Atheism is a religion
Apologists frequently assert that atheism is a religion. Whether this is true or not depends greatly on what definitions of atheism and religion are being used. The argument is most effectively made against strong atheism, in which positive assertions are made that no gods exist, but even in that case there are real problems with applying the label of religion to something that is explicitly denying a central belief of almost all religions (and providing no alternative beliefs in its place). Further muddying the issue is the purely legal notion that, for the purposes of the First Amendment's free exercise clause, atheism should be considered a form of religion worthy of protection.
If you truly believe that there is no god, how is that different from believing that there is a god? Both are positions on a fundamentally religious question that must ultimately rest on faith. Therefore, atheism is just another form of religion.
According to dictionary.com, the primary definition of religion is:
- a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
There's a lot of wiggle room in those "especially"s and "usually"s. Does atheism (strong or not) consider the universe as a creation of superhuman agency? Of course not; just the opposite (in that atheists do not believe in such a superhuman agent in the first place). Does atheism involve devotional and ritual observance? No. Does it prescribe a moral code? No. Of course, there are systems of morality that atheists would be comfortable calling their own (see the article on secular morality), but atheism in itself does not suggest which moral system one should follow.
More to the point, is atheism a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe? No. Even strong atheism is simply a position on one particular issue: there is no god. Thus, even assuming strong belief in this point, that doesn't say anything at all about the actual cause, nature or purpose of the universe, except in the negative ("it's not God").
People who think that atheists are all of one mind about the nature of the universe need only consider the beliefs of Raelians to see this is not so.
Some people claim that atheism is a religion based on later definitions of the word, such as
- something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: [for example] to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
Technically, atheism could be considered a religion in this sense, but this wanders very far from what theists imply when they call atheism a religion, and can thus be considered equivocation. As the entry itself mentions, under this definition "fighting prejudice" is a religion. If this is true, then so are capitalism, football, and Star Trek. It is surely not much of an insult to be included under such a broad definition. (On the other hand, many theists would likely be insulted if this were taken to be the only meaning of the term when applied to their own religion!)
- Is atheism a religion? by Adrian Barnett