Is Atheism Just Another Religion?

By Gad Saad Ph.D. | 18 March 2015
Psychology Today

(Credit: Eli Christman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

A common rhetorical strategy when seeking to advance one’s ideological position is to appropriate, alter, and/or expand the otherwise accepted meaning of words, expressions, and symbols. For example, the anti-Israel crowd often displays signs wherein the Star of David is equated with the Nazi swastika. Others include that “Israel is an apartheid state” or that “Israel has been committing a genocide against the Palestinian people.” This is a very powerful strategy for with sufficient repetition, some people learn to associate the word “Israel” with profoundly evil concepts. Some strands within Western feminism have applied a similar strategy by arguing that the so-called male gaze is a form of “assault” on women, which leads to the “natural” conclusion that the burqa is liberating (as it averts the male gaze) whilst the bikini is a form of patriarchal oppression (as it triggers the male gaze). See my earlier Psychology Today article on this issue titled The Beauty Myth versus the Veil: A Feminist Perspective. On university campuses, we have a similar expansion of the otherwise accepted meaning of “assault” such that one can now be “verbally assaulted,” which of course necessitates the oxymoronic “safe spaces for free speech.” This has yielded astonishing university speech codes (to “protect” the students from “hateful assaults”), many of which violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution (see the work of my friend Greg Lukianoff of FIRE).

This brings me to the latest instantiation of this duplicitous strategy. Some camps hostile to so-called New Atheists are using terms and phrases such as “militant atheism,” “fundamentalist atheism,” and “atheism is just another religion” to describe avowed non-believers who do not shy away from expressing their disdain for religion in a very public and at times strident manner. The goal is to apparently demonstrate that atheists can be as dogmatic and dangerous if not more so than religious zealots.

If atheism is just another religion then the following also holds true:

Winning is a form of losing.

War is a form of peace.

Violence is a form of nonviolence.

Love is a form of hate.

Thinness is a form of obesity.

Life is a form of death.

Profound stupidity is a form of extreme intelligence.

Based on this last example immediately above, we can safely assume then that those who claim that atheism is a form of religion are indeed extremely intelligent.

Lest you might think that such strategies are transparently obvious and as such are not effective in swaying opinions, Miranda Devine recently wrote in the Daily Telegraph that atheism and parental divorce were likely causes of why Australian teenager Jake Bilardi joined ISIS (he had converted to Islam prior to heading off to the Middle East). In the delusional albeit creatively fertile mind of many Western apologists, atheism is in part to blame for the ability of ISIS to entice Westerners to join. Recall that in my last Psychology Today article I examined Russell Brand’s proclamations regarding the supposed root causes as to why individuals join ISIS from Western countries (see also my YouTube clip The SAAD TRUTH_30). Atheism was also recently blamed for the callous murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill (see Jerry Coyne’s rebuttal, and my own YouTube rebuttal in The SAAD TRUTH_26). These examples are manifestations of a more general canard “But Stalin and Hitler committed horrifying crimes and they were atheists.” See Michael Sherlock’s worthy rebuttal to the so-called Atheist Atrocities Fallacy. Incidentally, an isomorphic version of this logical fallacy can be captured as follows: A vegetarian accountant was recently indicted for tax evasion. Clearly then, vegetarianism is a causal pathway to financial criminality. If you wish to avoid the allure of committing financial fraud, please eat a steak.

It would appear that many folks within the “atheism is a form of religion” camp posit that genocidal hatred enshrined within religious texts is no more likely to engender violence than non-belief in deities. Viewed from this perspective, atheism can be a truly fanatical “religion”! I am sure that the incalculable funds that have been globally spent on airport security are largely to protect passengers from the dangers of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

There is no gospel of atheism. Atheists don’t pray at the altar of a Richard Dawkins poster. Atheists do not seek to violently impose their non-belief onto others. They simply reject all Gods inherent to the 10,000 religions known to mankind. Notwithstanding the silly attempts by some to draw equivalences between religion and atheism, they are non-overlapping concepts.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Gad Saad is a Lebanese-Canadian evolutionary behavioural scientist at the John Molson School of Business (Concordia University, Canada) who is known for applying evolutionary psychology to marketing and consumer behaviour. He holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences and Darwinian Consumption and has a blog at Psychology Today titled Homo Consumericus. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter (@GadSaad).

THE SAAD TRUTH_26: New Atheism, the Chapel Hill Murders, and ISIS

THE SAAD TRUTH_30: Russell Brand Explains Why Folks Join ISIS

Stephen Fry on Political Correctness and Clear Thinking

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