Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

A Parable

I’m just getting sick of the whole “atheism is a religion” crap that I seem to keep running into lately. Here’s a little story for your entertainment.

Once upon a time there was a land called Cardia. In Cardia, everyone played cards. Some people played blackjack, some poker, others pitch, and so forth. While many used the same 52 card deck, others opted for different decks (such as the pinochle-ists). Depending on the particular group, some would get together to play cards weekly, some daily, and some played several times per day. The rules varied, but most groups had specific “high tournament” days (or weeks or even months) when special card playing observances were held. But one thing was true, no matter what the rules, no matter how many Jokers were in their deck, all Cardians played cards.

One day, a traveler from afar showed up in Cardia. The Cardians asked him which card game he played. The traveler said “I do not play cards”. The Cardians said “But everyone plays cards! Which game do you play?” The traveler responded “I do not care about cards. I have no use for cards and I have no desire to play cards.”

This caused great puzzlement in Cardia. Everyone in Cardia played cards, who was this traveler to say he didn’t care about cards? How could he not play cards? And, more importantly, how were they to categorize him? After great consideration they decided upon an answer to their quandry: The traveler did, in fact, play cards. The card game he played was called “Not playing cards”.

The traveler thought this was little more than a foolish play on words and told the Cardians as much. So they dragged him before their court, tried him for heresy, and executed him. Then they all went back to playing cards.

The end.

Claiming that atheism is a religion is like claiming that not eating is a kind of sandwich.


  1. #1 dc
    July 27, 2007

    Claiming that atheism is a religion is like claiming that baldness is a hairstyle.

  2. #2 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 27, 2007

    Nice post Jim.

  3. #3 Mark Nutter
    July 27, 2007

    I like “Atheism is a religion the way good health is a disease.”

  4. #4 CRM-114
    July 27, 2007

    I have no doubt that one of the Cardians with too much time on his hand promptly began writing down the rules of ‘not playing cards’ so that they could be made into an appendix to According to Hoyle.

  5. #5 Grackle
    July 27, 2007

    I once lived in a town with no local TV station, and I wasn’t willing to spring for cable.

    A coworker kept asking me if I’d seen this and that on TV, and I kept telling him I don’t have a TV.

    Finally, he asked, “Well, what do you watch?”

    “I watch books.”

    It was fun watching him trying to picture that.

  6. #6 dc
    July 27, 2007

    Here’s another:
    Claiming that atheism is a religion is like claiming that an empty glass is a drink.

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 27, 2007

    Excellent perspectives.

    Another problem is when people claim with certainty that “never mind about our ancestors, religion is here to stay, since all recent societies have had it – it’s in our genes”.

    That is like saying that “never mind about our ancestors, fatness is here to stay, since all recent societies have had it – it’s in our genes”. Even so I aspire to societies with afatness and health. Most important more mental exercise, less commercial junk food for the brain and who knows, maybe in the future someone may make a gene therapy for sufferers. 😛

  8. #8 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 27, 2007

    Atheism is a religion the way abstinence is a sexual activity.

  9. #9 Obdulantist
    July 27, 2007

    “Atheism is a religion the way good health is a disease.”

    Ha ha ha. Now that is good. Thanks.

  10. #10 Theo Bromine
    July 27, 2007

    “Claiming that atheism is a religion is like claiming that not eating is a kind of sandwich.”


  11. #11 skyotter
    July 27, 2007

    Claiming that atheism is a religion is like claiming that not smoking crack is a form of drug addiction.

  12. #12 kemibe
    July 27, 2007

    There are thousands of applicable analogies, but another side to this is that when believers compare atheism (something they obviously find unsavory) to religion, they’re trying to degrade it by noting its alleged similarities to something they hold extremely dear. How much sense does that make?

    Let’s say I believe that baseball is the only sport worth a damn and that all others are shit, or not even sports at all. I get into a discussion with someone about his favorite thing to watch, which happens to be C-SPAN. I subsequently point out that C-SPAN involves an overwhelming proportion of males with inflated egos engaged in arguments and trying to best each other while trying to get away with as much cheating as possible without getting caught, all the while earning much more money than most will ever see. And I then declare, smug as all Christ, that C-SPAN, that utter piece of excrement, is just another kind of baseball!

    Now I suppose the possibility exists that theists who engage in the whimsical comparison of something vile to something divine are only trying to suggest that atheism is an illusion and that everyone is in fact religious, since so many of them really can’t conceive of a god-free mindset. This of course fails as well, but for different reasons.

  13. Re #5: “Atheism is a religion the way off is a television channel.” (Not original to me, alas.)

  14. #14 B80vin
    July 27, 2007

    Wow, great parable! You really set them STRAIGHT. I am FLUSH with excitement to send this to a PAIR of fundies I know, but one of them won’t read it unless I POKE HER to do so. They have a son and the whole family are THREE OF A KIND. Now that I think of it a know another couple, so that’s TWO PAIR.

    Sorry, sorry. I’m a card to be dealt with. I guess this whole post was a flop, and I’ll have to draw on some inner strength to post here again.

  15. #15 The Primate Diaries
    July 27, 2007

    Some have even claimed that atheists are no different than fundamentalists by saying they hold an inflexible position and attempt to convince others that they’re correct. Let me offer another parable:

    There was once, in the land of the Nacirema, a small but vocal group of people who knew that certain females were evil incarnate. They called these women switches, because they were “switched on” by the Dark Lord himself. The only answer, of course, was to force all children to read from the Special Book for one hour every day at school. Only this would assuage the Dark Lord.

    The other villagers agreed that the Dark Lord was capable of such betrayal, but were hesitant about putting the extremist’s views into practice. But the vociferousness with which the extremists argued their case eventually won the majority of the village to their side. “They must have good reasons,” the moderates thought, “for why else would they be so certain? Afterall, it’s only the Special Book which we all know is the true and perfect word of perfect truth.”

    As they were assembled at the meeting hall taking the final vote one young woman, who didn’t believe in the Dark Lord nor in switches and thought there was no evidence to base this supposition on, spoke her heretical views aloud. Furthermore, she insisted that no one should be forced to read any book based on such a shallow premise. “We should have individual liberty and base our education on reason and evidence not the Special Book.”

    The moderates were stunned. They looked from one blank face to the next. But one particularly charismatic extremist stepped forward. He announced how 95% of the village believed in the Dark Lord in one way or another. Such certainty couldn’t be the result of accident. Besides, those few who didn’t believe were probably responsible for whatever bad was found in the village. Moral decay was the inevitable consequence for such a lack of belief, of that he was certain. Afterall, the Nacirema village was founded on faith so clearly this woman was a devoted hater of everything the Nacirema stood for. “She’s clearly an extremist,” he bellowed, “attempting to push her radical viewpoint on people of faith.”

    The moderates were satisfied with the charismatic man’s reason. For a moment, they thought the young woman might have had a valid point. But it was only blind faith afterall and could be safely ignored. The measure passed by a large majority and new Special Books were ordered for all the schools.

    The next item on the town meeting’s agenda was whether setting these women on fire would eradicate the Dark Lord’s power forever.

  16. #16 Oliver
    July 28, 2007

    @The Primate Diaries:

    The tale would be much more pertinent if the people claiming to base their arguments on reason and evidence actually did so and didn’t just claim so. As it stands, they all too often use the terms “reason” and “evidence” just the same way the other side uses their book, and each starts to bludgeon the other over their head with their “perfect truth”.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 28, 2007


    You are confusing bounded rationalities which are consistent with evidence with rationalities (or inconsistent dogma) that aren’t. Empiricism has no perfect truth, and the parable doesn’t rely on it.

  18. #18 Oliver
    July 28, 2007


    No, but a lot of people who profess following empiricism do. I didn’t say the parable relies on it, nor did I say that all who claim to argue on the side of reason and evidence do, but I said “all too often”. And if I look around here on scienceblogs, there’s plenty of them running around here in all discussion on “atheism vs. religion”. Luckily for Vienna, Popper was cremated, or else his turning over in his grave would cause major earthquakes….

    No, atheism isn’t a religion. That doesn’t prevent plenty of atheists from acting as if it were….

  19. #19 Pieter B
    July 30, 2007

    A tagline I’ve seen recently (and I wish I could remember whose, to give credit where it’s due) said

    Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby

  20. #20 Bill from Dover
    July 30, 2007

    Now I get it! Atheism is playing the air guitar.

  21. #21 Bill from Dover
    July 30, 2007

    Atheism is to religion as truth is to:

    a) Why do liberals hate our troops?
    b) We’re fightin’em over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.
    c) FOX News
    d) Gonzalez
    e) all the above
    f) a, b, c, d, e & f

  22. #22 Rev. Bob
    July 31, 2007

    I hope I can have permission to quote your whole parable on the blog sometime this week.

    Turnabout being fair play, here’s what I have to say about it:

    If we concede that our conviction that “that which is ultimate in the nature of things” is science and logic and the orderliness (and disorderliness, but still lawful disorderliness) of the universe — that that all is a kind of faith, then we have in effect jacked up our whole structure of conviction, slipped something fundamentally irrational in there, and lowered the jack.

    At that moment, we are no different from snake handlers.

    Science and logic and the way the universe works are our bedrock. It’s science and logic and the way the universe works (and turtles, of course) all the way down. In our desire to facilitate communication with believers, let’s not miscommunicate something as fundamental as that.

  23. #23 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 2, 2007


    Sorry for late answer. I am now catching up on old threads.

    I didn’t say the parable relies on it, nor did I say that all who claim to argue on the side of reason and evidence do, but I said “all too often”. And if I look around here on scienceblogs, there’s plenty of them running around here in all discussion on “atheism vs. religion”.

    Funny, I don’t see any claims that are supposedly based on empiricism that isn’t. Perhaps you need to come up with examples.

  24. #24 muhabbet
    March 26, 2009


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