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December 20, 2012 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Unbelief is now the world’s third-largest "religion".

A new report on global religious identity shows that while Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups, those with no religious affiliation — including atheists and agnostics — are now the third-largest “religious” group in the world.

The study, released Tuesday (Dec. 18) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that more than eight in 10 (84 percent) of the world’s 7 billion people adheres to some form of religion.
posted by zinon (158 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't believe it.
posted by Aquaman at 3:19 PM on December 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Unbelief" is really what we're going with? I'm in disbelief.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:19 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everyone on earth is agnostic. A huge bunch just pretend they aren't.
posted by davebush at 3:20 PM on December 20, 2012 [32 favorites]


Everyone on earth is agnostic. A huge bunch just pretend they aren't.

Those are some Godlike powers you have there.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:24 PM on December 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


Everyone on earth is agnostic. A huge bunch just pretend they aren't.

You clearly have not met my extended family.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:25 PM on December 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


An additional 58 million people — slightly less than 1 percent of the global population — belong to “other” religions, such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism.

Well alright? This is the "Other" umbrella, is it? Seems to cover an incredibly varied ground, and I would have been interested to see the geographic spread.

Also, I wonder why the following paragraph was way at the bottom of the article:

Surveys considered in this report show that 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese report a belief in God or some other high power, while that number among the unaffiliated French is 30 percent, and among Americans it climbs to 68 percent. In China, 44 percent of unaffiliated adults say they have worshiped at a graveside or tomb in the past year.

This is something I'd have had right after the lede. "Oh by the way some of the self-described unbelievers actually do believe."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:29 PM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would like to assert that, if you factor out those "Christians" that clearly don't believe in their "God" (because, if they did, they would act in accordance with that faith), the percentage of "Christians" drops significantly.
posted by HuronBob at 3:34 PM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would like to assert that, if you factor out those "Christians" that clearly don't believe in their "God" (because, if they did, they would act in accordance with that faith), the percentage of "Christians" drops significantly.

Unfortunately there's no way to do this with any rigor as it slides into "no true Scotsman" territory. Apart from the whole question of who or what, ultimately, becomes the arbiter of who the ~real~ Christians are. But I get your meaning and agree on a purely anecdotal level.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Finally.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:41 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, why was this paragraph way at the bottom? Seems very relevant to the key data:

It's only key if you mistake 'unaffiliated' for 'atheist or agnostic', which the Washington Post seems to want you to do. Otherwise, I think it's probably not specific enough. That 44% of unaffiliated Chinese adults and 68% of unaffiliated American adults probably don't have a whole lot in common in terms of religious belief other than not belonging to a religious group with a name.
posted by hoyland at 3:42 PM on December 20, 2012


It's only key if you mistake 'unaffiliated' for 'atheist or agnostic', which the Washington Post seems to want you to do.

The article begins with the assertion that "unaffiliated" includes atheists and agnostics. Then this paragraph, much further down the article, explains who else is in "unaffiliated". Seemed like a weird organizational choice for the article to put all this other stuff between these two linked data points.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:45 PM on December 20, 2012


I believe in ghosts and the supernatural—that there are things beyond what we can see and/or understand. But I claim no organized religion.

I wonder what percentage of "unbelief" the world needs to reach before we'll be considered ready for contact from alien civilizations (thinking in Star Trek terms, that is.)
posted by limeonaire at 3:49 PM on December 20, 2012


This is something I'd have had right after the lede. "Oh by the way some of the self-described unbelievers actually do believe."

To be fair, something like 20% of Anerican "vegetarians" eat chicken at least once a week, so it's reasonable to assume about 1/5 of the population may not know what a word means....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:51 PM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Those are some Godlike powers you have there.

I'd call it belief.
posted by davebush at 3:52 PM on December 20, 2012


I'd like to se a breakdown of the various sects of unbelief.
posted by ethansr at 3:53 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In related news, "Don't care about sports" is the third most popular sport in the world!
posted by jet_manifesto at 3:54 PM on December 20, 2012 [72 favorites]


There are no foxes in atheist holes.

Wait, I'm being told that there are some in several areas right this moment.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:57 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


In barely related news, Unlambda is still not a dominant programming language.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:58 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I BELIEVE IN MUSIC
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:58 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't Blame Me, I Believe In Other
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:59 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I, too, wish that they had called it 'disbelief'. I just want to imagine 1.1 billion people going around all day with a look of disbelief on their faces.
posted by indubitable at 3:59 PM on December 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


I'd say that's probably statistically accurate.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:04 PM on December 20, 2012


It's best to take notes, it's a way to discover consistency.
I find this true of any belief.
posted by Mblue at 4:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are no foxes in atheist holes.

Nice, the other religious thread took 17 hours to get to the first reference of assholes. This one took less than an hour. My corollary to Godwin's law seems to still work.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wasn't even thinking of bodily orifices, though. But thanks!
posted by Burhanistan at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


This one took less than an hour.

Read it again? I think it's a joke.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I didn't read it that way at all.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:10 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Spiritualist? Well me, I'm neither.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:10 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to assert that, if you factor out those "Christians" that clearly don't believe in their "God" (because, if they did, they would act in accordance with that faith)

I think you mean, "Because they don't do what I would do if I believed what they say they believe." Which is not a very good "because."
posted by straight at 4:10 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would have been interested to see the geographic spread.

chart: Geographic Distribution of Religious Groups

text: The geographic distribution of religious groups varies considerably. Several religious groups are heavily concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, including the vast majority of Hindus (99%), Buddhists (99%), adherents of folk or traditional religions (90%) and members of other world religions (89%).

Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) also live in the massive and populous Asia- Pacific region. Indeed, the number of religiously unaffiliated people in China alone (about 700 million) is more than twice the total population of the United States.

The Asia-Pacific region also is home to most of the world’s Muslims (62%). About 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, and nearly 16% reside in sub-Saharan Africa.

Of the major religious groups covered in this study, Christians are the most evenly dispersed. Roughly equal numbers of Christians live in Europe (26%), Latin America and the Caribbean (24%) and sub-Saharan Africa (24%).

posted by paleyellowwithorange at 4:20 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's not forget that members of each religion are unbelievers of all other religions.
posted by mullingitover at 4:23 PM on December 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


chart: Geographic Distribution of Religious Groups

Thanks, but I meant the various and sundry faiths that got lumped into "Other". That might be an interesting map.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:23 PM on December 20, 2012


I meant the various and sundry faiths that got lumped into "Other". That might be an interesting map.

Oh, okay. I guess the 'Other' chapter kinda has that info (map/charts/text).
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 4:31 PM on December 20, 2012


"Unbelief" is really what we're going with? I'm in disbelief.

It's a very Wittgensteinian concept. It not so much Yes v.s. No, and more "Does not Compute".

Of course most of the surveyed have probably never entertained this distinction; "secular" is probably more the accurate descriptor.
posted by polymodus at 4:32 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Pew report has section on "Other Religions", but the data they have about them is spotty.
posted by nangar at 4:34 PM on December 20, 2012


If I'm an agnostic who was raised Quaker why do I mentally make the sign of the cross during airplane takeoffs and landings? Riddle me that!

SPOILER: It's cause I am mildly OCD and it has worked thus far.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:39 PM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


At what point do we reach hoardness?
posted by srboisvert at 4:44 PM on December 20, 2012


I'm a Nanaist. When anybody tries to talk to us about what happens after death we chant "Na na na na na na na na" to drown them out so it won't be spoiled for us. We don't actually believe anything, we just want to be surprised.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:48 PM on December 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


Let's not forget that members of each religion are unbelievers of all other religions.

Except Unitarians.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:48 PM on December 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


I, too, wish that they had called it 'disbelief'. I just want to imagine 1.1 billion people going around all day with a look of disbelief on their faces.

Other burgeoning religious movements: The Gobsmacked Free Church, Flummoxism, Kerfuffliyyah, Discombobulatry, Al-Zomg.
posted by and so but then, we at 4:53 PM on December 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


When anybody tries to talk to us about what happens after death we chant "Na na na na na na na na" to drown them out so it won't be spoiled for us. We don't actually believe anything, we just want to be surprised.

Yeah, but you know however it turns out there's gonna be a bunch of us griping about how the book was better.
posted by and so but then, we at 4:55 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I died before it was even a thing.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:13 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's not forget that members of each religion are unbelievers of all other religions.

Except Unitarians.


And others. Kemetic Orthodoxy, the religion I recently belonged to, is one such. It officially had no position on any other religion; many members and even its leadership are also into other religions and practices.

Plenty of self-described pagans also either are eclectic or acknowledge that other pantheons are out there and they don't necessarily want to have to deal with them in addition to their own.

A lot of people get their ideas about religion from Christianity, Islam, and Hollywood. Ideas are more diverse than that.
posted by Foosnark at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2012


Not religious isn't the same as anti-religious.

Unbelief is not disbelief.

If somebody asks your religion, you can say none. If they ask you if you believe in a creator, you can say yes. I can understand how these two sentences can both be true.

Fortunately, religion isn't rocket science.
posted by mule98J at 5:17 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Speak for yourself.
posted by JHarris at 5:22 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's probably worth mentioning that a lot of the "affiliateds" aren't believers, either. I know several self-described agnostics and atheists who go to church for a variety of reasons and would likely have listed that affiliation on a survey.
posted by gurple at 5:23 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thank god.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:27 PM on December 20, 2012


Fortunately, religion isn't rocket science.

Unless its observances include physically going to look for God or heaven.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:28 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


: "Except Unitarians."

Well, to be accurate, Unitarians *respect* other religions, but they can't truly be considered believers (inb4 no true scotsman) in another religion which features a supremacy clause over all other religions and still practice Unitarianism.
posted by mullingitover at 5:32 PM on December 20, 2012


Man, is anyone else seeing the ads attached to this post? Because [wilhelm scream]
posted by fleetmouse at 5:38 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let's not forget that members of each religion are unbelievers of all other religions.
That all depends on what you mean by "unbeliever." I do not identify with any organized religion. I am a "hard" atheist in that I believe there is no creator and nothing at all beyond the physical realm. When I die, I will become ash or food for worms. As far as I know, that is reality. But I also acknowledge that my experience is limited. Many people I love and respect feel strongly that my view is wrong, and that's okay; I feel neither threatened nor alienated by religiosity. I go to church once or twice a year with my family. I occasionally pray or meditate, and I do feel it is efficacious. I deeply sympathize with a need for the sacred, I acknowledge the ability of organized religion to provide moral instruction, and I enjoy reading theology and the history of religion. But I still do not believe and I consider myself a hard-line atheist.

We shouldn't throw out nuance and subtlety for the sake of easily fitting everyone's response on a pie chart.
posted by deathpanels at 5:44 PM on December 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Let's not forget that members of each religion are unbelievers of all other religions.

Let us not forget reductive generalizations exhibiting WASPy biases.
posted by dubusadus at 5:45 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what percentage of "unbelief" the world needs to reach before we'll be considered ready for contact from alien civilizations (thinking in Star Trek terms, that is.)

I doubt the Vulcans would be any more impressed by a belief in "ghosts and the supernatural" than by belief in god(s). Then again, the only thing they really seem to care about is if we've discovered the warp drive or not.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hinduism also allows you to practice any other religion or faith without contradiction. It's the only religion in the top 5 that explicitly says its way is but one of many, and that its teachings use the myth form to help make narrative sense of spiritual concerns.

It is an incredibly chill religion, despite its holy works being among the most beautiful of any faith. At the same time, the fanatic element in Hinduism is what reminds me that dogma is the result of masses gathering around a single "unifying" point, and that no matter how subtle or self-aware that point is you're still going to get some nasty people in the mix.

This applies to atheism as much as to anything, of course, which is why I hesitate even to apply that term to myself. Atheism is a movement, as much as many atheists within that movement claim it is not, and I am uncomfortable aligning myself with that movement. The real dilemma of our species is too complex to blame on one religion or religion in general. In fact, ironically, most religions are an attempt to deal with the enormous difficulties of that dilemma, which is why religion can simultaneously be problematic or outright evil and still result in some wonderful kindhearted people.

(My favorite religious text has to be the Tao Te Ching. Is Taoism the only 'religion' whose central work can be read in its entirety in half an hour? Points for brevity, man. Points.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Some might describe Buddhism or the Tao as atheistic-religion, depending on the interpretation.
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Points for brevity, man. Points.
posted by Rory Marinich


I think this counts as Eponysterical.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:31 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


To reiterate, as has been said by others: atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


Im a unbelieber.
posted by SteelDancin at 6:52 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is Taoism the only 'religion' whose central work can be read in its entirety in half an hour?

If you're reading it inside half an hour, you might be missing something.
posted by mistersquid at 7:04 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


“The real question is whether or not the nonreligious are outpacing the religious when it comes to growth,” he said. (My boldfacing.)

Hmm. Personal growth?

Yes, I know he was talking about population growth, but it raises an interesting question if one were to read it as personal - even spiritual - growth. Who has the greatest capacity for personal growth? As a non-religious Buddhist, I would say that the ideological constrictions of what is derogatorily termed "religiosity" get in the way of attaining a position of compassion in this world. But I have to say it gives me pause when I read about "blue states" being less charitable than "red states."

However, I also believe that giving platters full of cash to a hellfire-ranting preacher does not do as much good as donating to Doctors without Borders...

In the end, a utilitarian, a Unitarian, a Christian...well, morality is a whole 'nother issue, strangely enough. Strange to me, anyway, historically, since doing good and being Godly used to be so closely intertwined.

The hypocrisy that Twain, Swift, Chaucer and others so hilariously skewered makes for better reading than any of our snarky comments here, at any rate.
posted by kozad at 7:19 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This whole debate is tiring and a waste of time.

No one cleanly falls into any category simply because humans have a range of beliefs in different systems. Like Autism, belief is a spectrum. As a confounding factor stated beliefs in my experience don't match up particularly well with acted on beliefs.

Pick a person in existence and you will find something that they believe is true, or will come true with specious evidence. That is what their irrational belief is. For most people the biggest thing to point to is an organized religion - which is another way to say sociocultural system lacquered onto dogma.

What we should care about is whether people are credulous to orthodoxies such that they cannot introduce new information into their decision making abilities. That is the thing we should poll. Also, that would be a terribly hard poll to create.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 7:24 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I could be called an antiismist, a follower of the pathless way. I not only don't believe in your religion, I don't believe in mine either.

I believe in unfathomable unknown unknowables. I know what I believe, but I do not believe in it.

I am the fox in the atheist hole. I see the doughnut hole in the pie chart. I drop the deus in the machina.

This is my Klein bottle universe; God just lives here.
posted by perspicio at 7:37 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Snowflakism for sure.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:41 PM on December 20, 2012


Also, I don't know what any of that means, but I believe it with my hole doughnut.
posted by perspicio at 7:41 PM on December 20, 2012


Atheism is a movement, as much as many atheists within that movement claim it is not, and I am uncomfortable aligning myself with that movement.

Um, no. Atheism is a quality, an idea, a practice that like theism, pacifism, vegetarianism, and quite a few other -isms has independently seemed to have been expressed in almost every culture and almost every religion, in almost every era of recorded history. I've largely come to the conclusion that talking about atheism, theism, or religion as a proper or collective noun is a fundamental mistake.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:44 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm so confused. Is atheism is a particle-fact-wave-theory, or is it a particle-wave-theo-factory?
posted by perspicio at 7:47 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Oh by the way some of the self-described unbelievers actually do believe."

...in copper bracelets for rheumatism, levitation, water divining, poltergeists, and the life everlasting.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:55 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean seriously, I'd really like to know the common goals, identity, and ideology among Gnu Atheists, Atheism +, Secular Humanism, Religious Humanism, New Humanism, Atheist Quakers, Atheist Buddhists, Atheist Jews, Atheist Unitarians, Atheist Pagans, Atheist Discordians , Ethical Culture, Traditional Marxists, Neo-Marxists, Skeptical Stoics, Existentialists, Atheist Libertarians, Green Religionists, etc., etc., and atheists who identify as none of the above. Because I just don't see it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:04 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I want to disbelieve too! I'm pretty sure reading this post gives me a +4 to my saving throw. Can I get a GM over here?
posted by Naberius at 8:09 PM on December 20, 2012


I mean seriously, I'd really like to know the common goals, identity, and ideology among Gnu Atheists, Atheism +, Secular Humanism, Religious Humanism, New Humanism, Atheist Quakers, Atheist Buddhists, Atheist Jews, Atheist Unitarians, Atheist Pagans, Atheist Discordians , Ethical Culture, Traditional Marxists, Neo-Marxists, Skeptical Stoics, Existentialists, Atheist Libertarians, Green Religionists, etc., etc., and atheists who identify as none of the above. Because I just don't see it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos


You forgot those of us who are Anti-theists.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:17 PM on December 20, 2012


I believe I'll have another drink.
posted by islander at 8:23 PM on December 20, 2012


Atheism is a movement, as much as many atheists within that movement claim it is not,

What about atheists who are not within that movement? Let alone completely unaware of the movement until you made it up pointed it out, and still don't know when the meetings are, where they're held, let alone what its plans or objectives are.

I mean, are you picturing something like an atheist bishop in dazzling robes declaiming thus before his faithful atheist minions: "Followers of the true Atheist path! We will meet Thursday below the clock in the square, whereupon we shall commence, as one, to just disbelieve the living shit out of god!"

Because that actually sounds kind of cool. Since you seem to be uniquely well informed, how do I get in on this action? As a nonaligned atheist I'm feeling kinda left out now that you've shown me what I'm missing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:45 PM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


If the unbelievers team up with the Unitarians, they will just rule.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:49 PM on December 20, 2012


If the unbelievers team up with the Unitarians, they will just rule.

Well, I am an atheist, and a Unitarian. And we do rule, in the after-service fellowship cookie bake-off.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:58 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only damn thing I ever found worth worshiping was this. Who's with me?
posted by dr. zoom at 8:59 PM on December 20, 2012


She's with you!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:04 PM on December 20, 2012


What about atheists who are not within that movement? Let alone completely unaware of the movement until you made it up pointed it out, and still don't know when the meetings are, where they're held, let alone what its plans or objectives are. etc.

Really, this is a bit unfair. There are definitely atheists who consider themselves to be a part of a movement, and they don't need bishops or secret meetings to have such a movement. I do agree that not all atheists are movement-oriented folks, though.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:10 PM on December 20, 2012


The only activity I've seen that has any traction among anyone I know that even could be mistaken for a movement is a common desire, sometimes acted upon in this way or that, to not have religion imposed upon on us, or imposed on others in our name and using our public moneys and institutions.

Forgive the Huffpo link, but this is a good example, just posted, about resisting compulsory Christian observance at West Point. If "stop presupposing a de facto state religion and forcing it down our throats" is a movement, it's not a particularly Atheist one: the sense of it is certainly shared and acted upon by a great many religious people; not a few of them even Christian themselves.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:26 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Really, this is a bit unfair.

No it's not. It's an idea straight out of J. Edgar Hooverland.

There are definitely atheists who consider themselves to be a part of a movement, and they don't need bishops or secret meetings to have such a movement."

Certainly. I'm a Unitarian Universalist. Our meeting times are printed on the church sign.

I've listed 17 other movements, and with a moment's thought, we can make that a score. Please enlighten me on the common ideas and praxis across all of them. (I don't even think that "New Atheism" is a coherent movement beyond a vague sense of anti-theism.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:37 PM on December 20, 2012


Forgive the Huffpo link, but this is a good example, just posted, about resisting compulsory Christian observance at West Point. If "stop presupposing a de facto state religion and forcing it down our throats" is a movement, it's not a particularly Atheist one: the sense of it is certainly shared and acted upon by a great many religious people; not a few of them even Christian themselves.

And on the other hand, I'm getting deluged with spam assigning atheists collective responsibility for everything wrong with Christmas (no matter if we participate or not) AND Newtown. If someone wants to pull that "atheism is movement" bullshit, they're welcome to do so in March.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:41 PM on December 20, 2012


I totally wasn't going to comment on any religion thread, but here in gmt+12 New Zealand the horizon is crumpling up like a bad special effect, and I am on a train heading toward the
posted by Sparx at 9:48 PM on December 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
posted by perspicio at 9:55 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've listed 17 other movements, and with a moment's thought, we can make that a score. Please enlighten me on the common ideas and praxis across all of them.

Look, guys, one atheist to another? There's nothing to get defensive about here. There are atheists who consider themselves part of some sort of "movement", in varying forms of organization or lack thereof, and this isn't a judgement call on atheists or atheism either way. I honestly don't understand the refusal to acknowledge this. Maybe because it reminds one of the paranoid tracts of fundamentalists warning people of the Atheist Horde come to steal Christmas and indoctrinate preschool kids with Marxism? Yeah, that's not the kind of movement I'm talking about. I'm talking about self-identified atheists who believe they are a part of some larger movement or cause to a common goal. And again, this is no indictment on atheists or atheism either way. Sheesh.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:13 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So just so I'm clear here: I am not contending that atheism is itself a movement, or that all atheists everywhere are seeking organization to a larger movement. "Movement" is used here in the sense of believing you are one of many people working towards a common idea or set of ideas. I didn't realize it was so controversial to point out that there are atheists who do believe this. Maybe there was a misunderstanding of terminology here.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:20 PM on December 20, 2012


Atheism is a movement

No, no, no. Please try to understand how words work. There may, arguably, be an atheist movement, but atheism is emphatically not a movement.
posted by Decani at 10:21 PM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyway, since when does anybody need to share a unified vision or common purpose with a broader community just to drop a deus and call it a successful movement?
posted by perspicio at 10:22 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Movement" is used here in the sense of believing you are one of many people working towards a common idea or set of ideas.

There are a lot of atheists who are not "working toward" atheism and some who may even think it's unfortunate when people are atheistic. For plenty of people it's just a state of mind and not necessarily a choice - almost kind of, are you a realistic cynic or a head-in-the-clouds optimist? I mean, I happen to be a realistic cynic, but I'm not trying to convince everyone around me it's the best way to go...
posted by mdn at 10:27 PM on December 20, 2012


Fair enough, but the same can be said of the LGBTQ demographic, yet there is definitely a movement going on there. Or civil rights for black people. Or women's suffrage. Or any other movement in history.

The fact that not everybody who is part of the demographic is necessarily part of the movement has absolutely nothing to say about whether there is a movement or not.

(Is it just me, or does it look to anybody else like the ongoing disagreement would be resolvable with a rudimentary primer on set theory? All squares are rectangles; not all rectangles are squares. That sort of thing.)

Just to be clear, mdn, I do recognize that your statement was not cast as an argument against the idea that there could be an atheist movement. But given the current context, it might easily be construed that way.
posted by perspicio at 10:45 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


For reference, this is what is being argued about, in particular the part I've put in bold:

This [the presence of fanatics in any group] applies to atheism as much as to anything, of course, which is why I hesitate even to apply that term to myself. Atheism is a movement, as much as many atheists within that movement claim it is not, and I am uncomfortable aligning myself with that movement. The real dilemma of our species is too complex to blame on one religion or religion in general.

I think it's pretty obvious to see that this conflates atheism with a movement, which is a mistake. "LGBT is a movement" does not make sense, just as "atheism is a movement" does not make sense. It's simply a state of being.

That said, I think perspicio seems on the money in some sense: "the LGBT Movement/s" does make sense, just as "the Atheist Movement/s" does. Even though that's a wildly inaccurate term if used to describe anything other than a general trend of more atheists being around and admitting that they are around.

I suspect that Rory was talking about the already named and categorized New Atheism movement.
posted by tychotesla at 11:24 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Marisa: I am not contending that atheism is itself a movement...

No, but Rory did in plain language. Rory just pulled the classic dick move of using a stereotype about atheism to make himself look reasonable by disavowing it. Here is what he wrote:

"Atheism is a movement, as much as many atheists within that movement claim it is not, and I am uncomfortable aligning myself with that movement. The real dilemma of our species is too complex to blame on one religion or religion in general...."

That does not represent the atheism I practice, the atheism of people I'm in relationships with, and the atheism practiced in my community. And you know what? We have just as much a right to claim our atheism because we're part of a tradition that's been doing it for a few centuries longer than the four horsemen (who wouldn't all agree with that statement.) (I sometimes tease that I'm an old atheist concerned with ethics and praxis than a New Atheist.)

I'm repeatedly out there making the case that if you want to know how an atheist "aligns," you should buy them a cup of tea and have a conversation with them. I'm repeatedly out there making the case that atheism is a diverse set of beliefs, not all of which agree with each other. Statements like the one that Rory just made act against the work I have to do in order to participate in a multi-faith community.

perspicio: Fair enough, but the same can be said of the LGBTQ demographic, yet there is definitely a movement going on there.

When I was much more closely associated with the LGBTQ community, a common statement I heard went along the lines of, "Gay men are swishy, as much as many claim they're not, and I'm uncomfortable aligning myself with swishyness."

So there, of course the problem is two-fold. Why would you (hypothetical, not personal) see gay men as swishy? And is putting yourself in the closet to avoid being aligned with a stereotype an effective way to challenge that stereotype?

Here's another comparison: Are Jains, PeTA, and Seventh-Day Adventists all part of the same movement if they practice vegetarianism? Are Neo-Pagans, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews all part of the same movement if they practice theism?

If you've been following the discussions lately, it's pretty clear that P.Z. Meyers and Chris Stedman have radically different ideals, goals, and methods. But they're both atheists and they're both representative of different movements within atheism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:28 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real dilemma of our species is too complex to blame on one religion or religion in general.

Well, agreed speaking very broadly. But if you happen to know what specifically spurs more hatred, inflames more intolerance, sparks more wars, spills more blood, squanders more time and energy, than religion; by all means, let's hear it.
posted by dr. zoom at 12:37 AM on December 21, 2012


But if you happen to know what specifically spurs more hatred, inflames more intolerance, sparks more wars, spills more blood, squanders more time and energy, than religion; by all means, let's hear it.

1 Attempts by an elite to maintain control OR by a local elite to seize control. (Every civil war and revolution/suppression.)
2 Nationalist and ethnic expansion. (Imperial expansion, European-style nation-nation conflict.)
3 Competition for scarce resources (public spending, land, water...)

Essentially, I'm going to go with "the natural urge amongst humans to compete violently and do in-group and out-groups". Religion, since it's a human universal, is of course inextricably bound up with this, as justification and explanation. But unless you DO believe in a higher power, this makes no sense: He doesn't exist to drive the conflicts. He's an excuse.
posted by alasdair at 12:58 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Essentially, I'm going to go with "the natural urge amongst humans to compete violently and do in-group and out-groups".

"Why do you think they invented politics and religion?"

--from Frank Darabont's screenplay to "The Mist," adapted from Stephen King's novella.

I'm not going to let religion off the hook, but I see that I was leaving politics out of it... ;)
posted by dr. zoom at 1:12 AM on December 21, 2012


The scorn for my suggestion that "atheism" is seen by many as a movement indicates to me that people are not only aware that this is happening, but not comfortable with its happening.

Of course not all atheists are part of a movement. It should be obvious from my writing above that I myself don't believe in a god, nor in a "higher power" in any sense that I would call a religion. I believe the search for meaning is a valuable search, I believe that communities which revolve around that search are a wonderful thing, but I also think that religious organization tends to both obscure the search and misdirect its intent.

But a part of that search for meaning involves refuting false meaning where it arises, and the word "atheist" has become practically meaningless in the sense that nobody quite agrees with what it means. Does it mean not believing in God? Because if so, many Christians are atheists. Does it mean not actively practicing a religion? Because many people don't practice a religion, yet consider themselves spiritual people or believe in a higher power. Does atheism concern rejecting religion outright, condemning its impact on the world? Because many prominent atheists claim that this is the only moral stance for atheists to take, and they will claim that stance in the name of atheists everywhere – whether or not their fellow atheists agree with them.

What we call "spiritual pursuit" (though this too is a shitty phrase) is too complex and too personal to assign a meaningful label, except for in the sorts of discussions where we have time to define labels quite specifically before using them. "Atheism" is not a useful label. The more specific atheist groups mentioned by others in this thread are more useful, certainly; but this is not a thread about atheist sects, is it? It's about "unbelief" as a "declared religion" – both stupid concepts but still interesting, in the sense that "unbelief" hasn't been this popular in recent memory. Assume all you'd like that I'm making generalizations in an attempt to denounce or dismiss atheism, but when the conversation starts off in such a generic place, don't accuse me of being the one resorting to generalization.

The problem is, as you begin to define the nature of "spiritual pursuit" in a more complex and label-free way, you find there's no solid line separating spiritual from non-spiritual, religious from atheistic. You can arrive at a personal definition, but you cannot insist your personal definition is the only useful one. Yet plenty of atheists are convinced they understand this issue well enough to make grand pronouncements. A few people in this thread like to make sweeping rejections of religious faith, and they are convinced they understand religion well enough for their rejections to be valid. That right there? That's dogma – a belief that your principles are incontrovertibly correct, and therefore may be acted upon meaningfully.

Being that this is MetaFilter, this dogma is basically harmless, but then, we get people pissed off when religious people tell nonbelievers here that they're going to hell, who insist that such a statement is offensive or worse. Yet when people of faith take issue with the way atheists on the site discuss their religion – see here for one contentious discussion – those atheists are quick to defend their statements as perfectly acceptable.

So yes, atheists are finding a dogma of their own, and "atheism" is becoming the name of a movement. Not all atheists are part of this movement, you say? Well, not all Christians are part of the Christianity which is getting criticized and snarked at, even in this thread. Not all Muslims believe in the same faith that provoked this decade's largest wars. Your "religion" is as much a figurehead as my "atheism". Yet we discuss "religion" or "Christianity" as if it were a meaningful thing, as if meaningful things could be said about it. And in the sense that things happen under those words and change our perception of them, yes, we can say meaningful things. We understand that discussing the brands associated with words is not an inherently futile task.

Is atheism above perception and interpretation, simply because atheists are passive in their nonbelief? Simply because atheism is a word that you feel means a single particular thing, which is not subject to translation?

I call bullshit. Atheism carries connotations, and people are taking up atheism as a banner. It is a movement whose aims you can disagree with, but it is a movement nonetheless. Join those of religious faith who resent being grouped with the fanatics of their sect. The rules don't change just because your take on faith is a negative and not a positive.

In the meantime, I will continue not believing in a God and searching for meaning in my own way. And I will continue to avoid calling myself an atheist, because I would like to have as little to do with that word as possible.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:22 AM on December 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Religion is simply one way people organize themselves into tribes. Tribalism is an inherent part of human nature and all living beings. We can get all poetically profound about messed up it is. In some ways, the much-derided South Park episodes about atheism back in 2006 had a point, in that getting rid of theism only resulted in atheists getting tribal on each other. (And we can see something like that already on the internet; atheists and agnostics hating on each other, the former calling the latter wishy-washy, the latter calling the former narrow-minded, and so forth.) Of course, such ideological brands have not caused any fatalities- yet. Wait a few millennia.

Honestly, human beings have killed each other and torched cities over sports. Even if religion fades away, people will still find trivial reasons (as opposed to the "noble" reasons of nation, resources, and survival?) to make war on each other, don't y'all worry.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:35 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does it mean not believing in God? Because if so, many Christians are atheists.

Now, that just doesn't make any sense.

Yet plenty of atheists are convinced they understand this issue well enough to make grand pronouncements.

They aren't the only ones.

A person making sweeping generalizations about a term doesn't mean the term has no validity - it just means they're trying to make one word do too much.

Atheism carries connotations, and people are taking up atheism as a banner.

I'm not really sure why you think this is a huge problem, given that you seem to be able to differentiate between "Christians/Muslims who do (thing)" and "All Christians/Muslims". Surely you can see how the same discernment could be applied to atheism?
posted by dubold at 3:06 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate to break it to you Rory Marinich, but you're an atheist.

I think that's why there's a disconnect here, you believe that atheism is a sort of nebulously defined cultural group that people sign on and off of.

But atheism means that you do not believe in any god, and that is all it means. That is the definition of it. You could find an atheist hating priest who identifies as Christian and is accepted as Christian and loves religion and believes in ghosts, but at the end of the day if they don't believe in any gods they are by definition an atheist. It's really that simple. That's the definition of atheism and atheists.

Thus, you are one too. As are plenty of other people who do not consider themselves aligned with an atheist movement. Which is why people are telling you that describing an "atheist movement" does not provide the accuracy that you thought.

Again, read up on New Atheism. It sounds like what you're talking about.
posted by tychotesla at 3:44 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


This whole debate is tiring and a waste of time.

No one cleanly falls into any category simply because humans have a range of beliefs in different systems. Like Autism, belief is a spectrum.


Yes true, but religion is also political, which is why reports like this have meaning for me. I don't really care an awful lot what people believe, but if the major religions have fewer followers behind them they have less political power, and that can only be a good thing IMO.
posted by Summer at 4:09 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Much like linguists believe all humans speak what are basically dialects of a single Language, anthropologists since Durkheim have asserted the religious impulse is common to all humans, who all worship their own social order but project it onto supernatural causes. Doesn't mean there is or isn't a "God." In fact, it takes no position on that except to say that if there is we all tend to think God is one of Us, whoever We are.

Belief in unseen forces has had adaptive value for humans in evolutionary terms. One can wonder if that is still the case given that we have now fouled our own global habitat through our evolutionary "success." But believing in God(s)/spirits/forces is what has made humans fuck like bunnies and kill like lions for, oh, a hundred thousand years or so, give or take and possibly including other hominid species with whom we initially competed.
posted by spitbull at 5:05 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


And that is in part because Pascal's wager, like overreacting to any warning or threat, was a low cost insurance policy when we understood less about the physical world. Indeed, to my way of thinking science and religion stem from the same underlying impulse to seek and if necessary invent causal relationships between our behavior and its outcomes as a guide to practical action.
posted by spitbull at 5:10 AM on December 21, 2012


God is everything, including nothing. If you do not believe, you still believe.
posted by Debaser626 at 5:11 AM on December 21, 2012


"But believing in God(s)/spirits/forces is what has made humans fuck like bunnies and kill like lions for, oh, a hundred thousand years or so,"

Really? Of all human behaviour, those two are ones I think we'd do enthusiastically anyway regardless of belief. Not so hot on the killing, myself, but I'd be up for it if survival was involved. The fucking like bunnies? Pass that fluffy tail.

There are so many good, strong, logical arguments against religion in general and specifically that there must be good, strong, practical reasons for its continued popularity. All the gods in religion are recognisably human and do human things - albeit through supernatural means - and I think religion is humanity's way of having a relationship with the kind of thing it either thinks it should become or fears becoming. Before secular literature and scientific ways of perceiving ourselves, it may well have been the only way to do that.
posted by Devonian at 5:17 AM on December 21, 2012


Human population has exploded relative to ecological niche (requiring expansion of habitat and wiping out of competition) more successfully than any other mammal species, or vertebrate species with the possible exception of our companion parasites/herds/work animals.

That's what I meant, so maybe "fuck like hominids" is better.

And kill like hominids too. Nobody does it better.
posted by spitbull at 5:25 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


(In other words Freud's Eros and Thanatos are Durkheim's "religion" in a roundabout way.)
posted by spitbull at 5:28 AM on December 21, 2012


I don't think the comparative non-success of other species is down to a lack of enthusiasm for sex.
posted by Summer at 5:29 AM on December 21, 2012


Rory, you are really over thinking this. A theist is a person who believes in a deity. An atheist is someone who is not a theist. It really is simple as that. As said before, it doesn't make sense to whip that into a social movement with rules and avatars.
posted by Winnemac at 5:29 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not about enthusiasm for sex. About making room for more babies.
posted by spitbull at 5:30 AM on December 21, 2012


Oh, and channeling both sexual and violent drives into creating society.
posted by spitbull at 5:31 AM on December 21, 2012


but religion is also political, which is why reports like this have meaning for me.

Me too. Personally, the most important question when it comes to religion isn't "is it true?" but "given diverse religious/spiritual/etc. identifications, including the irreligious, how can we govern ourselves in a way that respects the human rights of all regardless of their beliefs?"

An increase in the number and visibility of the non-religious won't be the end of generations-old religious privilege that sanctions bigotry and discrimination, but it's a good start.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:40 AM on December 21, 2012


Rory: The scorn for my suggestion that "atheism" is seen by many as a movement indicates to me that people are not only aware that this is happening, but not comfortable with its happening.

Sure. I think that characterizing diverse groups by their "fanatics" isn't fair or honest, and therefore, a moral wrong. If it's wrong to do that WRT Christianity and Islam, then it's wrong to do that WRT atheism. You don't get to rant in one paragraph about how overgeneralizing about Christianity is bad, and then turn around in the next and claim an overgeneralization as the "rules" for talking about atheism. I reject those rules for both, and have spent possibly too much of my life challenging them WRT to gender and sexuality to accept them WRT religion and philosophy.

I suppose there is merit to the argument that the diverse perspectives of atheism and the diverse perspectives of theism would be fairly treated if the rules of bigots were applied equally to both. But it baffles me that you'd choose to double-down on defending those rules. It's rather like defending the proposition that atheists and theists would both be fairly served with a punch to the nose in equal measure.

Here's my simple rules:

If you're not a member, you don't get to define it.
If you're not a member, shut the fuck up and listen.

If you don't want to identify yourself as an atheist, no problem. But in that case, you don't have the right to demand that my community adopt your definitions or your specified authorities.

Does it mean not believing in God? Because if so, many Christians are atheists. Does it mean not actively practicing a religion? Because many people don't practice a religion, yet consider themselves spiritual people or believe in a higher power.

I don't have a problem with any of these statements. Neither do Christian congregations that accept atheism as an alternative way of thinking about meaning and values. I also don't have a problem with the idea that atheists can be spiritual people. The fact that language can have wide variety of meaning across communities is a beautiful feature, not a bug.

Yet when people of faith take issue with the way atheists on the site discuss their religion – see here for one contentious discussion – those atheists are quick to defend their statements as perfectly acceptable.

This is a dishonest interpretation of those discussions. Atheists often take issue with the way other atheists on this site discuss religion. In fact, it's rare that we can have a discussion about atheism qa atheism without it ending up into the same old argument about how atheists should talk about religion.

And I will continue to avoid calling myself an atheist, because I would like to have as little to do with that word as possible.

If your self-identity depends on false claims about who I am as an atheist, then you're doing it wrong.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:42 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


As said before, it doesn't make sense to whip that into a social movement with rules and avatars.

It makes sense for the Atheist Movement, though. Here are some of the Atheist Movement's websites (my emphases):

Atheist Alliance "Facilitates and supports projects/events that promote atheism."

Brights' Net "This egalitarian vision is not the reality today. Moving toward it requires that individuals who do hold a naturalistic worldview make manifest their existence within society."

Rationalist International "Rationalism is an attitude that accepts the primacy of reason and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics verifiable by experience, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority.

There's a whole Wikipedia page of similar groups! Dude, did you not get the invite?

There's nothing shameful at having a Movement. If you think Atheism is Right and Important, for example being pleased at the growth of Atheism, then it's moral and right - indeed, your duty - to promote it.
posted by alasdair at 5:53 AM on December 21, 2012


There's nothing shameful at having a Movement.

The fact that atheists participate in a variety of political movements, does not mean that atheism is a movement defined by (in Rory's terms) anti-theism. It's a basic fallacy of composition.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:56 AM on December 21, 2012


blessed are the fish, for they shall inhabit the pants of eternity.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:56 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The fact that atheists participate in a variety of political movements, does not mean that atheism is a movement defined by (in Rory's terms) anti-theism. It's a basic fallacy of composition.

I'd agree with this as long as we're also agreeing that one of those political movements which some atheists participate is anti-theism, or at least anti-(some)-theism.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:59 AM on December 21, 2012


You might say there was atheism and Atheism!
posted by alasdair at 6:01 AM on December 21, 2012


It's a basic fallacy of composition.

Which actually is a fairly common thing for stereotypes. Rory takes it a bit further and insists that atheism is defined by those stereotypes, and appears to get pissy when we challenge this definition.

shakespherian: I'd agree with this as long as we're also agreeing that one of those political movements which some atheists participate is anti-theism, or at least anti-(some)-theism.

Sure, both anti-theism and New Atheism have been already been identified as such.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:04 AM on December 21, 2012


I like the part where the Atheistic People's Front, who came for an argument, accidentally enters the Abuse room instead and encounters the People's Front of Atheism. The People's Front of Atheism attempts to eat the Atheistic People's Front's lunch, but recoils when it finds that spam, dogma, sausage and spam has spam in it.

Hilarity ensues.
posted by perspicio at 6:09 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Funny how it always turns out to be the fault of those fucking atheists.
posted by Summer at 6:15 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd really like to know the common goals, identity, and ideology among [atheists]...

I don't know about other atheists, but my goal is for all the Christians in my area to keep going to church every Sunday so I can get crap done or go to the movies without worrying about ungodly traffic. It's like Night of the Comet deserted on the freeways from ~8 to ~11 am.

I think the Indian guys who play cricket in the park across from my house on Sunday mornings have a similar goal, so it's probably not an exclusively atheist goal.

Actually, maybe Christians should be going to church ALL DAY on Sunday...

on Saturdays, maybe, too...

posted by Huck500 at 6:16 AM on December 21, 2012


The atheist debate is amusing. The only reason there are "Atheist" organizations is that someone is monetizing a cultural trend. I don't want to go down the no-true Scotts man argument but those who self identify as atheists have no consistent definition for the word. The literal translation is as close as many agree on, without god. That said I believe that reality has a direction that matter tends to assemble in evermore complex arrangements consciousness arises from that complexity and time marches on. I'm not invoking any supernatural agency our even purpose beyond a vague opposition to the process of entropy but that might be a personal misinterpretation due to my humanity. Biology is just a stepping stone on the way to find out.

Religion has no meaning in the face of reality simply the construction of a biological mind. Imagine...
posted by pdxpogo at 6:35 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let me sum up my spiritual beliefs:

There is only Zuul, baby.

Cthulhu F'htagn, baby.
posted by Mister_A at 6:39 AM on December 21, 2012


I'd agree with this as long as we're also agreeing that one of those political movements which some atheists participate is anti-theism, or at least anti-(some)-theism.

Come now. Everyone who believes in one specific religion is 'least anti-(some)-theism', unless you know a lot of Catholics who are totally down with Ganesh or something. In the words of Stephen Roberts:
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:40 AM on December 21, 2012


I don't want to go down the no-true Scotts man argument but those who self identify as atheists have no consistent definition for the word.

I can't really parse this-- do you mean there's not a consistent definition for the word among self-identified atheists as a group, or do you mean that individual self-identified atheists are inconsistent with their definition?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:41 AM on December 21, 2012


Come now. Everyone who believes in one specific religion is 'least anti-(some)-theism'

Sure but not necessarily as a political movement is all.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:44 AM on December 21, 2012


I just want to point out that this entire debate is moot. Because actually 100% of the world is Discordian. Every man, woman, and child is a Discordian Pope.

This is the 125th comment, in compliance with the Law of Fives.
posted by XerxesQados at 6:45 AM on December 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't want to go down the no-true Scotts man argument but those who self identify as atheists have no consistent definition for the word.

You are incorrect.

That said I believe that reality has a direction that matter tends to assemble in evermore complex arrangements consciousness arises from that complexity and time marches on.

Have you heard of the second law of thermodynamics?

Religion has no meaning in the face of reality simply the construction of a biological mind. Imagine...

Not sure what you are trying to say here. Can you clarify this?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:46 AM on December 21, 2012


We shouldn't throw out nuance and subtlety for the sake of easily fitting everyone's response on a pie chart.

Obviously you're not an MBA.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:46 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd say that individual self-identified atheists have no consistent definition that spans the group. You can't say what atheism is for anyone other than yourself. I can call myself an atheist but my politics are secular humanism.
posted by pdxpogo at 6:52 AM on December 21, 2012


I'd say that individual self-identified atheists have no consistent definition that spans the group.

That's true of most groups including:

* LGBTQ people
* liberals
* conservatives
* practically every religion on the face of the Earth
* gamers
* fans
* men, women, other

I think this is a beautiful feature of language and community rather than a problem.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:04 AM on December 21, 2012


Let me sum up my spiritual beliefs:

Hail to the king, baby.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:05 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you heard of the second law of thermodynamics?

I'm going to try and avoid sarcasm here... I used the word entropy for a reason. I enjoy the narrative generated in my mind when faced with why? There maybe no purpose for evolution or consciousness but they are here none the less. The fact that order arises from the imperfect distribution of matter after the big bang could be serendipity or Cosmic Kabuki. The Last Question never left me. After the Big Bang you are left with a pretty big time slot to fill.
posted by pdxpogo at 7:09 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this is a beautiful feature of language and community rather than a problem.

Not sure I thought it was a problem or stated it as such only that I found the debate amusing. I am a self described atheist. I say god doesn't matter. The nature of reality is such that even if there was a creator It existed outside of Its creation and is prevented from acting in that universe by the laws of physics that define existence. If Jesus wants to change water into wine he needs some grapes.

Saying every word has a dictionary meaning does not mean that words used by people cannot and do not have meanings other than that definition. I am a self described atheist who has no need to disavow god or gods it simply does not matter to me. Without god I try and conduct my life. Secular Humanism to me means human problems require human solutions.
posted by pdxpogo at 7:38 AM on December 21, 2012


On surveys in the US, only about half of people who say they don't believe in God or aren't sure if there is one describe themselves as atheists or agnostics.

A lot of the non-believers I've known fall into this category. Most of them emphasize their antipathy to organized religion, rather than their own personal beliefs or disbeliefs. Although I've never interrogated any of them about it, I've assumed that they don't like labels like atheism and agnosticism simply because adopting one of them sounds too much like joining yet another -ism, and getting into arguments about what the true meaning of atheism is, or whether atheism or agnosticism is the correct position, seems too close to what they dislike about religion in the first place.

I think this position is totally understandable.
posted by nangar at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Religions are really fascinating and frequently beautiful when treated as a way of structuring mortal human meaning into a narrative that makes us part of something grander than the shapes of our individual lives alone; a set of multilayered symbolisms showing us universally human truths appropriate for different developmental stages and levels of symbolic investment...

It's boring to talk about religions only in a literal or overly generalized sense, to pin them all on literal "beliefs" which are supposed to be just blind gamble guesses about the universe, or to try and squeeze objective scientific fact out of them, when most aren't made to do that in the first place. There's probably always been some element of literalism everywhere in every major world religion once it grows beyond a certain point, but I'd be really interested to know how literalism came to be the overwhelmingly dominant way of looking at religions in the West.
posted by byanyothername at 10:18 AM on December 21, 2012


God is everything, including nothing. If you do not believe, you still believe.

Debaser, that's kind of mean.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on December 21, 2012


Most of them emphasize their antipathy to organized religion, rather than their own personal beliefs or disbeliefs.

Apatheism

Not caring one way or the other even if one side is true or not.

But they don't make news because it's always the ones who think you should care that start up.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:08 AM on December 21, 2012


I'd be really interested to know how literalism came to be the overwhelmingly dominant way of looking at religions in the West.

A lot of it has to do with the history of Christianity. First off there's the idea that faith plays a crucial role in salvation — which in some Protestant churches gets extended even further and becomes "Faith is the only source of salvation."

And so then when freedom of religion became a hot political issue in Europe, for instance in 16th and 17th century England, it was framed as "The government may be able to police our behavior, but it can't tell us what to think." That's really where our current approach to things like religious freedom comes from. And it gives us a whole set of discourses around religion where a religion just is a set of propositions you believe in. "Well, different people belong to different churches because they believe different things to be true. And okay, sure, maybe they practice differently as a result, or seek out different kinds of mystical experience, but clearly the differences in belief are the most important thing."

Even nonliteralism turns into a propositional belief when you come at it that way. "I don't like to approach the Bible in a literalist way" becomes "I believe this to be true: the Bible should not be interpreted literally." "I care more about behavior than about faith" becomes "I believe this to be true: good behavior counts for more than faith does."

You can imagine if Hellenism had turned out dominant instead, we'd be foregrounding different kinds of religious difference. "Well, different people belong to different cults because they've had different mystical experiences and undergone different initiations. And okay, sure, maybe they end up with different beliefs as a result, but clearly the mystical experiences are the most important thing." (And we might even have a different way of justifying freedom of religion: maybe something like "Initiation is a personal, private, intensely secret matter, so obviously the public and the state have no business sticking their nose into it.")
posted by and so but then, we at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although I've never interrogated any of them about it, I've assumed that they don't like labels like atheism and agnosticism simply because adopting one of them sounds too much like joining yet another -ism

There's also under-reporting/resistance to identify as an atheist due to the social stigma attached to the term, as described by Phil Zuckerman in the first couple pages of this [pdf] (a version of his chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism).
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:18 AM on December 21, 2012


my goal is for all the Christians in my area to keep going to church every Sunday so I can get crap done - Preach it, brother. (Sister? Whatever, it's all good.) Best time for grocery shopping: when the Christians are all in church and the partiers are all asleep.

Altho what I find fascinating about the regional distribution chart in particular is how thoroughly distributed Christians are compared to everyone else. Also, that most of the story of "unaffiliated" is the story of China, really, rather than any movement in the US or Europe.
posted by epersonae at 11:30 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


nangar: I agree its understandable, but I don't think it's good or ideal to define yourself in contrast to some other group, first because that often involves incomplete information and/or stereotypes about that group, second because it says nothing about what you stand for, and third because it devolves into a game of Sneeches.

It's hitting a nerve right now because of a conversation from a completely different area. And that's another case where I think the people trying to define groups they don't wish to be a part of would take the time to read a bit more, and realize that it's not that simple.

Smedlyman: Oh shit, that essay. Thank you for pointing to a classic example of what I'm talking about. Rouch tries to contrast apatheism to atheism and agnosticism and manages to demonstrate a terribly wrong and ignorant understanding of both. On page three, he equivocates atheism to "religious zealotry" and declares them both to be barriers to world peace. His use of Rorty may also be a problem. I'm not familiar enough with Rorty to know, but given Rouch's other blunders, I'm not inclined to give it credibility.

Sadly, this level of writing out of one's ass is epidemic in writing about religion and atheism (which are NOT antonyms btw.) It's one reason why I take great care not to critique beliefs and practices about god in talking about my atheism. I'm neither brilliant enough nor well-read enough to do it properly, and I know that once I get it wrong the credibility of anything else I have to say is shot.

Beliefs about atheists however are another matter entirely.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2012


I'm really annoyed by this whole non-American movement. Those people push their views on people way too much, and don't seem to understand that they are forming their own nationality around their common non-American-ness. I mean, they're basically just the same as the neo-colonial state that they claim to be so annoyed with. Really, they're just a bunch of fascists.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:43 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


manages to demonstrate a terribly wrong and ignorant understanding of both.

Meh.
I think he's mostly going on about atheists as a community that care (negatively) about religion rather than the belief itself.
But too, that's just an argument over the definition of terms.

Whatever the failure in the details, the core point seems to hold. There are people who care either way about God and care about belief or unbelief in God.
And there are those that don't consider the question itself relevant, whatever the answer is.

Zen, for one, is like that. It's merely practice that will help you avoid suffering. The way exercise helps you avoid a heart attack. Other considerations are tangential.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:59 PM on December 21, 2012


Smedlyman: Misconceptions like that make it harder to build mutual respect and trust in relationships. Do you know how many years now I've had to say, "I'm perfectly fine with your prayers" at family gatherings? (I might have to go through the whole thing again post-Huckabee this year.)

How apathetic can you be if you're making a point of shallow anti-atheism and anti-Evangelicalism on page 1, and claiming world peace on page 3? If the core point is solid, it can be made without misrepresenting or disparaging other perspectives.

And that's all I'm asking for. If you're going to talk about a religion, you need to be able to account for and cover the diversity of perspectives within it. If you're going to talk about atheism, you need to be able to do the same. Reducing either to a simplistic caricature that best fits the political drum your're banging isn't fair or honest, and therefore wrong.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:02 PM on December 21, 2012


Debaser626: God is everything, including nothing. If you do not believe, you still believe.
EmpressCallipygos: Debaser, that's kind of mean.

"Mean" is charitable. Smug, deluded, presupposing, assuming, self-satisfied, those would work too.
posted by JHarris at 3:50 PM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's kind of a self-defeating point, too. If not believing is still believing, then faith has no meaning, and worship is pointless.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:00 PM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless. It's the equivalent of a hip young Philosophy 101 professor trying to engage a new class by going, "Each one of you is an existentialist because you've all thought about reality at some point!"
posted by Apocryphon at 4:37 PM on December 21, 2012


Have we figured out how many of us Atheists can dance on the head of a pin yet?
posted by double block and bleed at 4:41 PM on December 21, 2012


One, if the pin lies on its side.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:01 PM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


God is everything, including nothing. If you do not believe, you still believe.

Charitably it's a serviceable nonsense koan, that rather efficiently reduces several fundamental and useful concepts to meaning free noise. Like when you were a kid and you repeated the word shampoo until your brain detuned for minute. Helped to have a fever, maybe.


Nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to pitch my tent there.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:07 PM on December 21, 2012


Let's not forget that members of each religion are unbelievers of all other religions.

Not necessarily. One of the fun things I found when I became pagan was that I was a lot more comfortable with other people believing different things. Even after I was worshipping mainly with people who believed similar things, my attitudes toward other religions became much more driven by social conventions, rather than convensions of belief and disbelief. When I'm in someone else's religious context, I behave as is appropriate to it within the bounds of my own moral code; I expect the same if they come within my context - but it's about manners and politeness, not belief.

And I've now and then interacted with gods outside of my own, so I certainly don't disbelieve in them.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:26 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most of the whole of China claims to be nominally Buddhist, but.... and as for the percentage of ''Christians'' in UK censuses, as a recovered fundamentalist, my old prejudice kicks in: going twice so you can get permission from the vicar to be married in that purdy old church ≠ Christian! I'd be shocked if it was 10%. Poland, Ireland, Greece, maybe Italy - those are about the only religious countries in Europe. (Lithuania, for all cultural purposes, counts as part of Poland - they used to be part of the same empire.)
posted by maiamaia at 3:46 PM on December 22, 2012


Not necessarily. One of the fun things I found when I became pagan was that I was a lot more comfortable with other people believing different things.

That all fine and good, but (for example, Catholicism) are you comfortable with their tenet that as a non-believer you are going to suffer eternally in hell? If you don't share that belief, you can't legitimately call yourself a believer in Catholicism. You might respect their faith and their rituals and be comfortable and polite around them, but if you don't believe that theirs is the only path to salvation then you are a non-believer in their religion. My (Seventh-Day Adventist) family believes the same way: if you don't believe that theirs is the only path to salvation, you are a non-believer in their religion. It's fundamental to their faith, and many faiths claim the same monopoly on salvation. They will tolerate no other systems of belief.
posted by mullingitover at 6:12 PM on December 22, 2012


Debaser626: God is everything, including nothing. If you do not believe, you still believe.

There are several things that are wrong with this argument.

1. Atheism has many different definitions, such as "not believing", "believing all religious people are wrong", "believing in humanity and inherent morality", and some people even identify agnosticism as a category under the umbrella of atheism. This is what many religious people don't understand. Part of atheism is that every person seeks their truth and defines how they think the universe works. Some agree, some don't. There is no dogma in atheism, except perhaps that there is no proof of god and faith isn't tangible proof.

2. Your logic is fine and dandy...for you. I personally don't accept your definition of god (everything, including nothing), to me, god is a complete ass pull, usually a magical grandpa in the sky invented by people to control others and not feel so alone in the universe. My definition of god involves the fact that it's non existent. Does that mean I believe in god?

3. The "I can imagine perfect and perfect is not perfect if it doesn't exist so there is a god" argument was tried by many people through the ages. But it's flawed. I can imagine an ideal singing teapot who is perfect, all powerful and is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. For it to be ideal it has to exist. I can also imagine an all powerful single cell organism who eternally doesn't give a shit about anyone and hasn't ever created anything and whose identity does not relate at all with god. And for a long time during my childhood, I had a mental concept of Santa Claus that involved being omnipotent, omniscient and eternal, as well as morally perfect.

4. If god is just everything ,including nothing, with no strings attached (such as ceremonies, prayer, hell or afterlife) then I might as well replace the world god with universe and yes, I believe the universe exists.

5. Using "philosophical" tricks to show us atheists how we really are "believers" is exactly the disrespectful, sophist and flashy kind of thing that makes some of us dislike religion. How about letting us define who we are? How about maybe realizing that your definition of god is yours and only yours? We don't try to fit you in a category that you actively oppose. Do yourself a favor and stop it. With your logic, I could make you believe in my magic teapot or anything completely ridiculous. Like god.
posted by Tarumba at 7:02 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Debaser626: God is everything, including nothing. If you do not believe, you still believe.

I don't think you understand atheism. I'm not believing there is nothing, I have an utter lack of belief, period.

(Also, as said more eloquently above, a clever semantic twist of phrase does little to change facts or faith.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:21 AM on December 23, 2012


Reducing either to a simplistic caricature that best fits the political drum your're banging isn't fair or honest, and therefore wrong

Except the people doing that are the ones who actually care either way. Someone tells me the Yankees beat the Pirates, I'm not engaged no matter who's on what team. Is that disparaging of baseball? Possibly.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:36 PM on December 23, 2012


Yankees beat the Pirates isn't disparaging.

Saying the hot-blood, fundamentalist, and puritan Yankees who can't stand public displays of religion beat the Pirates probably is however.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:01 AM on December 24, 2012


I know that there is conflict within myself between my need for spiritual fulfillment and my inability to place my faith in a God that, for me, can't possibly exist. I envy those who have faith and are able to find love and companionship in their God. It must be wonderful to have someone to turn to when there is no one else.

I find an interesting parallel between the desire of the faithful to seek out a loving God and the goal of science to find out whether there is alien life. There are over seven billion people on this earth yet each of us is so desperately afraid of being alone.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:18 PM on December 25, 2012


The FPP website doesn't list the sources on a country-by-country basis (although apparently it will be linked at some point, there's an Appendix B that looks like it should have it). I hope they didn't use the NISRA census when they got to Northern Ireland. That census was structured so that you ended up being grouped by the religion you were brought up with (5% answered 'none') rather than the religion you consider yourself now (10% answered 'none'). As the author of this article says, it's like the joke where the NI atheist is asked if he's a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist: How to Make the Nones Disappear.
posted by harriet vane at 11:42 PM on January 9, 2013


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