chris hitchens came to town to give a talk about his new book. while there, i saw some curious things from the masses of atheists and agnostics in attendance. i tried to make sense of it, and it kept coming to mind, repeatedly, that i was attending a religious service. i'm not saying just to be incendiary, it really sort of fits!
bonafide religious rituals: people came to listen to a person preach (yes, hitchens preaches) wearing themed atheist and agnostic t-shirts telling anti-theist jokes and anecdotes laughing at said jokes and anecdotes, even remarkably un-funny ones scoffing audibly when theists revealed themselves
this sounds like organized religion to me. look at the facts: you have individual and corporate celebration of identity, ritualistic behaviors and discourses which grant people a sense of unity and power beyond themselves.
and no, religion does not necessarily imply a deity.
you don't need a god to found a belief (you can easily found beliefs on past experiences, what you read in the paper, etc.). you would, however, need a god to found a belief in a god, but that's a moot point.
No-one 'knows' what happens when we die. If we can accept that as fact, our suppositions of what does or doesn't happen are therefore 'beliefs', be they for or against an afterlife of any description.
So given this logic, atheism is a belief system in the same way that (for example) Catholicism is, in that there is a firm and rigid belief in what does or doesn't happen once the evidence runs out.
There may be a distinction between atheists and agnostics that you've glossed over that you might want to consider. Agnostics are not necessarily 'floating voters', to borrow a phrase. They could believe largely in favour of any denomination of the church, atheism, or religion with a small r, but still have doubt whether they're right (which defines them as agnostic).
If we are to draw a distinction between gatherings of atheists as opposed to acknowledged religious groups, there seems to be less fervour and more logical thinking as opposed to blind faith in the rhetoric of the former.
I try to maintain an open mind but I suspect this thread will degenerate into argument all too fast before much actual debate occurs. Nevertheless, I wish you luck with it and as I realise this site doesn't have a great record for actual debate on this subject matter, I'll stop writing now as I'm wondering why I started.
i share your suspicions about where this thread will be going in the near future (chaos), but thanks for stopping by.
i expected to sit through and observe more logical thinking and less fervour at the hitchens talk. what i ended up observing was more or less an unruly mob, very much caught up in the experience of unification under common belief (even if just for one night). hitchens, himself, is full of religiously themed rhetoric and logical fallacies (particularly ad hominem), and his supporters consistently cheered him on when he berated mother teresa, the catholic church, all sects of islam, mormons, and so on.
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