Is Atheism a Religion?

The typical Internet ‘athiest’ bully may declare that ‘athiesm’ is against all religions because religion is about ‘God’— usually meaning the God of the Bible. But we want to look into the question more deeply than that. And, as is so often the case, we need to start at the dictionary.

The word ‘religion’ in English comes from the Latin word ‘religio.’ The first definition in my dictionary says ‘belief in or worship of  God or gods.’ But there is a second. ‘A specific system of belief or worship, etc, built around God, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, etc.’ So atheism is a specific system of belief built around a philosophy of life. That is a religion. Though it is more popular in many circles to call a non-theistic religion a ‘philosophy of life.’

‘Athiests’ may complain at this. But they shouldn’t. Why do atheists have freedom of religion in the United States and elsewhere? Certainly not because atheism was considered to be a socially responsible viewpoint worthy of protection by the United States’ Founding Fathers. In fact I heard of an early murder case that went unprosecuted because the eyewitness was an atheist who at the time could not be sworn in as a witness in court. Atheism is protected now because it is considered a religion— in the ‘philosophy of life’ sense, not in the ‘code of ethics’ or ‘worship of God/gods’ senses.

As a system, atheism lacks a lot that other religions have. Religions usually have quite a few specific required beliefs, or dogmas. The only universal atheist dogma is ‘there is no god.’ To which some add other dogmas like ‘atheism is based on logic but we can’t say how,’ or ‘all atheists are logical and all God-believers are not’ or ‘God is evil and causes earthquakes’ or ‘if you don’t accept atheism you must be a Bible-believing Evangelical Christian’ or ‘atheism is so logic-based and science-based it is obviously true and needs no proof.’ But all atheists don’t believe all of those.

Atheism also lacks a moral code— though atheists themselves may have a moral code from some other source or philosophy. There is nothing within the belief of atheism to tell us to love our neighbor and help our neighbor, rather than hate our neighbor and steal from our neighbor. The Founding Fathers of the US thought that belief in a God, an afterlife, and afterlife punishments and rewards was a necessary thing to make one a good and law-abiding citizen. Atheists don’t believe that and I am sure that most of the more thoughtful/intellectual atheists do have some sort of moral code that does not contradict their atheism— though it is not require by atheism itself.

There are multiple kinds of atheists. There are rude atheists, like Madilyn Murray O’Hair and the internet ‘athiests,’ and there are simply people who don’t happen to belief in a God, for whatever reason. The beloved Christian apologist and writer C. S. Lewis was an atheist for a number of years. He doesn’t mention having mocked Christians or caused a fuss over his atheism, and I honestly can’t imagine the man he was ever bullying someone over their Christianity. If only he had written articles on atheism during his atheist years, he could have been a decent role model for atheists today. Though they would likely reject anything he’d written because he became a Christian and a defender of Christianity (a Christian apologist.)

What about an atheist who says ‘atheism isn’t a religion, it’s the truth!’ Well, first I would wonder if the atheist got that argument from the (Evangelical) Christians who say ‘(Evangelical) Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s the truth!’ Regardless of the source of the saying, I would say frankly: atheism is a religion. Evangelical Christianity, like Christianity in general, is a religion. There is nothing in the dictionary definition of ‘religion’ that says that a religion may not be true! And I would imagine that nearly all people regard their own religion as being true. If they don’t think it’s true, in what sense are they adherents of that religion? Christianity has a name for that state: a ‘nominal Christian’ is one who may say he is a Christian, for social or other reasons, but does not actually believe. So to say a ‘religion’ can’t be the truth is simply being illogical.


For further study

Logical Thinking by Richard L. Purtill

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

3 thoughts on “Is Atheism a Religion?

  1. To clarify two points here. First, atheism is not a single system of beliefs. Not all atheists “believe” the same thing, and you’ll find a broad range, such as atheists who do not believe in anything supernatural and others who simply do not believe in a God figure within the range of what we might consider supernatural. There’s no atheistic authority where someone is going to say “you aren’t really an atheist, because….” Because there is no “system” here.

    Second, the reason why atheists are protected by the Bill of Rights is not because atheism is a religion, but because Congress shall pass no law regarding an establishment of religion – which includes any law inherently biased against those who don’t have any religion.

    Atheism really isn’t a religion. Any more than pantheism is – because pantheism is simply a *kind* of belief, which at least some religious faiths embrace as a tenet of their faith. Similarly I’m sure there are atheistic systems that you could argue are religions by definition 2 – like Socialism in China for example. That might be a more interesting question. I’m mostly responding because this post seems to embrace a common fallacy, that all atheists are the same and there’s some kind of Atheist Church floating out there with Atheist Saints that they worship and have faith in, with maybe a few Atheist Heretics that don’t conform. That’s simply not how this works.

  2. I kind of agree with AHTDoucette. Some atheists “worship” Communism since they hope it will save the world. Others see Science as our savior. Or Human Goodness. Or Survival. Or Art–if they’re creative types.

    People reject God for different reasons too. The bitter atheists who wear a fedoras and hate the god who doesn’t exist differ from reluctant atheists who wish He did and miss Him but have lost all faith.

  3. I tried to make it clear in the above blog post that there were different kinds of atheists, but obviously, I failed. The post above represents my own opinion and I am aware that others have different opinions.

    I once considered becoming an atheist myself, at a time when I had lost faith in Christianity. I just didn’t feel I had any logical reason to assert the non-existence of God, and I admit I was somewhat repelled by the nastiness of Madilyn Murray O’Hair, the only actual atheist I was much aware of at the time. I know that if I had become an atheist anyway I would have been a different kind of atheist than O’Hair was!

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