When I went vegetarian in 2001, the hardest part of the transition was replacing meat. How could I replace the central part of the meal? So I ate a lot of fake-meat products--veggie burgers, tofu dogs, and the like. But I asked the wrong question: going vegetarian doesn't mean replacing meat.
But that's at the heart of the matter when people ask why I'm a vegetarian. "What do you replace meat with?" they ask, unable to imagine how I might answer. A similar question seems to be implied when people learn I'm an atheist. What do I replace God with? The binaries become tofu versus meat, God versus the Void.
Or, in some cases, Religion versus Science. Because movements need war metaphors, religion needs, for fundamentalists, an opposite. But strangely enough, people often define their opposites by the very thing they are. Thus, global warming becomes "a religion." For Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson, the city's suggestion that people eat less meat is "a crusade."
These are old tropes, familiar in the "War on Terror" and Richard Nixon's conquest of cancer. Usually, one drums up support for a cause by attributing a religious aura to one's acts. But I find it ironic that groups associated with religion attempt to denigrate their perceived opposites as religions. Maybe it's easier to tilt at windmills if you see them as false idols rather than separate modes of inquiry or different lifestyles.