Is Atheism a Religion?

Christian Atheist (Peter Lumsden, d. 2007)

Christian Atheist (Peter Lumsden, d. 2007) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s the title of an article at the Christian Post by Brittney R. Villalva. There, she cites the American Religious Identification Surveys as well as a recent PEW poll, all of which indicate a rise in “nones” and non-religious, including atheists and agnostics.

Not surprisingly, she also speaks to the growing fear that religious bigots have about this:

The growing number is a concern for some Christians, who fear that atheism could turn into a belief system that surpasses the separation of church and state laws.

She accurately represents most atheists I know by pointing out that we don’t religious superstition entering public policy decisions with government. But, when she quotes David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee who says, “[b]but they do want their own beliefs about God’s nonexistence to influence public policy,” she (and Fowler, obviously) misrepresent the non-religious in general and atheists in particular. I know of no atheist that wants their own beliefs about the non-existence of a god to influence public policy that goes any further than keeping superstition out of public policy. Nor does the author of the article give any example of what this might mean.

Instead, she seems more interested in being the spokesperson for Christians who would like nothing more than atheism to be declared a religion so they can use that angle to keep our points of view and opinions out of public schools. There is a growing effort to continue to eliminate science and reason from public schools, making it easier for the religious to shroud their children in ignorance and superstition. They believe that if atheism can be declared a religion, then that means evolution cannot be taught.

Doesn’t make sense, I know. But I’ve been a part of more than one argument, mostly online, where this has come up. Somehow, Christians (probably Muslims and other religionists as well) equivocate “evolution” with “atheism.” One really has little to do with the other, except that both are positions based on reason and critical thought. Oh, and both are positions that refute Christian mythology. But they are distinctly independent beyond that. One need not understand biology and evolution in order to be an atheist. And one need not be an atheist to see that evolution explains life on the planet (examples include Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins).

The author makes an argument that atheism is a religion, but no where in the article does the author bother to define “religion.”

I challenge a religionist (or anyone for that matter) to provide a definition for “religion” that maintains it’s utility yet includes an atheist perspective. I’d be very interested to see what such a definition looked like. To date, the best definition I’ve yet to see for “religion” comes from Daniel Dennett (one of the so called Four Horsemen of New Atheism). He defined religion as a “social system whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought”[1]. Simple and straightforward. And it has great utility. A few people dislike it because it exclude Theraveda Buddhists, but I actually like it because of that exclusion.

Other attempts to define a religion that can include atheism will invariably make the definition so cumbersome as to destroy its utility. Suddenly anything can be a religion, from baseball and crochet to stamp collecting and masturbation.

Atheism is not a religion. It’s a lack of it.

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  1. Dennett, Daniel (2006). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penquin, p. 9. []
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