Not everyone can see her. Not everyone believes I see her. But I worship her. I promise her that I will love and revere her above all others, above my parents, my spouse, my children, myself. I request her help, ask her to carry out acts of mischief on others. Find money and treasure for me. Help me attain my goals. She bends to my will. She exists through me, for me.
Those who don’t believe in my water nymph are a-nymphs. (Not to be confused with nymphos.) Their a-nymphism is a belief system, too, which, through contrast, helps validate my conviction.
This idea of belief and unbelief in nymphs is a little ridiculous, yes? Yet you and I often hear that atheism is a belief system or a religion.
No. It. Is. Not. Refusing to accept an outrageous story or idea as truth or true does not make our skepticism or doubt a “belief.”
No matter our religious affiliation or lack of, we all sift through and oftentimes reject what others believe. Here are some examples, which many of our grandparents believed and we now simply reject (we don’t become a-believers):
1. It’s bad luck to open an umbrella inside.
2. If you break a mirror, you will have 7 years of bad luck.
3. Rubbing a wart with a bean pod, and then burying the pod, will get rid of a wart.
4. High heart rates mean that your fetus is female.
5. Shaving makes your hair grow back thicker.
6. If you swallow chewing gum, it remains in your stomach for 7 years.
7. If you go outside with wet hair, you’ll catch a cold.
There was a time when it made sense to believe in these things. For example, before people understood that colds came from viruses, not from being “cold.” Now that we know better, we reject this belief our grandparents held, or we just consider it an “old wives tale.”
Many Christian apologists will insist that atheism is a “belief system” or a religion, too. This is simply an attempt to equalize the two, to bring unbelief on the opposite side of the equation from religion, which is a belief system. If, believers postulate, both sides are “beliefs” and if one is free to choose from two separate–but seemingly equal–systems, then it standardizes religion. Religion is now logical like math and science. Science and math now require a leap of faith. Belief and unbelief are simply one of two choices that any reasonable person can make.
No. No. No.
It is not logical to believe that breaking a mirror will bring you bad luck. It is not logical to believe in my water nymph, even if I tell you that your unbelief is a belief, too.
But what if all my neighbors and relatives say that they believe my story? What if I show you a book that I found, telling of the nymph’s fantastical journey from Planet Ooh? What if I tell you that everything I’ve asked my water nymph for has materialized?
Correlation, we know, does not imply causation. An observation of two variables does not mean that one causes the other or that they’re related.
There’s one more thing we need to address to put the nail in the coffin of atheism as religion or belief system.
Yeah. I believe in science. But that is different from saying, “I believe in god.”
“I believe in science” means that I put faith in the people and institutions that are doing the work, that I have confidence in their methods. I could do the math or science my damn self, if I had the time. But you and I cannot specialize in everything. We cannot do all things. So we must trust that others are doing their jobs, the same jobs that we could do, using the same methods that we were all taught and have agreed are worthy of our trust and confidence. These things are provable and repeatable and verifiable across the scientific community.
“I believe in god,” as many philosophers have noted, is an existential claim that is made when the thing believed is unrealistic, unproven or highly unlikely. I believe that eating more burgers before conceiving will produce a boy baby. I believe that kissing a frog will produce a prince. I believe in the tooth fairy. Vampires. Leprechauns. Water nymphs. God.
So, no. Atheism and science are not beliefs or religions. And, yes. Belief in a deity or deities requires a leap of faith and is therefore not based in logic. If it were logical, we could all plug god into the equation and prove his or her existence. If it were logical, we could confirm the existence of god and heaven. We would not hear people say, “I know it doesn’t make sense, but I just believe. I just feel in my heart that god is real.” This is neither evidence nor grounds for a sound argument.
If believers are being intellectually honest, this is something they already know. Unfortunately, the idea of atheism as religion has been repeated so often that I now hear other unbelievers accept this as true. Don’t get pulled into accepting this mistaken notion that atheism is just another belief, another card in the deck of theism.
One person’s belief cannot create two religions.