The other week I got involved in a debate with a theist in the comments to this Depleted Cranium blog post. Commenter Jason insisted that atheism is a religion, to which I replied with “if atheism is a religion them not collecting stamps is a hobby.” He replied with this:
If people organised groups around the theme of not collecting stamps, wrote books about the virtue of not collecting stamps and identified themselves as definitely not stamp collectors, while at the same time running around rubbishing stamp collecting as a deluded hobby practiced by idiots, most people would recognize the actions of somebody who has turned “not stamp collecting” into a hobby they have.
Jason’s reply is a fine example of someone who has thought part the way through an issue, but not all the way. It’s pretty obvious what he is missing. I replied that if stamp collectors demanded that people who don’t collect stamps obey their stamp collecting rules, started wars with groups who collected slightly different types of stamps, denied non-stamp collectors rights or discriminated against them, bullied them in school, claimed you had to collect stamps to be a suitable person to run for public office, tried to get stamp collecting taught in schools as science in opposition to real science, demanded that people be killed for printing cartoons that made fun of stamp collectors, claimed that non-stamp collectors lacked moral judgment, made up ridiculous straw man positions they claimed non-stamp collectors took, and then argued against those straw men positions etc etc, - then non-stamp collectors would probably criticize stamp collectors the way Jason suggested. And with good reason. Not collecting stamps would still not be a hobby though.
Thinking about Jason’s argument the next day, I had a feeling I’d heard it somewhere else recently. Then I remembered – I think Jason had been reading Dinesh D’Souza. That explained why his arguments were so lame. The thing is, if religious people just followed their religions without bothering anyone else, didn’t try to get creationism taught in science class, etc, I wouldn’t care over much. I’d still think they were a little silly. On the level of children believing in Santa Claus, perhaps. And I still wouldn’t want to listen to them prattling on about their delusions. (Look, the grownups are talking now. Go over in the corner and play with your bibles for a while.) But I wouldn’t care about it, not really. The problem with religion though, is that they can never just keep it to themselves. They insist that everyone respects their delusions and follows their rules. They are like militant stamp collectors. Join our stamp collecting club or else. And that's the basic problem with religion. That, and the fact that it's mostly nonsense.
The rest of Jason’s arguments were against the convoluted straw man atheist he insisted we all are. Read the whole comments thread only if you are feeling masochistic.