Support the Café

Search our Site

NYT debate: Is atheism a religion?

NYT debate: Is atheism a religion?

The New York Times introduces is latest “Room for Debate” segment, asking “Is Atheism a Religion?”

In Britain, where the Church of England is a laughing stock lately, the percentage of Britons professing no faith has nearly doubled in the last decade — which might explain the rise of an atheist church.

In the U.S., Susan Jacoby recently wrote, moments of tragedy can be a reminder “of what atheism has to offer.” The philosopher Gary Gutting adds that atheists, like religious people, ought to articulate reasons for their beliefs (or lack thereof).

Can atheism replace religion? Is it a religion?

Two Episcopalians out of three wrote for the “Theist” side of the debate: Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass

Phyllis says:

Like a religion, (atheism) can offer community and common cause to its adherents. But it lacks mystery, transcendence and beauty.

Diana says:

As for atheism replacing religion, even Christopher Hitchens said that religious faith was “ineradicable” as long as human beings fear death and each other. Atheism is — and will continue to be — a lively alternative for those weary and wary of institutional religion, those who find transcendent explanations meaningless or intellectually unsatisfactory, and fret over the dangers of religious triumphalism. As there is no shortage of people in the United States who find religion worrisome in public life and tedious in private, there is an ever-larger audience willing to entertain the possibility of a post-religious life. Atheism might never replace religion, but it certainly is giving bad and boring religion a real run for the money.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill Dilworth

Gary, I’ve come across that professor’s definition of religion before in Unitarian Universalist congregations; I wonder how widespread it is?

Chris Arnold

We might also ask if Christianity is a religion.


Atheism may not be a religion, but antitheism absolutely is (and, in my experience, the loudest “atheists” are antitheists—of the most obnoxious, fundamentalist variety).

Spare me from ALL fundamentalisms!

JC Fisher

Michael Russell

Who cares? If they had something that bound people together then they would have some ongoing presence. This article asks why not

They are a reactionary group, defined by what they reject. How about they rename themselves in terms of something constructive they believe and do together?

If people wish to believe they exist as a quantum accident, as an aggregation of automated environmental coping responses, or as public transportation systems for viruses and bacteria (or DNA) that is fine by me and I am happy to coexist with them.

A former Librarian of Congress was in the Soviet Union when their White House fell. In a speech he told us that the Communists had believed that religion would die out when all the “Babushkas” died. What they didn’t count on, he said, was that Russia would continue making Babushkas!

Barth was once asked why he was not more critical about the atheism of the Soviet Union given his fierce resistance to the Nazis. His reply was that Atheists were honest opponents of religion, while the Nazis perverted religion.

For me the real test of their critique however will be this: When the poor and desperate, the broken and broken-hearted, seek out the “Houses of Atheism” to find comfort and relief, THEN they can criticize us.

Benedict Varnum

This also seems timely, particularly given Tickle’s comments:

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café