Here is a chart from Positive Atheism that epitomizes why I find the Atheist vs Theist conversation annoying and hopelessly mired mired in religious illiteracy.
Notice, not only are Buddhists listed as Atheists … a dubious assertion at the best of times … but Hindus are as listed as Atheists as well! My head hurts. Is there a religion that has more gods than Hinduism?! I am stretched to think of one.
Here’s how Positive Atheism justifies it:
In Western society the term atheism has been used more narrowly to refer to the denial of theism, in particular Judeo-Christian theism, which asserts the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good personal being. This being created the universe, takes an active interest in human concerns, and guides his creatures through divine disclosure known as revelation. Positive atheists reject this theistic God and the associated beliefs in an afterlife, a cosmic destiny, a supernatural origin of the universe, an immortal soul, the revealed nature of the Bible and the Koran, and a religious foundation for morality.”
“Theism, however, is not a characteristic of all religions. Some religions reject theism but are not entirely atheistic. Although the theistic tradition is fully developed in the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred text of Hinduism, earlier Hindu writings known as the Upanishads teach that Brahman (ultimate reality) is impersonal . Positive atheists reject even the pantheistic aspects of Hinduism that equate God with the universe. Several other Eastern religions, including Theravada Buddhism and Jainism, are commonly believed to be atheistic, but this interpretation is not strictly correct. These religions do reject a theistic God believed to have created the universe, but they accept numerous lesser gods. At most, such religions are atheistic in the narrow sense of rejecting theism.
So what’s wrong with that? Oh gosh, where do I start!
Ok, firstly, we’re a global society now. These are world religions we are talking about. Why the fixation on western, pre-globalization definitions of religion? Imposing western views of religion on world religions is cultural imperialistic, academically sloppy and just doesn’t cut the mustard. Because eastern religions don’t look like western religions they can’t be religions? Oh, pleeeeeese! Where’s a brick wall when I need it. Get some global eyes guys. You’re supposed to be liberating people from cultural imperialism aren’t you?
Secondly, look, when we start talking about “irreligious religions” can’t we admit that semantic stupidity has taken over.
Thirdly, speaking of semantic stupidity, “theistic gods” versus non-theistic gods? Scuse me? What does theos mean again? Ah … god! So, tell me everyone, is it genuinely meaningful to distinguish between “godly gods” and “ungodly gods”? Just guess what I think.
Fourthly, if it can be acknowledged that it is “not strictly correct” to equate pantheism with atheism, that it is actually a kind of theism, then why persist in it?
Fifthy, and most importantly, religious worldviews are generally three tiered, not two tiered. Every heard of the flaw of the excluded middle? Any model of religion that is worth anything must account for all the gods and spirits in its orbit, not just high level understandings of ultimate reality. This more than anything shows the fallacy of classifying Buddhism or Hinduism as athestic.
I could rant on but I think I’ll leave it there. I trust you get the idea. All this talk of nonreligious religions and atheistic gods gets up my goat. What we’re seeing here, I think, in this binary Atheist vs Theist conversation, is the failure of Atheists to come to grips with globalization, pluralism and postmodernity.
And you know, just as we are seeing Atheist versions of fundamentalism blossoming in response to pluralism and postmodernity I am wondering if, in years to come, we’ll see an Atheist equivalence of emergence burst out.