Truth and Meaning: Religious Atheism

Occasionally, I am called an atheist by someone believing that by doing so they are insulting me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Largely, their misconception derives from the false assumption that atheism and religion are mutually exclusive. They are not.

Religion does not require god. Let me repeat and reframe that. Being a religious person does not require a belief in a supernatural being.

Hundreds of different definitions of religion exist, each reflecting either a scholarly or a dogmatic bias depending on the presuppositions of the person making the definition. “Religion” clearly contains intellectual, ritual, social and ethical elements, bound together by an explicit or implicit belief in the reality of an unseen world, whether this belief be expressed in supernaturalistic or idealistic terms. A number of the more common definitions are those that presume the existence of the Sacred (Peter Berger, Emile Durkheim), the Supernatural/Divine (James Frazer, Immanuel Kant, Rodney Stark), or Order/Purpose (William James).

Some definitions of the term focus more on the presence of different states of being and humankind’s grappling to come to terms with those differences, without making judgments regarding the nature of other states. George Hegel called religion “the knowledge possessed by the finite mind of its nature as absolute mind,” while Friedrich Schleiermacher called it “a feeling for the infinite,” and Alfred North Whitehead described it as “what the individual does with his own solitariness.”

Some etymologists connect “religion” to the Latin ligare, which is the same root of the word ligament, meaning “to bind.” Re-ligare, therefore, would mean to bind again, perhaps in a ritualistic manner, or in meaningful practices.

Therefore, as an atheist, I believe that “religion” is a collection of practices by which groups of people come together repeatedly to find meaning in the relationship of themselves and of humankind to all existence, known and unknown. And, that meaning need not derive from or be directed by a supernatural source.

So, if you do not believe in god, but feel something missing in your “feeling of the infinite,” there is a religious community that welcomes your search for truth and meaning.