Religion, defined by Merriam-Webster, is “faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.” All world religions specify a deity or reality which should impact the way a person acts. I am going to suggest that, per these definitions, all people have a religion. No one would argue this point for the Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus. I’d like to show that even atheists live their life by faithful devotion to a specific deity or reality.
I have had several faith discussions with a friend and co-worker who is an atheist. Finally, I told him, “At some point, we have to discuss your faith statements.”
Confused by my statement, he replied, “I don’t have any faith statements.”
When he would not recognize his own life assumptions, I tried to help him. “You believe that all of life can be explained through natural processes.”
“Well, that is the way science works,” he responded.
“Yes, but you believe that science and natural processes can explain all of life. How do you explain the actions of the Muslim attorney who is in jail for defending a Christian pastor and other Christian groups from persecution in Iran? He is imprisoned for defending something he does not believe in.” On the other hand, how do you explain the “killing fields” of Cambodia, where one quarter of the 8 million population were executed for having ties with the wrong racial, religious, or political groups. Humans are capable of such unselfish gestures and such horrific atrocity. No other species displays such extreme evil and such extreme good. I continued, “If natural processes have brought us this far, why abandon them now? Why not live according to the rules of survival?”
He quickly explained that unselfish acts are seen in many situations of nature. He then turned to a strange explanation for the benefit of multiple partners among the elite, saying that it spread the stronger gene pool more broadly.
When I asked him if he lived this way. He said “No.”
If you aren’t willing to live your life by it, then you really don’t believe it. This statement is as true for the atheist as it is for the Christian.
Overhearing this exchange another friend chimed in. “There are many things I can’t explain,” he said, “but I don’t need to create the spaghetti monster to explain them.” His faith was all too clear.
I recall another friend who described his transition from agnostic to atheist. “One day, I realized that I had to make a decision.” This was not a point of revelation, but a point of decision, a statement of faith.
Religion is the reality that we believe in strongly enough to shape our actions. It can be a gluttonous pursuit of personal pleasure, or a sacrificial gift for others, or anything in between. Richard Dawkins has made comments that good and evil do not exist; however, his life is devoted to battling for what he believes is truth. If there is no good or evil, why is he so passionate about his message? Either he is fighting for something he believes in very strongly and passionately, or he found an easy way to make money. In either case, he is faithfully devoted to his ultimate reality.