We often hear it said that atheism is itself a religion. This past weekend, T mentioned that he had a friend, whose response to this claim is that "Atheism is a religion in the same way that non stamp collecting is a hobby." In the moment, this seemed a very witty and rather penetrating response, but on further reflection I must say I have my doubts about whether this analogy makes any sense - so I thought I'd throw this out here to see if anyone has any thoughts to share on this.
The key, in my mind, is understanding that stamp collecting (like both religion and atheism) is a position of association, while non stamp collecting is a position of non-association, indicating a vacuum that has not been filled. Religious and atheistic claims are both clear stances on the question of what reality is. And so when it is claimed that atheism is a religion, what people really mean is that atheism makes a truth claim about the world in much the same way that any religious philosophy does - it claims that there is no God or spiritual existence beyond the material domain. It then goes on to judge anyone who believes in a God as false. By adopting this stance, atheism ceases to be just a position of non-association, and becomes one of clear association with a creed. One can also see in today's world that fanatical atheists are quite similar to fanatical religionists in the way they think and act, exhorting people to follow their philosophy and not the other's and freely judging the other side as being morally bankrupt, harmful to society and hindering its progress. From these perspectives, if religious beliefs are likened to stamp collecting, atheism should maybe be likened to something like coin collecting.
If I had to make an analogy at all with hobbies, I think agnosticism (and not atheism) would be the true analogue to non stamp collecting, as it clearly takes no stance on the matter - just as non stamp collecting is not a hobby.
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