Is Atheism a religion? This question posed by Kennedy from MTV on noted atheist Bill Maher’s show sparked quite the uproar. In an article in Reason Magazine, on which anyone theist or atheist should read, Kennedy outlines the concept that Atheism is a religion and with that comes certain positive and negative repercussions for people of faith which the article really doesn’t define but should be addressed.
“For a group of ultra-rationalists, the atheists sound downright emotional. Let me tell you: The angriest ones can be as malicious as a coven of Westboro Baptists at veteran’s funeral.”
- If atheism/secular humanism is considered a religion, then other religions can be argued to deserve equal time in public schools
- If atheism is a religion then there may be legal precedent for legalization of gay marriage
- Finally, since atheist organizations can qualify as non-profit charities/churches there is an argument for removing the concept of tax exemption all together
“No matter what I said to counter their statements or clarify my thoughts, by and large they refused to give me a fitting definition of religion.”
First and foremost, if atheism, or secular humanism is considered a religion, and it is argued well that it is, religious concepts such as Intelligent Design could and should be taught alongside the politicized sciences that are part of most public schools’ curricula. We may have Frank Zappa, noted secular humanist and founder of the CASH the church of American Humanism, to thank for offering the legal framework to make this possible
“Frank called their bluff. If secular humanism is a court-recognized religion, he figured, then be prepared to dole out the tax-exempt rewards along with the after-life punishments!”
Next comes a potentially difficult, for some, pill to swallow; gay marriage could be legalized and recognized under the CASH, Church of American Humanism. The legal definition of marriage is both nebulous and ironclad at the same time. Most arguments regarding marriage are based on Biblical principles which are historically supported, and using those to influence policy. Other arguments are based on the slippery slope concern, also very valid. The issue with both of these is that it makes marriage more of a state institution and less a religious one, which undercuts both arguments, and gives too much power to politicians instead of individuals. A church which would support gay marriage, and CASH would, is empowered to grant those unions and has the “religious” backing of a legally recognized tax-exempt institution.
“My Orthodox priest would probably give me a stern penance for saying this, but I do not have a problem with church-owned businesses paying taxes. I don’t know that you have to tax every dime that hits the collection basket, but a blanket exemption seems a little clumsy.”
Finally we come to the heart of the matter, should marriage and religious or charitable institutions receive legal and monetary benefits? Charity is something that has made this nation great since its founding. Ben Franklin summarized the American religion as serving God by serving each other. Charity, which in essence is “neighbor helping neighbor”, made “safety nets” un-necessary and unwelcome for the first hundred years of our nation’s history. The founders may have warned us on the accepting of perks from the government in the form of tax exemptions or special status. In the current debate over religious conscience, the virtues of small government are once again displayed. If government wasn’t trying to provide things for people, then churches would arguably have fewer objections to paying taxes. Marriage too has many financial benefits issued by the government which have little to do with love and more to do with business. If marriage is a business arrangement, then it should be divorced from the concept of theology. If theological, then it should be severely limited from being mostly business.
As humans so frequently attempt, with marriage and religious institutions, we’ve tried to have our cake and eat it too. We may consider, so long as government restrains itself to its Constitutional role, applying one more principle from the Perfector of our Faith, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Mark: 12:17) As Christians we believe that all mankind has the opportunity to walk with God for eternity; whether they choose to follow is what determines their path. Applying this principle in totality may address the cultural conflicts we’ve fought for so long and allow us to focus on what’s truly important. God didn’t say the world would be kinder to us for believing in Him, but He will provide if we believe in Him. With this maybe the faithful will look to Him for protection instead of the all mighty government.