proselytization. Proselytization is central to the religious faith of many evangelical Christians — they will “share” their beliefs with anyone they come across if they are given half a chance. Few evangelicals understand that their actions tend to objectify others. This would appear to be a contradictory attitude: they act like they evangelize because they care, but if they really cared then they would not want treat others like objects.

Atheists and Religion in Modern Society:

Because modern society, and especially modern American society, is so religious, it’s impossible for atheists to avoid religion, religious believers, and religious issues. Because it’s impossible for atheists to entirely avoid contact with religion, it’s very difficult for atheists to avoid forming opinions on religion and reacting to religious believers. Some of these opinions will be positive, some will be negative. More important than that, however, may be the question of what sort of influence atheists might have on the course of religion in society.

Just as atheists cannot ignore religion, religious believers cannot ignore atheists. At one time that might have been possible, when too few atheists were willing to speak out, but that’s changing. Today more and more atheists are becoming vocal about who they are, what they think, and why they disagree with theistic religions. As a consequence, atheists are challenging religion and calling religious assumptions into question — more so than religious believers themselves typically do, because atheists don’t share most of the metaphysical and theological premises which believers tend to rely upon.

For some, the challenge posed by outspoken and skeptical atheists is too much; indeed, it’s perceived as so threatening to basic values and traditions that atheists are broadly labeled “extremists,” with even erstwhile liberals advocating for increased marginalization of unpopular atheist voices. In this, they are simply following the lead of conservatives who even more broadly label all liberals as “godless,” simply because liberals fail to uphold all of the dogmas of traditional religion. Liberals don’t appreciate this, but fail to learn the correct lessons of it when they turn around to purge the genuinely godless from their ranks, lest the odor of association become too strong.

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