Don’t stereotype atheism

In September, there was debate over whether atheism is a “religion”. One of our members, Say Liang, wrote a letter in response to the debate:

Don’t stereotype atheism

I refer to Mr Daniel Lee’s forum letter, “No conclusive definition of ‘atheism’” published on September 19. I had thought that Mr Paul Tobin’s letter put the matter to rest but unfortunately Mr Lee has recycled the well worn misconception that atheism is “a belief system”.

I am an atheist, as are many of my family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and indeed, as are many Singaporeans. It is verifiable fact that we do not share “a belief system” in regards to gods and their existence.

Different atheists don’t believe in the existence of gods for different reasons. Some don’t believe due to the absence of evidence, some due to the absence of sound philosophical arguments, some don’t believe after getting disillusioned by their religious organisations. What exactly is this “belief system” that all atheists share?

Without exception, the only thing all atheists share is their non-belief in the existence of gods, as Mr Tobin underscored. It is worrisome that Mr Lee noted it is the “more commonly accepted definition” that “atheism is a belief system”. More commonly accepted by who? What else is ascribed in this vague “belief system” of atheists? While I agree with Mr Lee that open discussions are good, poisoning the well does not inspire confidence.

While atheism is not substantial enough to be classified as “a belief system”, Humanism is. There’s absolutely nothing to hide: Humanism is the belief system that reason, evidence and compassion, and not belief in the supernatural, best represent the worldview about which to organise our lives and daily affairs. Many atheists, seeing it as a positive life stance to adopt, are humanists as well. Not all, of course. More are welcomed.

Several months ago, a few members of the Humanist Society (Singapore) attended an interfaith talk at the Singapore Islamic Hub. We were respectful of everyone’s right to speak and made many new friends from different races and religions. We also spoke out against existing stereotypes in society which can harm sexual minorities and sour inter-racial and religious relations.

All believers and non-believers alike deserve to be treated with the same ethical and intellectual integrity. In an increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan Singapore, we should do better than mere tolerance. We should be well informed about the various beliefs and guard against stereotypes.