'Not Collecting Stamps' Isn't a Hobby

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

"Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby." -- Penn Jillette


Lately, articles about the increasing percentage of Americans who aren't "religious" -- like this and this -- have been popping up.

Please consider the italicized quote above any time you encounter one of these.


Because (1) In today's increasingly tribalistic, anti-individualist Zeitgeist, it would appear that the first impulse is to lump together any group of people to which one can apply a label. (2) So many people lack intellectual rigor that many labels are next to meaningless, anyway.

The first piece, about "nonreligious" people includes some whose stated beliefs include all the hallmarks of religion; they just aren't enrolled in a church:
Although he doesn't believe in organized religion, he believes in God and basic ethical precepts. "People should be treated equally as long as they treat other people equally. That's my spirituality if you want to call it that."
Indeed, somewhere, buried in the piece, is the closest thing it comes to offering its own definition of "nonreligious:" They. Really. Don't. Like. Organized. Religion.

Given how "the nones' diversity splinters them into myriad subgroups," don't expect to be able to learn anything meaningful from the rest of the piece.

Even the second article, about "atheists" talks about people I'd say are actually religious:
Image by François Barraud, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Atheists also have different interpretations of what it means to not believe. While nearly all self-described atheists don't believe in the God described in the Judeo-Christian Bible, 23% do believe in God or some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe, according to a Pew Research Center report published in January. [bold added]
With that much latitude in the term, it is ridiculous to wonder -- as the article starts out doing -- why more atheists are reluctant to volunteer that fact about themselves.

The negative stereotypes and bigotry on the part of many religious people don't help, but if a term has been emptied of all meaning, why bandy it about?

I am an atheist, and would describe myself as circumspect, but not shy about it. I reject nearly everything about religion, especially professing to believe things absent evidence, and equating morality to a set of supernatural orders that have nothing to do with reason or life on earth. These two things are direct threats to a life proper to a rational animal.

If I have a realistic chance of making my world a better place by challenging these evil practices, I will do so. (This is the not shy part.) If doing so will change nothing, except expose me or loved ones to harm by bigots or actual thugs, I will not. (This is the circumspect part.) Self-sacrifice is against my moral code.

But simply saying I'm an atheist, or I'm not religious at all is only the start of a conversation.

Religion is not the only alternative out there for moral guidance or reflection. Not adhering to religion is not the only aspect of my thinking and my personality.

Stating that I am an atheist is thus something that I would hope would at least provoke thought in another, and perhaps require a conversation on my part. The person hearing that from me, or the occasion calling for me to say this, has to be worth it.

I find the widespread need to "come out" as something that is so common today both sad and puzzling. Our culture causes most people to feel alienated because it is increasingly blind to or disdainful of the individual. Many people yearn for some measure of visibility, and aren't getting it. But past a certain point, it is puzzling that many people have such a weak sense of themselves that they will compromise on almost anything to "belong."

I'm not sure what to say about that, except, perhaps to advise that one should well understand one's reasons for disclosing one's beliefs, or not. Fashion is probably the worst reason to do either.

-- CAV

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