The last decades have seen the rise of an ever-expanding movement of compromised atheists who feel the responsibility to point out the detrimental influence that religion exerts on societies. In the face of this movement and its success in promoting critical thinking, religious institutions have found themselves compelled to react and engage in debate. Being at a loss for rational arguments to make a case for their supernatural beliefs, theists have often resorted to disparaging atheists as individuals and as a collectivity, often arguing that atheism is an institution comparable to a cult or a religion.
In a display of the eerie form of human imagination that is capable of inventing vengeful, despotic deities and cruelly arbitrary commandments, religious apologists have altered the word ‘atheist’ to a grotesque extent, adding as many negative connotations as possible. Many theists would define atheists as indoctrinated nihilists characterized by a strong animosity, not only against religions, but also against the people who practice them, an urge to convince everyone to embrace atheism, and a fanatical admiration for prominent atheist rhetoricians.
Naturally, this definition is intentionally misleading. Neither a lack of belief in religions nor a severe criticism of belief systems entail animosity against believers. When theistic apologists compare criticism of religion to a form of discrimination like homophobia or racism, they capriciously overlook the fact that religion, unlike ethnicity and sexual orientation, constitute ideological doctrines, and should therefore not be especially protected from questioning, rejection, or even ridicule.
In stark contrast, atheism is not a doctrine. There are no atheist dogmas, no atheist mythological explanations for the natural world, and no atheist prophets. Even though a high number of atheists endorse humanist values like individual freedom and egalitarianism, a person’s atheism does not reveal, a priori, anything about their view of the world; it solely means that they do not follow any religion.
The existence of atheist foundations and associations in secular countries seems to trouble religious institutions, which rely heavily on cultural obscurantism and censorship to maintain their monopoly of public opinion. With a view to defaming non-believers, theistic apologists frequently liken these civil organizations to religious cults, claiming that atheist spokespeople enjoy a status that is similar to that of a priest.
As has been stated previously, atheism is neither a doctrine nor a belief system, and, therefore, atheist organizations have no dogmas to preach, they do not teach people how to behave and what to think, and they do not demand money from their members on the pretext of pleasing imaginary entities. Generally speaking, the main goals of secularist foundations include promoting critical thinking and denouncing the harmful interference of religion in politics, education, health care and other areas of public life.
How about Pol Pot?
In criticizing religion, non-believers point out its ability to inspire believers, independent of their sanity and level of education, to commit all kinds of atrocities. In response to this, theists have cooked up a counter-argument that is just as fallacious as their beliefs: atheism is to blame for the heinous crimes against humanity carried out by communist dictators throughout the 20th century. As usual, they overlook the fact that atheism does not establish any principles or commandments, and therefore it cannot have been a factor in the anti-religious policies of communist regimes. If Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot banned religions and persecuted people who practiced them, it was to advance their political agenda and install a form of government based on a dogmatic interpretation of Karl Marx’s works.
Atheism cannot be regarded as a religion, a cult or even an ideology. Atheists who become vocal about the threats of institutionalized religion are not prophets or priests. Atheist foundations are not churches. Not believing in deities or in any other supernatural phenomenon does not presuppose anything.