Is Atheism a Religion?

Not long ago, I joined in on a debate with an atheist on a social networking site.  This is not something I do much anymore, mainly because most individuals participating in debates have already made a decision and not open to dialogue.  On rare occasions, there is an openness to other views, but not always.  On one such occasion, I spoke with an atheist about his naturalistic convictions being his religion.  He said, “I don’t have any religion.”  I responded, “Well, as an atheist, you hold to certain beliefs and convictions.  This would seem to be a religion.”  He would not concede this point; neither would he even concede that he held a worldview.  Essentially, he was saying that didn’t believe in atheism although he was an atheist.  Go figure that one out.  That is on the same level as Lawrence Krauss’ “nothing is something” philosophy.

Nonetheless, this forces one to consider whether atheism could be considered a religion.  Does it meet the criteria of the “religion” definition?  In order to answer this, a definition of “religion” will be presented, marking some of the key characteristics of religion.  Then, the atheist worldview will be plugged into the definition to see if it matches.

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What is “Religion”?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term “religion” as

re•li•gion \ri-ˈli-jən\ noun

[Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at rely] 13th century

1       a : the state of a religious 〈a nun in her 20th year of religion

b       (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural

(2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2       : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3       archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness

              4       : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith — re•li•gion•less adjective[1]

Definition 1b would definitely not apply to atheism.  However, the remaining definition seems to indicate that “religion” is a set of beliefs that one holds concerning reality.  One’s views about God (or the absence thereof); the universe, morality, life, and everything in between seem to be included in this definition.  Therefore, can atheism be considered a religious system?

atheist logo

 Atheism and the Qualifiers of a Religion

Atheism, like any other belief system, can be entered into the definitional testing grounds of religion.  Taking some of the core qualifiers for religion, does atheism meet the criteria?

What about “personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”?  Is there a structure to the atheist paradigm?  Yes.  In some locations, atheist communities are developing.  There are even rituals in which some atheists participate, such as “de-baptisms.”[2]  Although beliefs among atheists vary, as do with almost all religions and worldviews, atheists hold many core tenets to their faith, such as: the rejection of God, the rejection of theistic and polytheistic institutions of faith, any notion of faith, the elevation of science above all other disciplines, and the glorification of hedonism.  If the reader does not think that these tenets are held by the majority of atheists, then check out visibly identified atheists on social networking and blogging sites.  The unity is amazing.  Even the debating styles are very similar.  The unification of these tenets causes atheism to possess qualities of a religious system.

What about “scrupulous conformity”?  As mentioned in the previous section, atheists hold many conformed ways of viewing the world.  In their quest to embrace inconformity, atheists have become conformed in their inconformity.  Many atheists use similar tactics in argumentation.  Even some illustrations used by atheists have become icons, such as the infamous “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”[3] Despite the atheist’s objections, this conformity has the attribute of a religious system.

flying spaghetti monster

What about “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”?  Richard Dawkins is an atheist evangelist.  On his foundation’s website, it is written, “The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) is a registered charity which promotes rationalism, humanism and science in a quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.”[4]  On this site, the reader will not only find the cause, listed above, but will find principles and a system of belief that is held by the supporters and adherents of Dawkin’s worldview.  These principles are held with great ardor and are supported by faith…faith that these principles are true.  Everyone has faith in something!  Therefore, atheism has another mark of religion.

Conclusion

Atheism clearly holds traits that correspond with the core definition of religion.  It is a system held with great faith and is promoted by the New Atheists with the fervor of an American Christian evangelist.  Atheists, and secularists in general, do not want you to believe that their worldview is religious in nature.  They will claim “separation of church and state” when Christians, Jews, and Muslims express their faith with symbols and literature.  Yet, they hold certain symbols and literature with great reverence.  Many hold similar social beliefs and even dialogue in the same fashion.  Therefore, it is in this writer’s opinion that atheism holds all the hallmarks of a religion.  The trouble is that those from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and other like-minded organizations are really not seeking “separation of church and state.”  Secular supporters actually support “separation of any other belief system than ours and the state”.  In the end, atheism is a religion just like any other belief system.  Let us, who know the true power of God, pray that their eyes will see, their ears will hear, and their hearts will be softened to accept the truth found in Christ Jesus.

Jesus with Prayer Hood


        [1] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

     [2] De-baptisms are irreverent acts in which atheists employ the use of hair-dryers to “de-baptize” themselves, or revoke their previous baptisms.

[3] The “Flying Spaghetti Monster” is an atheist’s attempt to present make-believe things as real.  The “Flying Spaghetti Monster” is a creation of Bobby Henderson.  Henderson attempted to debunk creationism and intelligent design with the fictional character.  A famous quote from the argument is “may you be blessed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodly appendage.”  What the irreverent argument neglects is the argument from necessity.  There is no necessity to a Flying Spaghetti Monster’s existence.  Certain beings can be known to exist due to necessity.  For instance, a person’s existence necessitates the existence of a mother and father regardless if they are known by the person’s friend.  In like manner, God’s existence is logically necessary due to the existence of the universe, the laws of nature, and the information found in the universe (along with many other reasons).

      [4] http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org. Accessed July 28, 2013.

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14 thoughts on “Is Atheism a Religion?”

  1. Posts like this usually make atheists sigh and shake their heads.
    Another insecure religious person wishes to label an atheist\s absence of belief in gods as a ”religion” so as to give them yet another target to aim at when attempting to feebly justify their own silly beliefs.

    This is s really so tiresome, so I too will merely sigh and shake my head. However, I will smile benignly while doing so.
    Silly person.

    1. Normally, I do not allow comments to be posted that are “ad hominem” attacks. But, I made an exception for this comment for educational purposes. Notice that the skeptic did not address any of the issues posted in the article. The definition of religion was not addressed neither was the correlation of religion and atheism. The skeptic simply attacked the author by terms such as “insecure religious person,” being “tiresome,” “silly,” and making the writer seem not worth addressing. This has all the tones of a weak argument because the issues are not addressed, the person is attacked. Prayers going out for Arkenaten. Blessings upon you, my friend.

      1. This argument has been through the mill so many times and shown to be silly, so why on earth do you believe it is now worthy of addressing in a dignified and intellectual fashion?
        All you are trying to do is point score, and you are doing it very poorly, I am afraid.
        If you have to try to bring atheists down to your level merely to try to demonstrate the veracity of your own beliefs then sadly, it doesn’t say very much for Christianity.

        I maintain that you are entitled to believe whatever you wish…just don’t proselytize and most importantly do not preach this to children.

        May your god go with you.

  2. Again, you have not dealt with the issue. You claim that the argument has been through the mill, but you have yet to deal with the issues at hand. Are you not guilty of point scoring while blaming me for doing the same?

    Sadly, New Atheists, not Christians, have brought atheism to a new low as I will address in my next article “Atheism: A Dangerous Worldview.” I will concede that we all are entitled to believe what we choose. However, I will follow up by saying that it is very important to teach Christian morals, principles, and virtues to children. Is it wrong that we teach children to treat others the way they wish to be treated? Is it wrong that we teach our children to live with a little self-control? Read the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. If we all lived as Jesus instructed, the world would be a much better place.

  3. Our friend left another reply that was more of the same. We did not post the comment since more ad hominen attacks were given instead of an intellectual dialogue with the issues at hand. In the post, he attacked the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth and addressed the issues of violence in the Old Testament. I would address those who are interested in these topics to check out the articles we have here on this site on the historicity and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the violence in the Old Testament, and the issues of suffering. For more information on these issues, check out the works by Gary Habermas and the book “Is God a Moral Monster” by Paul Copan.

  4. I’d answer your question with a question: is fire alive? Fire meets most of the requirements for the definition of something which is alive: it “breathes” oxygen, consumes food, produces waste as a result of the food it consumes, moves, reacts to its environment and reproduces. But we know it is a chemical reaction, not a living thing.

    Calling atheism a religion is like saying fire is alive. You can make some convincing-sounding arguments in that direction but you really have to ignore the ways in which they are different to do so. By the same logic one could argue many things are religions: Democracy, Communism, Patriotism, even being a Republican or Democrat. Some people may even think so, but that doesn’t make them religions.

    1. Thank you Stan for your comment. I like the illustration of fire being alive, however I do not think it is an accurate illustration in this case. A better metaphor in this case would be to compare volcanic fire and oceanic flooding. Both would be considered “natural phenomena” although they are very different in nature. Fire, or lava, flows from volcanoes which causes great heat and burns everything in its’ path. Water, from flooding, flows from tsunamis and drowns everything in its’ path. These two phenomena are very different in its’ characteristics, but they both can accurately be termed “natural phenomena” or “natural disasters.” In like manner, atheism meets the qualifications of a “religion” every bit as much as theistic and polytheistic religions. Therefore, I believe Lawrence Krauss is every bit as religious as William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins is every bit as religious as John Lennox. The difference lies in the object of their worship. Krauss and Dawkins worship the god of science and humanity, whereas Craig and Lennox worship the God of all creation. (Yes, I can see the eyes of many of our atheist friends rolling as they read this…but it is nonetheless true.) Blessings to you my friend.

      PS: I would not call democracy, communism, and the like religions. But, they could all be accurately called political systems just as Republicans and Democrats can be called political parties. Perhaps that is an even better illustration: Republicans and Democrats are different in almost every way. But, they are both called political parties. That is the point in calling atheism a religion. It is basically semantics.

      1. The fact remains, if I follow your logic there are a host of things which I could incorrectly label as religions. You can correct me and say they’re not, and the same way I can correct you to say atheism is not. Here are some reasons why I say it differs from religion:

        Atheism may appear homogenous from your perspective, but try being one. I can assure you it is not.

        Things you cite as being symbols such as the flying spaghetti monster are only used satirically and don’t represent any actual belief.

        I hesitate to equate science and atheism, but atheists do tend to follow science. But to contrast relgion vs. science as a source of knowledge is striking. When one religion grows independently of another, they generally have different morals, stories and gods. If you look at science, you find the same things are often discovered separately by different scientists. If you stripped science from the world completely, we would eventually rediscover it. If you stripped Christianity and its relatives, we would just end up with a new and different religion.

        Science doesn’t require faith because anything science promotes can be proven. If that’s not true, science discards it. No faith is required. “Blessed are those who believe without seeing” is a central tenet of religion, Christianity in particular, and is the main reason atheism is not one.

      2. You said, “there are a host of things which I could incorrectly label as religions.” This is true. Religion, as it is defined, is a belief system based on the world around us which is held with ardor and conviction. Atheism is not completely homogenous…but, neither is Christianity. Within Christianity, one finds Catholic perspectives, Orthodox perspectives, and a variety of Protestant perspectives. Nonetheless, there are uniting beliefs which constitute each sect within the umbrella of Christianity. The same is certainly true of atheism, as you would have humanist atheists, naturalist atheists, social-activist atheists, and so on and so forth.

        I would call the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” a symbol of belief…or rather a symbol of unbelief. It represents a satirical view of theistic belief systems. Furthermore, you stated, “science doesn’t require faith because anything science promotes can be proven.” Understand, faith is certainly required in science because science adheres to faith that certain things are true. For instance, science cannot prove that science proves things. It takes the person to trust in the scientific method in order for science to work. Science does not prove anything. Scientists do. Scientists interpret data and that requires trust (faith) in the method being employed, trust (faith) that the information is correct, and trust (faith) in certain criteria in their experiments. So, although science uses hard data, scientists still must employ a type of trust (faith) in the scientific system.

        The quote “Blessed are those who believe without seeing” was given by the resurrected Jesus Christ to His disciples as He stood before them. This is actually the opposite of what you are trying to promote. Many have taken the same notion. Jesus is not criticizing Thomas’ need to see evidence. Jesus was criticizing Thomas for the consistent doubt that he possessed in lieu of the overwhelming evidence before him. Jesus was saying that not everyone would see Jesus risen, but would have evidence to lead them to a conclusion of Christ’s authenticity. For those people, they are indeed blessed. Actually, Jesus promotes the opposite mentality. He promotes inquisitiveness. Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, NLT). Therefore, I would say that atheism uses just as much faith, if not more so, than those who trust in God. As Frank Turek and Norm Geisler claimed in their monumental work by the same name, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.” Blessings.

      3. I’m familiar with both the story of Thomas and the scientific method. I know that when a scientist makes a claim, it will be examined, criticized, tested and refined. Yes, I trust that process, but trust is different than faith. Faith is believing in something when there is no logical basis for that belief. My own church was quite clear on that teaching. With the scientific method I can read the papers, examine the methodology, read the criticisms and see that protocols have been followed. If I have the time and inclination, I can repeat the experiments myself. Frankly, if your trust in science is faith-based, you’re doing it wrong.

      4. Wow! I am surprised your church provided you with that definition of faith. The term in Greek “pisteuo” refers to “trust” but is translated as “faith.” The term shows a dependency and trust upon something or someone. That is the core definition of biblical faith. Biblical faith is “trust.” The problem is that many churches do depend on the type of “faith” that you described. That is what nearly led me to abandon the faith earlier in my life. Your definition of “faith,” as I understand it, is actually the same definition of “faith” according to the Greek texts that I have read. The church members that told you that “faith is believing in something when there is no logical basis for that belief” are not only wrong headed in their logic, they are greatly flawed in their biblical theology. But, this seems to be the going trend. Many people do not have a problem so much with Christ or the Bible, they have problems with some “self-professed” Christians whose walk do not match their talk.

  5. Okay, I was wondering where you were going with this article… after all, if we call atheism a religion, what does that really matter? But I see now that you were driving toward the point of church/state separation.

    Do you honestly want a melding of church and state? Should the government punish someone for not keeping the Sabbath Day holy? Should our government force us to make a donation to a church every Sunday? Should we be forced to pray? And if so, should it be in a certain way? Should women be kept from serving in positions of authority, as many Christians believe? Should it be illegal for someone to be non-Christian? If so, does that mean Judaism would also be outlawed?

    And what if the US was majority Muslim? Would you want to live under that kind of society?

    Or, is it perhaps better to have religious freedom? Where each individual has the right to practice (or not practice) religion as he or she sees fit? Where people practice a religion, not because they’re forced to, but because the merits of the religion compels them to?

    If you agree with the latter setup (as I do), then why should it matter to you if atheists also prefer it? Islam teaches that theft is wrong — should we embrace theft just because Islam is against it? I think pragmatism is a far better approach, don’t you?

    1. I think we view this from the same perspective. The problem is that evangelical Christians feel that many of their 1st amendment rights are being infringed. I do not support the government endorsing any particular religion, even Christianity. However, I do support the rights of each individual to worship or not worship as they please. I support the public display of any religion. But, there should be tact and decency. Unfortunately, this has been lacking even with some evangelical Christians. Thank you for your posts and your professionalism therein. Blessings.

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