Is Atheism a Religion?

Fact: I have never understood how someone could think atheism was a religion.

It came up at SMBI once. To begin with, there were several people telling me that atheism was a religion, and I disagreed with them. Slowly more and more people joined the conversation, yet still, no one was on my side.

Once I argued with a pro choice girl, and I didn’t feel like I could make any outstanding points in my favor because I absolutely and completely could not understand how an unborn baby was not a human to her. I had a similar feeling arguing this atheist thing. I couldn’t say exactly the right things, because I just couldn’t understand how they thought atheism was a religion.

Fact: If I was an atheist and some Christian came to me telling me that atheism was a religion, I think I would shake my head in confusion and think, “Christian’s are so lame. I don’t think I want to have anything to do with Christians.”

Finally Zack came into the room, and he agreed with me. Atheism was not a religion. He had listened to some Ray Comfort thing talking about atheists, which led him to this conclusion.

I was relieved, but later I found out that his point really was that atheists don’t exist at all, because everyone, in their heart, believes in God.

I’m not even gonna argue that bit. All I’m gonna say is, I always thought atheism was a word, like monotheism or polytheism, describing how you thought about theos, aka, God. That’s all.

But then yesterday I thought, “I wonder if there is some place where it officially says that atheism is or is not a religion. Like Wikipedia or something.” I mean, no matter how many people say that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, it’s still officially classified as a religion. So what do people across the board, not necessarily Christian people or atheist people, think atheism is?

I looked up “religion” on Wikipedia. The description of religion they gave in the first few paragraphs, well, you’d have to stretch really really hard to make atheism a religion by those guidelines.

So I googled “Is atheism a religion?” What I found were links and more links to pages where atheists informed people that atheism was most definitely not a religion. Often they gave examples of “stupid” arguments Christians used to prove that atheism was a religion.

I didn’t dig too deeply, but I really didn’t see anything attempting to prove that it was. Honestly, the only real line I’ve ever heard trying to prove that atheism is a religion is, “it’s a belief system.” Which is quickly made to sound ridiculous when an atheist says, “I believe that unicorns do not exist. Is that my religion? It’s my belief system.”

I’m not writing this post in an attempt to say “ha ha I was  right all along guys.” I’m trying to say, “why, oh why, do we do this?”

From one simple google search the following conclusions seemed so clear:

  1. Many Christians say “atheism is not a religion” without doing much in-depth study as to why they think atheism is not a religion. (If there was a lot of in-depth study there would be more of their side showing up in the google search, right?)
  2. Atheists are shaking their heads in confusion and thinking, “Christian’s are so lame. I don’t think I want to have anything to do with Christians.” (This is the impression I got out of the things I read as a result of the google search)
  3. Atheists are doing the in-depth study that the Christians didn’t do and writing smart-sounding things about it, making the Christians sort of look like idiots.

Fact: I came to these conclusions out of one google search, where I didn’t read nearly everything that appeared in front of me, just did a quick overview. Thus, my conclusions could possibly be false.

Fact: Maybe it really doesn’t matter whether atheism is or is not a religion, but I do not understand how telling at atheist that atheism is a religion could possibly do the world any good, or lead them any closer to God.

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10 responses to “Is Atheism a Religion?

  1. I back you up, esp. on the point that Christians should be the ones with the clear thinking. Belief in/love for God, ultimately, is a matter of the heart, not of logic, but fuzzy ideas and vague generalities won’t endear any atheist to God or His people.

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  2. That last paragraph is spot on.

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  3. Atheism is not a religion and does not pretend to be. It is a system of thinking that puts logic above feeling or hope. It is clear thinking and does not seek to “convert” or change someone’s opinion.

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  4. You asked about Wikipedia, here’s the first sentence from Wikipedia’s definition of religion:

    A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

    I think that makes it clear that Atheism is a religion. It’s definitely “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”. Their beliefs:

    Cause of universe: All natural
    Nature of the universe: All natural
    Purpose of the universe: Either none or survival

    “especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies” is quite true. They have a very strong belief on that. That’s why they have a reference to God as part of their title: theism. Their belief about “the creation [by] a supernatural agency” is their defining characteristic.

    “often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” While we like to tell atheists that they have no absolute moral code, they will always vehemently respond that they have a moral code, which they do. They often have a very well-reasoned moral code. It has no absolutes, but they do have a moral code.

    Joyce writes, “It is clear thinking and does not seek to ‘convert’ or change someone’s opinion.”

    While that may be true of some atheists, increasingly atheists are out for converts just as much as any other religion. Richard Dawkins, the famous British atheist is, of course, the poster child for this sector of atheism. Here are a few quotes:

    My last vestige of “hands off religion” respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th 2001, followed by the “National Day of Prayer,” when prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonations and urged people of mutually incompatible faiths to hold hands, united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place.
    — Richard Dawkins, The Devil’s Chaplain (2004)

    It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
    — Richard Dawkins, The Humanist, Vol. 57, No. 1

    To describe religions as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both. I am often asked why I am so hostile to organized religion.
    — Richard Dawkins, The Devil’s Chaplain (2004)

    The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America. I am one of those scientists who feels that it is no longer enough just to get on and do science. We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance. We even have to go out on the attack ourselves, for the sake of reason and sanity. Of course, excellent organizations already exist for raising funds and deploying them in service of reason, science and enlightenment values.But the money that these organizations can raise is dwarfed by the huge resources of religious foundations such as the Templeton Foundation, not to mention the tithe-bloated, tax-exempt churches.
    — Richard Dawkins, quoted from the press release, “The Cydonia Group Declares War On Religion” (December 15, 2006)

    Emily wrote:

    Maybe it really doesn’t matter whether atheism is or is not a religion, but I do not understand how telling at atheist that atheism is a religion could possibly do the world any good, or lead them any closer to God.

    There are times when we are sharing the gospel with an atheist, especially when working to break down the intellectual barriers they have erected, that it is useful to show them that the very thing that they accuse followers of Jesus doing–irrational faith and baseless assumptions–they themselves in the religion of atheism are doing. Of course, the idea that atheism is a religion has been used wrongly and clumsily, but there is a place for it, I believe.

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  5. Oops, missed a phrase of the Wikipedia definition: “usually involving devotional and ritual observances”

    One word: green.

    😀

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  6. Atheists do not have a common meeting place (church-temple.) Atheists do not meet together to listen to someone tell them what to believe. Atheists do not meet to sing songs together, and atheists do not go door to door to pass out propaganda. Religious people do all those things plus they have a book that preposes to answer life’s problems. I don’t see how anyone can call atheism a religion. Atheists can believe anything they want to. Or not.

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  7. Atheists do not have a common meeting place (church-temple.) Atheists do not meet together to listen to someone tell them what to believe.

    North Texas Church of Freethought
    First Atheist Church of True Science (FACTS) (founded by famous atheist Michael Newdow)
    American Humanist Association (local chapter meetings)
    Fellowship of Humanity (this is an example of a local chapter of AHA); Wikipedia writes:

    The footnote in Torcaso v. Watkins referenced Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda,[2] a 1957 case in which an organization of humanists[3] sought a tax exemption on the ground that they used their property “solely and exclusively for religious worship.” Despite the group’s non-theistic beliefs, the court determined that the activities of the Fellowship of Humanity, which included weekly Sunday meetings, were analogous to the activities of theistic churches and thus entitled to an exemption.

    The Atheist Agenda
    Camp Quest

    Atheists do not meet to sing songs together, and atheists do not go door to door to pass out propaganda.

    Freedom from Religion Foundation:

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is an American freethought organization based in Madison, Wisconsin. Its purposes, as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the separation of church and state and to educate the public on matters relating to atheism, agnosticism and nontheism. The FFRF publishes Freethought Today, the only freethought newspaper in North America. The organization pursues public-interest lawsuits and engages in public debates to further its goals

    Internet Infidels:

    Internet Infidels, Inc. is a Colorado Springs, Colorado-based nonprofit educational organization founded in 1995 by Jeffery Jay Lowder and Brett Lemoine. Its mission is to utilize the Internet to promote the view that supernatural forces or entities do not exist (metaphysical naturalism). Internet Infidels maintains a website of educational resources about agnosticism, atheism, freethought, humanism, secularism, and other nontheistic viewpoints particularly relevant to nonbelievers and skeptics of the paranormal. Relevant resources include rebuttals to arguments made by religious apologists and theistic philosophers, transcripts of debates between believers and nonbelievers, and responses from opponents of a naturalistic worldview. The site has been referred to by one of its critics, Christian apologist Gary Habermas, as “one of the Internet’s main Web sites for skeptics”[1] and by skeptical physicist Taner Edis as “a major Web site serving nonbelievers”[2]; its tagline is “a drop of reason in a pool of confusion”.[3] Richard Carrier, former editor-in-chief, said “… the mission of the Internet Infidels has always been to defend and promote Metaphysical Naturalism.”

    The Reason Project:

    The Reason Project is a U.S. charitable (501(c)3) foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. Its website, launched on May 27, 2009, further states:

    The project will draw on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers from a wide range of disciplines — science, law, literature, entertainment, information technology, etc. — to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy. It will convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific research and opinion polls, award grants to other non-profit organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition and bigotry in the world .[1]

    Religious people do all those things plus they have a book that preposes to answer life’s problems.

    No, you just have a whole bunch of books: The Atheist’s Bible, Origin of the Species, The God Delusion, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever.

    At least these are some of the top bestsellers on Amazon in the “Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Atheism” category. (That categorization alone tells you something.)

    Atheists can believe anything they want to. Or not.

    So I can be an atheist and believe in God? Or is your statement false?

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  8. Oh Hans,

    I thought I was just answering a question, not entering into a long involved argument. It seems absurd to equate one or two atheist “churches” to a Christian church on every corner in every little town, and I think your arguments really strain your logic, but never mind, as I am not in the least interested in continuing this discussion.

    And Emily, I’m sure your life will be everything you hope. I enjoy your blog.

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  9. Athesism as well as environmentalism is a religion. I do not know whether or not that is true as far as being considered a church for tax purposes.

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  10. Athesist meand “a theist”. The “a” means “without”. So atheist means without thesism, god. It doesn’t necessarily mean a person does not believe in god but could mean that. It means without god in one’s life.

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