The Religion of Not

Commenting on the Atheist Alliance International convention in Burbank, California this month Rice University humanities professor Anthony Pinn reflects here that atheists:
  • Share with fundamentalists of any religion an inability for critical self-reflection and critique.
  • Have formed, in effect, the religion of "not," defined by what they refuse and rebuke.
  • Believe that religion is the single most dangerous human creation.
I have understood for some time that fundamentalism is something that knows no ideology.. in a sense it can only be escaped when you escape the extremes of ideology. So it is no surprise to me that others like Pinn see fundamentalist traits in atheism. Interesting how he characterizes atheism as a religion in reverse calling it one of "not".

And it did not surprise me to hear that folks like Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens consider religion to be dangerous. Right here in Kansas City religion has had a negative influence in our city.. all but one of our hospitals were started by religious folks.. homeless shelters and soup kitchens are run by those evil religious folks.. and many religious groups have food pantries.. they are quite a dangerous lot.


  1. Hello Bob,

    How timely. Our local atheist group just had a speaker from the Atheist Alliance International.

    Anthony Pinn is only partially correct in my opinion.

    1. Some atheists are not self-critical. Like religions and political groups, a portion of atheists are fairly described by the term 'extreme', which is what 'fundamentalist' seems to mean in this context.

    2. Atheism is not a religion. That said, it has some things in common with religions, especially organizationally. Then again, so do political parties yet few accuse them of being religions. Religions have a belief is the supernatural and dictate moral rules. Atheism does neither.

    3. The third criticism is the professor's fairest. For the most part it is true; atheists believe the religion is the single most dangerous human creation. You, understandable, defend religion by listing the ways in which they have helped humanity. Most atheists (not the ones described in 1), would admit that religion has its positive sides. What most atheists believe is that religions are dangerous on balance. In other words, the bad of religion far outweighs the good.

    I hope this clarifies the issue some.

  2. Thx Sid.. I appreciate your opinions even if they disagree with your fellow humanist Anthony Pinn.

    I think that humanism is considered by many as a religion.. even it's secular version and atheism conforms to this definition:

    religion: a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects

    Now I know you all like to think of yourselves as a bunch of free-thinkers but I think that, as a whole, you all are more similar to religious folks then not :)

  3. I've met several atheists over the last few years. They seem to fall into a few categories: those that hate Christians, those that used to be Christians and those that just mind their own business. The ones that hate Christians were very bitter people that felt it was their duty to prove that religion was evil.

  4. Humanism is definitely more similar to religion in that it does deal with morality. Again, this is something atheism does not deal with.

    The definition or religion you quote from is the 2nd definition. The more common definition is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." Note that the American Heritage and Merriam-Webster dictionaries also mention the supernatural in their definitions. I'd put forth that even in common usage, the term implies belief in the supernatural.

    That said, I'll further note that even using the 2nd definition from, "a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects", atheism is not a religion. Atheism is not a set of beliefs, it is the lack of a single belief. Atheism has no practices.

    If all it takes for a group of people to belong to a religion is lacking the same belief, then we are all members of the "We don't believe if leprechauns" religion.

  5. Note, also that under's 2nd definition, the Republican Party (and every other party for that matter) is a religion. The have a fundamental set of beliefs generally agreed upon by the group: their party's platform. This demonstrates that the definition you choose from the possibilities is inadequate at identifying what actually recognized as a religion.

  6. The phrase "the religion of not" is certainly a powerful image, isn't it? I have to agree. Unfortunately there are a wide variety of Christian sects that also define much of their dogma in terms of "not". "Not" the Pope. "Not" baptism by "sprinkling". "Not" salvation by faith alone...

    There are two blogs I've found interesting recently that I'd like to mention here. Elizabeth Esther is a woman who describes herself as having made a journey out of radical fundamentalism. Her blog is And Jen's blog, Conversion Diary (found at is written from the perspective of a former atheist.

    The religion of "not".

    That image has given me a good bit to "chew on".

  7. Good point Sue. Many religions seem to accentuate the negative. I have always found it sad that so many folks leave church with a scowl instead of a smile.

  8. OK. I'm sold. Downloading the Barnes & Noble app now.

  9. Chuck Colson wrote something a week ago in Christianity Today titled When Atheists Believe. Here is an excerpt:

    More recently, A. N. Wilson, once thought to be the next C. S. Lewis who then renounced his faith and spent years mocking Christianity, returned to faith. The reason, he said in an interview with New Statesman, was that atheists "are missing out on some very basic experiences of life." Listening to Bach and reading the works of religious authors, he realized that their worldview or "perception of life was deeper, wiser, and more rounded than my own."

    He noticed that the people who insist we are "simply anthropoid apes" cannot account for things as basic as language, love, and music. That, along with the "even stronger argument" of how the "Christian faith transforms individual lives," convinced Wilson that "the religion of the incarnation … is simply true."

    Likewise, Matthew Parris, another well-known British atheist, made the mistake of visiting Christian aid workers in Malawi, where he saw the power of the gospel transforming them and others. Concerned with what he saw, he wrote that it "confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God." While Parris is unwilling to follow where his observations lead, he is obviously wrestling with how Christianity makes better sense of the world than other worldviews.

  10. I'd just like to note that not all religions include belief in the supernatural. Buddhism (in its original form, not the kind practiced in Japan) has no deities and is, in fact, an atheistic religion.

  11. Casey,

    The belief in the supernatural is widespread in Buddhism.

    celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas:

    Reincarnation and Nirvana:

    Of course, Buddhism has much diversity of belief within the religion. The sect that keeps the beliefs and practices of original Buddhism is the Theravada Buddhists. Even they believe in reincarnation - a supernatural occurrence.

    In short Buddhism is a religion because it contains belief in the supernatural. You simply didn't have all the facts about the religion.


I love to get comments and usually respond. So come back to see my reply. You can click here to see my comment policy.