October 25, 2019

Atheists Do Not Worship Humanity

human skeleton

Many Christians seem so hung up on the idea of worship that they cannot comprehend how anyone could not worship something. Atheists are routinely accused of worshiping Darwin, science, humanity, and even ourselves. I've never encountered an atheist who worshiped any of these things. That does not necessarily mean they are not out there somewhere, but they must be rare. Most atheists do not worship anything, and it baffles me why this is so difficult for some Christians to understand.

Worshiping makes no sense to me, and I'm not sure it ever has. Even as a Christian, I was curious whether the sort of god that demanded worship could really be deserving of it. It did not seem like the kind of trait anything that deserved to be characterized as a god would have. I dealt with this gnawing doubt the same way many Christians do: I tried not to think about it.

Among famous deceased figures from history, Charles Darwin is probably the one atheists are most likely to be accused of worshiping. And yet, the very notion of worshiping a long-dead person strikes me as absurd. Darwin was certainly worthy of respect, admiration, and praise for his many contributions. But worship? I think not.

So how about science? Frankly, I am not sure what worshiping science even means or what it would look like. Do I have a high opinion of science? In some ways, sure. Not only am I a scientist by training, but I have been impressed with the countless benefits to humanity conferred by scientific advances. At the same time, I hardly regard science flawless or worthy of worship. Science is both a method of acquiring knowledge and a body of knowledge. Just because it works extremely well does not mean it has been error-free or is deserving of worship.

Claiming that atheists worship humanity is one that always makes me laugh. It ignores the evidence that a great many atheists have fairly negative attitudes toward humanity. I can tell you that this is something with which I struggle regularly. I've made no secret of my episodic misanthropy, but I think my attitude is usually one of guarded optimism. I may hope for better days, but I am also realistic in my pessimism regarding the limits of our species. Humanity, in my opinion, is far from deserving worship. On some days, I'm not sure it deserves much more than contempt.

So this must leave me worshiping myself, right? This seems to be the common fallback position for Christians when all other avenues are exhausted. If the Christian cannot identify anything else that we might worship, we end up here. I am not sure what I can say here except to point out that I barely tolerate myself much of the time. If worship includes positive feelings, then it is more likely that I worship my friends, my camera, or my dog. I don't worship any of these things, but all would be better candidates than myself.

Psychologically, the common tendency of Christians to denigrate atheists by trying to make us seem more like them is fascinating. We see it with their claims that atheists must worship something and that atheism requires faith. There are many ways in which atheists and Christians are similar, but these are not among them. I cannot claim to speak for all atheists, but none that I have encountered worship anyone, including themselves, science, or humanity. This need to worship something appears to be a religious phenomenon which most of us do not share.

This post originally appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised and expanded in 2019.