Practicing What You Preach (Against)

“We take issue with religious beliefs being inserted into secular law,” said a spokesman for a new atheist lobbying group set to begin work at the state Capitol next year.  Sounds good as far as it goes, but wouldn’t it be great if they followed their own principles?

That question may seem contradictory to some.  After all, atheists don’t have a religion, right?

That is what they want you to think, but in reality it’s a politically convenient distortion of the true nature of atheism.

A belief that God does not exist (or in the non-existence of a god) is a religious belief; it is a belief about god as much as any tenet of Christianity, Hinduism, or Islam.  And atheism, too, has tenets governing the behavior of its adherents that flow from this central religious belief.

But at this stage in the discussion, the issue is not which view about the existence of God is right.  Rather, the issue is, “Why are an atheist’s religious beliefs more acceptable than other religious beliefs when it comes to politics and government?”

The answer can’t be because one is permitted by “the separation of church and state” and the other is not.  If there’s such a thing as “the separation of church and state,” surely it must apply equally to all religious beliefs.  And therefore, since atheism is a religious belief, it shouldn’t be injected into politics and government, either.  What the atheist really wants is for his religious views to be the only religious views allowed in public debate.

But, you protest, “Atheism is not a religious belief!”  Let’s break that down a bit further.

Atheists cannot prove the non-existence of God any more than a religious person can prove the existence of God, at least not if both sides are held to the same standard of proof.  In his scathing review of Richard Dawkins’ “anti-religious” manifesto, The God Delusion, fellow atheist Terry Eagleton said:

Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason.  We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification . . . .

In other words, Dawkins’ reasons for denying the existence of God are not perfect, yet he insists that Christians give perfect reasons for God’s existence: clearly, a double standard.

But again, you protest, “Atheism is not a religious belief.”  Well, according to one of the individuals from the new lobbying group, many consider themselves secular humanists.  And the United States Supreme Court, who liberals have found reason to love in the past couple of weeks, have said that secular humanism is a religion:

Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others.” Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).

Nobody would deny that Buddhism is a religion, but as the Court noted, how is secular humanism any different?  Neither has a God like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  But the absence of such a God doesn’t make Buddhism — or secular humanism — a non-religion.

We don’t have to take the Court’s word for it.  Secular humanists themselves have often described their beliefs as a “religion.”  Julian Huxley called secular humanism “religion without revelation” in his book of the same title.  The original Humanist Manifesto spoke openly of secular humanism as a religion.

The bottom line: Religion is, at its core, a belief about ultimate reality.  A person’s belief about ultimate reality defines what they worship and serve, and therefore, it influences their behavior and their other beliefs and views about things like politics.

However an atheist wants to describe himself, he does have a belief about ultimate reality.  And what he believes about ultimate reality defines what he serves and worships, as much as a belief in God does for Christians and Muslims.  If an atheist calls himself a “materialist,” if matter is his ultimate reality, he will tend to worship and serve matter, most often in the form of the material “stuff” he owns.  If an atheist calls himself a “secular humanist,” if he believes that “man is the measure of all things,” he will tend to worship people, primarily his own person.

So if this new atheist lobbying group really wants to keep religious beliefs out of the legislature, then I guess they’ll have to disband.  But I doubt we have a prayer of that happening.