The Cult-like Culture of Atheism, Part II

In a post I wrote entitled The Cult-like Culture of Atheism I wrote the following:

There is, indeed, something cult-like about some atheists (note that I said "some" -- it is certainly not true of all atheists, and this article is not intended to accuse each and every atheist of acting cult-like). That, however, is not surprising since atheism -- whether atheists will ever accept the truth of this or not -- is a religion, and every religion develops cults.

Atheism has its beliefs about God (i.e, there is no god or gods) and its beliefs that are part of the core understanding of the world. It has a grand metaphysical story which many of the true believers of atheists defend with all of the ardour of the most firm believer of any faith. Some atheists try to differentiate between religion and atheism on the basis that atheism lacks some of the ritual that religions have. For example, some argue that atheists don't worship anything so it can't be a religion, but that is a side-issue. Of course atheists don't worship a god who isn't there, but it is their faith in their unproven belief that there is no God, god or gods that is the religion. To the extent that atheists order their lives around that principal they are acting religiously. So, while it is true that atheists don't have a place of worship, i.e, there isn't a "church" of atheism, they prove their religious devotion when they go to places where they share their faith such as the discussion boards at the Internet Infidels website.

Several atheists denied this, and after reading an article earlier this morning, I now admit that I was wrong. There actually is a "church" of atheism. According to Time Magazine in an article entitled Sunday School for Atheists, atheists (excuse me, that's humanists) in Palo Alto, Phoenix and my own backyard of Albuquerque have started their own Sunday School for children to learn morality.

But some nonbelievers are beginning to think they might need something for their children. "When you have kids," says Julie Willey, a design engineer, "you start to notice that your co-workers or friends have church groups to help teach their kids values and to be able to lean on." So every week, Willey, who was raised Buddhist and says she has never believed in God, and her husband pack their four kids into their blue minivan and head to the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., for atheist Sunday school.

An estimated 14% of Americans profess to have no religion, and among 18-to-25-year-olds, the proportion rises to 20%, according to the Institute for Humanist Studies. The lives of these young people would be much easier, adult nonbelievers say, if they learned at an early age how to respond to the God-fearing majority in the U.S. "It's important for kids not to look weird," says Peter Bishop, who leads the preteen class at the Humanist center in Palo Alto. Others say the weekly instruction supports their position that it's O.K. to not believe in God and gives them a place to reinforce the morals and values they want their children to have.

The pioneering Palo Alto program began three years ago, and like-minded communities in Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Portland, Ore., plan to start similar classes next spring. The growing movement of institutions for kids in atheist families also includes Camp Quest, a group of sleep-away summer camps in five states plus Ontario, and the Carl Sagan Academy in Tampa, Fla., the country's first Humanism-influenced public charter school, which opened with 55 kids in the fall of 2005. Bri Kneisley, who sent her son Damian, 10, to Camp Quest Ohio this past summer, welcomes the sense of community these new choices offer him: "He's a child of atheist parents, and he's not the only one in the world."

If atheists cannot see how that is just another step on the road to finally recognizing themselves as a religion then they really need to think a little bit more about how they act.



Thanks so much for this post! You have given me some great material for our Church newsletter. Not to mention, it gives me even more fuel for my contention that we need a good apologetics/theology program at our Church. Your summation is quite correct! Man is a religious creature and atheists are not exceptions to the rule! We all have a religion, even if it's the religion of SELF! Keep up the good work, Brother BK!

Laterness . . .
C. David Ragland, Jr.
One more thing, BK. Have you read Zacharias Ravi. The Real Face Of Atheism. City: Baker Books, 2004?

I think you would like this one.

Laterness . . .
Jim Lippard said…
Humanism (which is not just atheism, it has specific positive tenets, and should be distinguished from "secular humanism") *does* recognize itself as a religion, and has for many years. The American Humanist Association is a 501(c)(3) *religious* organization. It has officiants who perform marriage and memorial services, it has groups that hold regular meetings and social events in most countries of the world. In the Netherlands, 26% of the population consider themselves humanists (vs. 31% Catholic, 13% Dutch Reformed, 7% Calvinist); another 18% are non-religious and non-Humanist.

BTW, "cult" is a term that, in my opinion, should be restricted to religious groups that have most or all of a set of features that include being centered around an authoritarian leader, requiring members to restrict contact with non-members, controlling all aspects of the group's lives, etc. Steve Hassan's book _Combatting Cult Mind Control_ has a good list of cult characteristics. Most sects of Christianity are not cults; there could certainly be atheist cults, and Madalyn Murray O'Hair's American Atheists group was probably close to one, if not one, while she was alive.

I disagree with Mr. Ragland about what this particular evidence shows--I think it shows that man is a *social* creature, though I think there are other reasons (put forth in Pascal Boyer's _Religion Explained_ book, for example) to think that man is, indeed, a religious creature.
Anonymous said…
Just out of interest why do apologist try to insist that atheism is a religion? All atheists seem to deny this claim saying the don't have common beliefs, statement of faith, practices, ritual or laws, but why do apologist want to insist it?

Anonymous said…
Actually what is (where do you get) your definition of a cult and a religion? Once you define it is easier to discuss about it.

Anonymous said…
I'm all for having secular humanism being legally recognized as a religion. Think about all the tax dollars we can use to further our cause, and the simultaneous tax-exemptions we would get to take away the restraint on our spending power for the cause of goodness! We should also be able to have the equivalent of churches, television channels, etc. to spread our message of truth.
Terri said…
First of all, Xtians are going down. Our religion (Atheist) has only truth. We now know that science answered all our questions that were once thought to be God. well it's not. And sense we have proof that now no god's exist, we need to get rid of all religions except Atheisim.
Terri said…
So actully, you need to realise the foolishness you stupid, people by saying Atheist is a religion when it aint. We just have thr truth and you don't.
BK said…
I am really busy at work right now, and I am anxious to respond to all of this. I hope to do so by Sunday. In the meantime, I look forward to reading more comments by people like Terri.
I highly suspect Terri is someone we all know being a joker. {L} Come on Mr. Loftus. Fess up!

Laterness . . .
Victor Reppert said…
Oh no, terri isn't Loftus. She's got to be Paul Manata, or the infamous Discomfitter!
jeff said…
atheism isn't a religion because there is no 'faith'. if i don't see proof of a god, i'm not taking it on faith but on a lack of verifiable proof.

the burden of proof that is there is a god rests with the believer - not the non-believer.

i think you're just being very sloppy with your use of the words 'belief' and 'religion' in your first quote in the post.
Anonymous said…
As an atheist and humanist, I agree with part of an above comment that said "humans need religion". The part I agree with is the social part. Christian religion as practiced in the USA has an excellent social component. People gather to discuss ethics, responsibility, community issues. This is GOOD! Dispensing with irrational supernatural belief and dangerous dogma is a natural evolution. That's what humanist "Sunday School" is all about.

- Roger
Bay Area, CA
kimberly said…
Nowadays is very important to know about different culture specially because many people travel from differents country. When we have some knowledge about the cultures we can understand better the people and we can understand ourselve in a simple way, and is easy to forget any taboo that impide the enjoyment of our life.
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Akshay said…
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