The following article was written by guest writer K. Axel Brauch, author of The ADAR Chronicles. For a profile of K. Axel Brauch, click here.
I wrote the following piece in response to recent attempts by Christians to characterize Atheism as a religion without a god.
Why Atheism isn’t the numeral Zero
Why is it so hard for some people to understand that the absence of something isn’t the same as a negative version of something. The recent public outcry over the 9th circuit appeals court decision to bar school recitation of the pledge of allegiance is a prime example. The court ruled that because the pledge now contains the phrase “under God” it represented a violation of the “establishment” clause of the bill of rights. The vast majority of Americans see nothing wrong with forcing this connection between a declaration of patriotism made in a public school and reference to God. Being the majority, they donut care if there are some people other than Muslims, Jews or Christians, who might take offense at this illegal connection.
Since overt support for religion by the government is illegal under the bill of rights, right wing Christian groups are now seeking to turn that objection to their advantage by advancing the concept that Atheism is just another form of religion; a religion without a god. They argue that catering to Atheist’s religious demands to remove state references to God would therefore be equally illegal. This argument is flawed because unlike mathematics, religion has no place for a numeral Zero. Zero hasn’t always existed, even in mathematics. History tells us that Arab scholars introduced the numeral 0 to the western world as part of their gift of the “Arabic number system”. Despite Zero’s late appearance, the concept of “absence of something” has existed for thousands of years. The use of the digit Zero was simply an artifice, whose sole purpose was to improve computation. While zero helped to develop both higher mathematics and algebra, it wasn’t essential to the understanding of value. One can’t spend a Zero, and it is equally true that one can’t pray at the altar of atheism.
The argument that Atheism is religion simply doesn’t compute. Atheism has no church, no creed, no dogma and no priesthood. Given the correct legal issue to decide, the Supreme Court should re-establish that the framers of the constitution and the bill of rights intended to protect freedom “from” religion as clearly as they did freedom “of” religion. Many of the founding fathers wrote clearly and strongly regarding their concern about what happens when religion intrudes into government life. Forcing a universal concept of God onto the rest of us is the kind of tyranny of the majority that our founding fathers sought to avoid. Atheism is the baseline from which secular governments must be measured, not a particular religion such as Christianity.
Reserving the protection of the law only for people who practice religion isn’t freedom, nor does it have anything to do with patriotism. American patriotism is a belief in and love for America, its people and its institutions. Loving a god has nothing to do with being American and having the absence of a dollar doesn’t require the digit Zero to be understood. The position of Christian activists demonstrates either an inability to understand or a deliberate attempt to obscure the difference between nothing and Zero.
Christian efforts to peddle religion in public forums simply emphasizes their lack of tolerance. There is no evidence that when the government restricts religious observance to private rather than public venues, it would unduly restrict the rights of religious people to practice their faith. It merely restricts their attempts to force the religion of their choice upon the rest of us. Atheists by and large aren’t opposed to religion. They only seek the freedom not to practice one. Too bad that Christians can’t extend the privilege we give them, to the rest of us. With or without Zero, formulas that construe Atheism to be religion just don’t add up.
Regards, K. Axel Brauch
Author of The ADAR Chronicles
1. The Arabic Numeral System, J J O’Connor and E F Robertson, http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/HistTopics/Arabic_numerals.html The Arabs didn’t invent this system but were introduced to it by the Indians. The Arabic system of numbers and familiar symbols was developed from the Gupta numeral system in the 7th century AD.
2. Indian Numerals, J J O’Connor and E F Robertson,