Recently, some people have gone around claiming that Richard Dawkins is turning atheism into a religion. This is hardly a new attack since religionists have always been claiming that atheism is just another religion. Of course it is nonsense, but "why" is it nonsense?
We'll start by noting that every religion is an ideology, but that not every ideology is a religion. To be a religion, an ideology needs a power structure. There are plenty of atheist religions, including but not limited to: Leninism, Maoism, Fidelismo, Bushism, Statism, Objectivism, and Buddhism. Maoism in particular had a sufficiently strong personality worship to make it a cult. So did Objectivism. But atheism is not yet nor is it becoming a religion.
There's a bit more than that because otherwise the Boy Scouts would be a religion. There needs to be an element of adoration, veneration or worship tied up in the hierarchy. So that's what a religion is: "the confluence of an ideology, a hierarchy and adoration".
Getting back to Dawkins, the atheism movement epitomized by Dawkins just doesn't have the power structure to be a religion. Dawkins doesn't have enough power among atheists and it is exceedingly unlikely that he could ever accumulate such power. To see why, ask yourself what privileges he has gained from this movement. Also ask who his subordinates in the movement are supposed to be.
And although Dawkins is doing all the right things to set himself up as a religious figure, this is an illusion. What he's actually doing is setting himself up as an authority on this one narrow subject. Meaning, he's playing the kind of power politics which is the lifeblood of any respected scientist. His behaviour is hardly unusual.
We've defined religion in a very particular way. What's important here is this is not "yet another" definition of religion. It's the "correct" definition of religion. And it's correct because it:
* includes all the things which are understood to be religions
* excludes all the things which are understood to not be religions
* creates a meaningful and significant distinction
* different from all other distinctions
* broadening the utility of language for communication, and
* provides insight into the phenomenon
Now, it might seem that Maoism is not commonly understood to be a religion, but things are a bit more complicated. In reality, most people aren't familiar enough with Maoism to be able to judge whether or not it is a religion. Furthermore, most political scientists "do" consider Maoism to be a religion. So there's more than enough reason to at least set it aside from the class of counter-examples. In the case of Bushism, it's a combination of Americans being too close, not intellectually honest enough, and of their not being familiar with Bushism per se.
When you examine all the things on which there is "broad consensus" that they are religions or not religions, defining a religion as a power structure wedded to an ideology makes a lot more sense. It then becomes obvious that the supernatural claptrap that comes with religion is incidental to it. This is an important and meaningful insight, well worth the price of using an unusual definition.
Of course, having defined atheism as an ideology, opens it to attack as an ideology. But this isn't much of a vulnerability. Consider the case of anarchism. Some anarchy-ists are very ideological about anarchism, and other anarchs are pragmatic to an extreme. Since pragmatism is an intrinsic part of the anarchist ideology, it becomes clear that anarchism is both "an ideology and its own anti-ideology". A notion that will resonate with anyone who's studied physics.
Atheism is in the same camp. It is both an ideology and an anti-ideology. It is a distinctly anti-religious ideology. But it is also its own anti-ideology, contrary to the claims of agnostics and contrary to the claims of the enemies of scientific rationalism. Agnostics being intellectually dishonest and scientific rationalism being an anti-method. Both of which will be the topic of future blog entries.
On these grounds, it's clear that atheism is impervious to principled attack. Principled being the key word here since there's no lack of manpower among the ranks of the intellectually dishonest and the magical thinkers.
You also may enjoy these free books:Ole Wolf - Analysis Of The Church Of Satan The Emperor New Religion
Anonymous - Introduction To The Old Religion Lesson 7a
Anonymous - Introduction To The Old Religion Lesson 7