Fandango’s Provocative Question #163


Welcome once again to Fandango’s Provocative Question. Each week I will pose what I think is a provocative question for your consideration.

By provocative, I don’t mean a question that will cause annoyance or anger. Nor do I mean a question intended to arouse sexual desire or interest.

What I do mean is a question that is likely to get you to think, to be creative, and to provoke a response. Hopefully a positive response.

Those of you who read my blog know that I’m an atheist. Just to be clear, an atheist is someone with an absence of belief in the existence of supernatural deities. It’s essentially a rejection of the belief that any such deities exist. That’s about it. There is no book, no dogma, no rituals, and no set of rules to being an atheist.

About a week ago, a blogger I follow and enjoy wrote, “Atheism is the religious belief held by those who don’t believe in religion.” I know this blogger was being tongue-in-cheek in that wordplay, but I responded in a comment that, “atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion.” I added to my comment, also being a bit tongue-in-cheek, “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Anyway, that exchange sparked a series of comments back and forth where that blogger continued to argue the position that atheism is a religion, while I continued to state my position that atheism is not a religion nor a defined set of religious beliefs. We finally ended with that old “let’s agree to disagree” discussion ender.

For this week’s provocative question, I’m not asking if you do or don’t believe in God or any other deity. I’m also not asking whether or not you practice any religion or are a religious person. My feeling, when it comes to a belief in deities and religion is, hey, whatever floats your boat. That said, my provocative question today is this:

Do you believe that atheism is a set of religious beliefs or is a religion in any sense? If so, why? If not, why not? Or, do you have no opinion on the matter or just don’t care one way or the other?

If you choose to participate, write a post with your response to the question. Once you are done, tag your post with #FPQ and create a pingback to this post if you are on WordPress. Or you can simply include a link to your post in the comments. But remember to check to confirm that your pingback or your link shows up in the comments.

Note: Because I will be participating in the A to Z blogging challenge in April, I will not be posting any new provocative question until May. Instead, I will be revisiting some previous provocative questions that you might have missed. Please feel free to respond to them if you haven’t already.

41 thoughts on “Fandango’s Provocative Question #163

  1. Nope, Not Pam March 30, 2022 / 3:14 am

    It’s. not a religion. How can it be? There’s no underlying belief/faith involved

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sadje March 30, 2022 / 3:40 am

    Nopes, atheism is an absence of belief and hence cannot be classified as a religion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Richard June 11, 2022 / 12:07 pm

      Atheists are religiously religious religion is false

      Liked by 2 people

      • Fandango June 11, 2022 / 9:30 pm

        It’s not that atheists believe that religion is false, it’s that the God upon which most religions are based doesn’t actually exist.


  3. CARAMEL March 30, 2022 / 3:46 am

    I am sure you will have lots of interesting replies to this one Fandango. I doubt I will find the time to do this question justice, but I think a brief answer is that for some atheists, there is a strong belief/faith system behind their conviction that shapes their outlook, decisions, goals, and some hold resolute to their beliefs when challenged, defending them. So in some respects, their beliefs might be held sacred, or as instrumental to their daily life and life course as a person who is religious. But not all who describe themselves as atheists are the same. Some have not put as much thought into researching, evaluating, and coming to a conclusion, and are often quite wishy-washy – claiming they don’t believe in a Creator, but centering their social calendar and expenditure around religious holidays. I don’t think they have much conviction about them at all.

    The reason some people state they are atheists can be so different. Some seem to say they are atheists because they feel scientific evidence points to a lack of design, a lack of purpose, a lack of intelligence. Others are angry with religions, for hypocrisy, bloodshed, abuse, enriching themselves while their congregations are in poverty. For others atheism may be much more personal, the deep heartbreaking events in their own life or the disturbing atrocities in history such as the holocaust, may make it hard for them to reconcile the idea of a loving Creator.

    In some senses, you could say there are many different denominations of atheism. Each person will have their own individual beliefs and reasons, and the degree of conviction or the extent those beliefs will shape their life will vary.

    However, so it is with religions, last time I checked there were around 49,000 different Christian denominations, and you can bet that amongst the many hundreds of millions who claim to be Christian, there are very different beliefs, reasons for those beliefs, degrees of conviction and extents to which individuals live by those beliefs.

    Approaching the beliefs of others with a heavy handed black and white way of labelling them, defining them, boxing them up, seems rather insensitive to me. Respecting that people have the capacity to think, ponder, contemplate, research, evaluate, and find what makes sense to them is preferable to irritating them by telling them what they believe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango March 30, 2022 / 1:03 pm

      Thanks Mel for your comment. You packed a lot into it and I’m going to need some time to unpack it, so I’ll respond to your thoughts a little later.

      Liked by 1 person

      • CARAMEL March 31, 2022 / 3:16 am

        There was a lot in it – I think what really was trying to say was that whatever a person’s beliefs (either believing in a Creator or not believing a Creator exists) the way they manifest those beliefs can be perceived as “religious” or not. Whether they believe in a Creator or not, some are more vocal about their beliefs, or the extent to which their beliefs effect their decisions, behavior and and ethics may differ.

        I was honestly surprised when I read a lot of the comments because I presumed that most atheists would claim to believe in something, as in an alternative explanation (absent of an intelligent Creator) regarding the universe, our existence, the natural world etc. I was surprised at how many seemed content to define atheism simply as not believing, or rejecting beliefs. I think perhaps I am misunderstanding because surely nobody would claim to believe in “nothing”. Most of my friends who claim to be atheists believe in something, and are able to explain what they believe and why they believe it. I can’t think of any adult friends who would be satisfied with saying they just don’t believe in anything, I’d be alarmed if they did. In evaluating various views, our discussions usually are within the realm of our field – namely physics.

        On a personal level, I do believe in an intelligent Creator, but although I respect others, and I would want to be kind about beliefs that they cherish, I do reject many religious teachings. I am not combative in my view of the religious teachings I reject, but I would not feel comfortable with taking part in an act of worship, or a celebration I felt was based on things that were untrue. I have many friends and colleagues here in London who are of a wide variety of religious faiths, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, various Christian denominations, Atheists and those who say they are unsure what they believe. Respect them I do, agree with them I often do not. So, although I would not be cruel to them, inwardly I feel that some of their beliefs are simply not true. I have clear reasons, but I would prefer not to articulate them in the public domain because as I said, I appreciate that for some people their faith is deeply treasured and may be pivotal in sustaining their emotional and mental health. I have no wish to hurt people in the most sensitive parts of their heart.

        At the British Museum in the Egyptian rooms, there are many many images of different gods that were worshipped, including bizarrely Khepri, a scarab beetle god. One of the ideas behind this god was that they had been observing young scarab beetles emerging from dung balls (too much time on their hands) and came to the conclusion that life had spontaneously generated within the dung ball. It was a contrast to beliefs in other Egyptian gods (generally the god “Ra” was viewed as having created everything, although as other gods became popular, he was fused with them and became Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty, and even Ra-Khepri). Whereas some viewed Khepri as a “creator” god, others associate the name “Khepri” or “Kheper” which seems to mean “change” with the roots of the word “evolve”. The idea behind this scarab beetle being exalted, was the idea of life coming from nothing, and it is bizarre how it led to yet another facet of a religious system, but it illustrates that even back then there were those who perhaps not satisfied with the ideas present at the time, offered an alternative explanation over how life began was developed.

        I would hope that even if someone rejects one set of beliefs, they do not stop asking questions and searching for answers. Whether one believes in an intelligent designer or not, the fact is that our universe is staggeringly incredible. Being hungry to understand how this magnificent universe exists and the phenomenal workings of both non-living matter and especially conscious life – an extraordinary miracle – surely nobody should be content with believing in nothing. If someone doesn’t believe these things were designed and engineered with intelligence and purpose, then surely they would want to search answers to explain how these masterpieces, although staring at dung balls is probably not the best place to look for answers.

        I don’t really want to become embroiled in a controversy, but I will say that those of my adult friends who say they are atheists do believe in something. I am concerned about the notion of not believing in anything. Surely not many would claim to believe in nothing at all.


        • Fandango March 31, 2022 / 7:23 am

          Hi Mel. Of course atheists believe in “something.” Atheism has an extremely narrow definition. It means one thing and one thing only: the rejection of the existence of a supernatural deity. That’s it. If someone says that he or she is an atheist in any other context than that, they are misusing the word atheist.

          And as far as belief in an “an alternative explanation (absent of an intelligent Creator) regarding the universe, our existence, the natural world, etc.,” atheists typically accept the scientific explanations, like the Big Bang theory for the creation of the universe, Darwin’s theory of evolution and survival of the fittest for the way all life on Earth has evolved. And that God, the Creator, is a human construct, created by man in his image, rather than a God having created man in His image.

          I wrote a post back in October 2018 (and recently reposted it).

          Take a look at it. It might help you to understand what atheists do and don’t believe in. But fair warning, atheists are not a monolithic group and what I wrote in that post and my overall position on atheism as expressed is mine alone. I do not purport to speaking on behalf of all atheists.

          And one last thing. Atheism is not a belief system, at least not a religious belief system. Atheists have no such beliefs in common, no gods of any kind, nothing they worship, no scripture, no shared values, and no dogma. They have no clergy, no schools, and no sacred buildings. The only thing all atheists share is a lack of belief in gods.

          Religious people so often claim that atheism is a religion. Perhaps it is an attempt to establish a false equivalency between belief and faith.

          Thank you for taking the time to post both of your comments. Your deep thoughts and we’ll articulated comments are appreciated and I respect your faith in the Creator. As I often say, whatever floats your boat.

          Liked by 1 person

          • CARAMEL March 31, 2022 / 8:57 am

            Thanks Fandango. It did sound to me as if whoever had made that comment to you in order to provoke you. Fandango, Jack and I have been sharing a bottle of wine with a friend, so I might be a tiny bit tipsy, but I just want to say that I like you very much as a person, and although you and I might not agree on everything, I don’t think I have ever found any discussions with you difficult. I respect you. I have always felt as if you addressed me with respect too.

            I agree with what you say and can see there is no particularly organized system around atheism that would characterize it as a religion. I was more thinking of how an individuals beliefs may effect their outlook and decisions.

            In all honesty, I don’t like to lump people into the same boat (whatever boat that is floating). I appreciate that you don’t wish to speak in behalf of all atheists. Everyone of my friends who either believes in a Creator or does not believe in a Creator is an individual, and I like them to speak for themselves about what they believe. Not all of my friends who claim to be atheists do agree on what they do believe, even if they may agree on what they don’t believe. But it does interest me when people make different decisions. I thought later about two friends of mine who have always made it clear they are atheists but were so intent on having a church wedding they went along with all the requirements of the local parish church in order to have their picture perfect wedding day. Whereas I have other friends who are atheists and would not dream of having a church wedding. People can be so curious when it comes to the connection between what they say they believe and their actions. The same is true within religions – the whole saying you believe one thing and then acting in a different way is not monopolized by any set of believers or non-believers. I don’t know which terms to use now after the debate this FPQ led to. I think we are in agreement that surely everyone ought to believe in something – whatever floats and does not sink when tested.

            I had a look at some of the other replies to this question that allowed the IRS to define “religion” was probably the one that was the clearest cut. Also, I cannot recall who said it now, but someone mentioned that people make things their religion. I grew up in Liverpool, and I cannot tell you how many young men I know for whom football is so much like a religion – and their LFC curtains, bedlinen, mug, scarf and anything else they can collect as well as their thinking about, talking about and dreaming about football for colossal amounts of time give them the hallmark characteristics of devotees. I think there were some fascinating responses to your question, especially Marilyn’s. I was uncomfortable by some of the discourteous comments that were directed at you. I think it is a shame when insults are casually thrown about.

            I don;t know how much it connects with society today, but I guess during the first century when Christianity was spreading, there were so many prominent and popular Greek philosophies which did in some ways have an element of religiosity about them – prominent teachers became the new “clergy” of the day, they certainly had their ideas penned, and people massed like congregations around them. There were distinct schools of thought that developed, and perhaps within some of those schools of thought, one aspect was atheism. But as another blogger mentioned above, there was a wide array of philosophies and those who adopted them and practiced them may have had little else in common with others just because they had atheism in common. But back in that day (before t’internet) there was a much more obvious degree of a social system established through common beliefs, and much remained the same for centuries as I am sure you well know. The world has changed so much especially when it comes to social interactions – in our modern era, a huge proportion of which take place in the “virtual domain”. Apparently in their leisure time, many living under the Roman empire at the time loved nothing more than gathering to hear a lively debate on philosophy or religion, (some of which promoted belief in a Creator, some of which did not), and for some it became more than entertainment, they actually became followers of whoever they found most persuasive. Extensive writings were produced, and masters and tutors who embraced these popular philosophies had students who spread these beliefs with zeal. So in the past, maybe there was more similarity between religious systems centred on the worship of a deity, and the various schools of Greek philosophy (some of which were atheistic, others of which were not) – as in gatherings or meetings, penned doctrines or philosophies, acclaimed teachers who presided over an audience, an expectation that you went away and lived by the teachings promoted.

            So much has changed and it seems an entirely different question in the 21st century. Nowadays, the weekend is not generally a time to go and listen to teachers debate human existence and the meaning of life. TV, t’internet, sport, shopping, restaurants, cinema and all sorts of other pastimes are packed into the weekend. I only mention the 1st century because it was in this time period when much of the Greek scriptures were penned, and it is clear that living under the Roman empire amidst so many different cultures and belief systems was something that could throw up challenges regularly. On a personal level, I appreciate and find a lot of wisdom in the counsel to let our words be seasoned with salt so that they are palatable to others.

            You are a strong intelligent man and so I don’t want to sound patronising, but people who claim to be Christian but who preach eternal damnation to you, they are so grossly wrong, and I find their behaviour shocking. I trust you to be thick-skinned about their callous and despicable words, but please don’t cause people who behave in such a terrible way colour your view of others who believe in a Creator. In the same way, I am sure you would appreciate that anybody who decided to insult my intelligence and label my beliefs “an emotional crutch” or as foolish as believing in a tooth fairy, I would generally just brush them off as ill-mannered individuals. None of my friends who are atheists have resorted to humiliating others in order to explain their beliefs.

            I have little time for those who are not able to discuss such an interesting subject with grace, reason, diplomacy and respect. None of us are perfect, and it is sometimes hard to maintain cool and balance when it is clear others are becoming impassioned, but surely anybody with sense would agree that if one sincerely thinks there belief is correct, then they will find a clear way to present that without belittling or insulting others. Aggression is more likely to close the minds and hearts of others.

            Anyway…Jack has just topped up my wine, so I think I am going to end there. Only, you are a man who has a keen sense of justice and noble ideals. I like you very much Fandango.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Marilyn Armstrong March 31, 2022 / 12:20 pm

              This is exactly why I mostly – but not exclusively – believe religion is behavioral, not dogmatic. It CAN be dogmatic, but a lot of people I’ve known who are religious were essentially exactly like me except they believed there was one superior being. I didn’t think there’s a “head of state” in the god-biz who knows all and sees all. Regardless of all the religious discussions, tracts, ad nauseum, no one has been able to explain to me why a god would create all of us, then just walk away and never again “stir the soup” as it were.

              That’s where the whole thing breaks down for me. Assuming there is One God, where the hell IS he? Or she? Or them? Why DOESN’T he or they drop by to fix things?


              1. God created everything and died. God IS dead.
              2. God created everything, then wandered off to see what else he could do that might work better. He isn’t dead, but he might as well be.
              3. There’s some kind of higher power, higher intelligence, but human beings are hopeless and never listen to anything that isn’t convenient. God may not be dead, but with the way things are going, WE might be rather soon.

              None of these adds up to a religion. I would love to believe. I just can’t. It’s not for want of trying, either.


            • CARAMEL March 31, 2022 / 1:46 pm

              I think for many of us, our beliefs are shaped by a lifetime of experiences and contemplation. That’s why I think it is so important that respect is fundamental in discussions about beliefs. When religious folk are condemnatory over those who are not, or vice versa, it just offends others and builds barriers. I enjoy talking about beliefs with so many of my friends because of the genuine interest and kindness that everyone displays, but I am rather cautious when it comes to the public domain.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Fandango March 31, 2022 / 9:48 pm

              Thank you, Mel, for you kinds words and I genuinely appreciate all of the thought you have put into this discussion.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. Mister Bump UK March 30, 2022 / 5:02 am

    Atheism is a rejection of beliefs, rather than a belief. It’s a deliberate, positive act – “I have considered what is proposed, and I reject it”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. clubschadenfreude March 30, 2022 / 5:12 am

    “Do you believe that atheism is a set of religious beliefs or is a religion in any sense? If so, why? If not, why not? Or, do you have no opinion on the matter or just don’t care one way or the other?”

    Atheism is not a religion in any sense. Atheism is a conclusion that there is no god or gods. IT is not a worldview or a philosophy. Atheists have many different worldviews/philosophies.

    Theists can be atheists at the same time, and they hate that mentioned since it guts their common attacks on atheists since their claims would apply to them too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango March 30, 2022 / 1:06 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts. I concur.


  6. rugby843 March 30, 2022 / 10:42 am

    I find it interesting that people argue over the word when any dictionary tells the same definition. I grew up in a religious setting with my mother’s influence and different Protestant churches…hey it was New England!

    I decided to be baptized in the Baptist religion at the age of 16, because I liked the Pastor in that particular church and his way of believing. I do not believe that you have to be baptized or attend church in order to go to whatever you perceive as heaven. I believe “heaven and hell” if you want to call it that, are right here on earth and the way you live your life determines what they are. This is not a religion, this is my personal thought.

    I respect other people’s rights to their beliefs – whatever they choose to be, as Fandango says, whatever floats your boat. My personal thoughts are that organized religions have caused more discontent and wars than any other element on earth.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango March 30, 2022 / 3:36 pm

      “…organized religions have caused more discontent and wars than any other element on earth.” I can’t disagree with that.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Marleen March 30, 2022 / 11:18 am

    I don’t think atheism is a religion. I do think atheists can have beliefs that amount to religious; this is not to say all “beliefs” or points of view are religiously oriented. Furthermore, it is my observation that many atheists have convictions that put them right alongside the religious — such as that people with money or jets and power are worthy and merited their positions in the world. This is the crappy stance of much of religion these days, and well worth rejecting it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen June 11, 2022 / 2:11 pm

      Atheism has an extremely narrow definition. It means one thing and one thing only: the rejection of the existence of a supernatural deity. That’s it. If someone says that he or she is an atheist in any other context…

      I’ve encountered a definition in contemporary conversation that means basically “rejection of religion” (or its authority or something like that). Historically, too, there were people who were called atheists by the state because they didn’t fit into the formally approved religions of the day (such as in the Roman Empire before Christianity but after the life of the person often slandered in its name by practitioners). This doesn’t mean to me that establishment is (or was or has been) the answer or a good answer; to the contrary. Meanwhile, I would say the person indicating to me that atheism is rejection of religion is more of an agnostic (or seemed that way from the conversational context). I didn’t want to argue with him about it, though. He and I agree on the practical ramifications of what he was saying, even though I’m not agnostic. In terms of the word, I agree with you as to its technical meaning — because the theist part is about deity.


  8. Marilyn Armstrong March 30, 2022 / 9:41 pm

    I see my pingback came through. Good. This was just like being back in collegs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango March 30, 2022 / 10:11 pm

      Good discussion.


      • Marilyn Armstrong March 31, 2022 / 12:05 pm

        Yes. Interesting. I wish I could remember that other name. William James was Henry James’ brother. Henry wrote boring fiction. William wrote boring theological tracts. I could never read either of them without becoming comatose.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Irene April 1, 2022 / 7:53 am

    Maybe the argument with that blogger was more about semantics about the definition of religion and perhaps fanatics, than about atheists in general. I think atheism per se definitely does not fit any of the definitions of religion, but that some fanatic atheists might take their beliefs to an extreme resembling one. For atheists at large, I agree with you, Fandango, and I liked the example of not collecting stamps being a hobby (LOL).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. leigha66 April 28, 2022 / 5:39 am

    This seems obvious… a religion is a belief in something or someone. When you don’t believe that is not a religion.

    Liked by 1 person

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