Following on from this post of mine, which was a response to Citizen Tom’s post here, Tom has made a couple more posts on the subject, here and here. It is the final post that is of particular interest to me.
I left a comment, and Tom responded. My comment is below (minus the link):
I wager you are correct Tom, in that I do not agree with you, though hopefully, we can indeed agree to disagree. I don’t see worship (and therefore do not see idolatry) in the actions of atheists, but then, as I said in my answer, and as per dictionary definitions, worship is a religious act, and atheism is the lack of belief in religious ideas. I dare say that with or without God, we have to sustain ourselves *somehow*. With or without God, we still look to certain material aspects of existence to have a comfortable life, that does not mean that without God, we seek to worship those aspects as though they *were* God.HTTPS://CITIZENTOM.COM/2023/02/02/WHAT-DO-ATHEISTS-WORSHIP-THE-SEQUEL/COMMENT-PAGE-1/#COMMENT-107352
On to Tom’s reply:
Atheism is religious belief. The idea that God doesn’t exist is a religious belief.
Agnosticism is a religious belief. The idea we don’t know whether or not God exists is a religious belief.
What is worship? Worship depends upon who or what we define as the object of our worship, not whether we claim to be a theist or nontheist. Since various religions have wildly different ideas about the nature of our Creator, even whether one exists, human beings have widely different notions of what constitutes worship. Worship is based upon what we believe the object of our adoration requires.
It goes without saying that I immediately disagree with Tom’s first two sentences. Atheism is the complete absence of belief. Agnostics are not sure, but that uncertainty is also not a form of religious belief. They are not worshipping any god, or practicing any religious practices, following any religious rituals, or attending holy places to carry out acts of prayer. This applies to both atheists and agnostics (well, some agnostics may partake in holy rituals, in a bid to determine if they find something there that’s right for them. Atheists are not inclined to).
Since worship is usually defined as a religious act, and atheism is not a religion, it stands to reason that atheists do not worship, or at the very least, they do not perform the various forms of religious rituals and ceremonies associated with worship of a deity. The only religion I know of where no deity is worshipped, yet there are rituals to perform, is Buddhism, and even Buddhism relies heavily upon concepts atheists will not believe in (such as rebirth).
It can be argued that dictionary definitions of worship do make reference to other notions. One could say ‘as a child, I worshipped my older sibling’. That is not to say that their venerated their older sibling as a god, and it does not mean the younger sibling performed various acts of prayer, or visited holy places, in said veneration! The context of the word is quite different to how one would use it in a religious context. Atheists do not have holy places, they do not perform sacred rituals. There is nothing within the religious context of worship that ties religion and atheism together.
Tom goes on to say:
Christians define worship as showing our love for God in everything we do. We put a special focus upon what God has commanded us to do. That includes loving our neighbor. For a Christian, loving someone appropriately is an act that glorifies God. That is why both Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7 echo this verse.
Is love also worship? The Collins Dictionary doesn’t think so:
We can use the same words (another example, I could say I ‘worship’ Liverpool Football Club, I don’t pray to them, or perform any form of ritual for them), but that does not mean they have the same meaning. I love my pet cat, does that mean I worship him? I mean, maybe I should pray to him, since cats have never forgotten they were exulted once…
Some Pagans, on the hand, believe in human sacrifice. One of the reasons the Aztec nation doesn’t exist anymore is that their Christian conquerors did not like their mode of worship.
What about Atheists and Agnostics. Does the fact that Atheists and Agnostics don’t believe in monotheism mean that they don’t have idols, that is, objects and/or things that that drives their behavior and gives them purpose? Of course not.
Tom sort of hits the nail on the head here. He rightly points out that the Aztecs had forms of worship, in accordance to their religious beliefs. An atheist has no religious beliefs, so has no forms of worship, as defined by religious beliefs. That is not to say atheists and agnostics do not have people they look up to, or things that bring them enjoyment and comfort. That does not make those people and items, or even concepts, things of worship in a religious sense. Drawing a sense of purpose from something is not the same as weekly prayer to a deity. I draw a sense of purpose from providing for my wife and daughter, I do not worship this concept. I do not light candles, say prayers, or perform any other kind of holy ritual in the course of my daily or weekly routine.
The fact of our being confronts us with inevitable questions.
- Where did I come from?
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
- How should I live?
- Where am I going?
The Bible answers such questions for Christians. Atheists don’t have answers to such questions?
The way we answer those questions determines what we worship and what idols we put before the love we owe our Creator.
The Bible does indeed answer those questions for Christians, but that doesn’t mean whatever answers atheists draw means the sources of those answers are worshipped, in any traditional sense of the term. Atheists do not place anything or anyone in front of what they do not believe in, because by definition, they can’t. An atheist loves their family more than God, because they do not believe in God at all, so in fact, they just love their family, and do not even factor God into the equation.
One of the commentators on Tom’s site, Scatterwisdom, issued a reply of their own, which I’ll address below:
Tom,- Ben Berwick
Perhaps this following quote and excerpt that may help Ben better understand Tom’s argument that atheism is a religion.
Quote -You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. – Carl Gustav Jung It is important to acknowledge the fact that our actions define us and not our choices.
Excerpt – Atheism in Practice
Atheism fits many theoretical definitions of religion, and it is also practiced like other religions. In daily conversation, atheism is equated with other religions. When asked, “Are you a Christian?” most atheists will respond with “No, I’m an atheist.” Atheist, then, becomes a religious label just like “No, I’m a Buddhist.”
Atheists also evangelize, though they do not want to use that word to describe their conversion attempts. “Evangelize” is most commonly used in relationship to Christianity, but it can be used to describe other religion’s attempts to gain converts, and atheism aggressively seeks to create new converts. Many atheists feel a sense of obligation or desire to “open people’s eyes” to what they see as the folly of other religions.
There is no difference between an atheist attempting to get a Jew to admit there is no God and a Christian seeking to get a Hindu to denounce the idea of reincarnation. Both people are trying to convert a person from one belief system to another. Atheists’ conversion attempts are also blatantly religious because they are focused on beliefs about and in God.
I’m not aware of how atheism is practiced like religions are practiced. There are no atheist churches, mosques, or synagogues. There is no Bible, Qur’an, or Torah that lays down rules and laws and practices and rituals for atheists to follow. I am not aware of atheists going around preaching, though I don’t doubt that some, more militant atheists are very vocal in their disdain for religion, and don’t hold back in their criticisms. They could be considered as trying to convert, but there is no organised effort, no strict set of rules and procedures among atheists, who often have absolutely nothing in common with one another, save the absence of belief in gods. Atheists do not gather and organise to convert the masses, I have never been approached on the street by someone on behalf of atheism, whereas I have been approached several times by people on behalf of some form of Christianity.
In fact, one such incident happened quite recently, and it led to a post on the subject. It might be worth reading.
There is also quite the ferocious backlash against atheists from the religious. One blog I follow belongs to a prominent atheist, who de-converted, and despite making it abundantly clear he does not want people to preach to him, many Christians have done so, against his wishes, and have ignored his de-conversion stories and experiences, which are all over his site. To date, I have not seen him try to convert others to atheism, unless you consider him talking of his experiences an attempt at conversion. In fact, he makes it clear on his site that militant atheism is not acceptable behaviour. None of that has stopped fundamentalist Evangelical Christians from repeatedly ignoring his wishes.
Whilst there may be no difference between the individual atheist approaching the religious person and trying to ‘convert’ them, there is overall, a huge difference between the organised efforts of various religious to attract followers, and the practices of atheists. One is far more common than the other.