Why is atheism NOT a religion?

Someone has probably already answered this question, but I can't find it, so sorry if this is a double topic.


I had a discussion with a Dutch friend of mine, who INSISTED that atheism is a religion.

I told him it wasn't. He didn't believe me, not even after all my logical explanations. 

so, what can I do or say that'll blow his mind? (please, not literally, I don't have a weapon license.)

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Thank you so much. :)

Now I hope I can convince my friend that atheism is not a religion!

My answer is yes and no. If atheism is defined as asserting there is no god (strong atheism) then it is a statement of faith as much as the claim there is a god. But the weak atheist position that there is insufficient evidence for god(s) is not a statement of faith.


At the same time, a theist claim of a specifically defined god (i.e. Yahweh) can be logically proven to be false and therefore it would not be a statement of faith to say that Yahweh does not exist. But the general deist claim that there is a (undefined) god cannot be disproven, therefore the claim that there is no such god is a statement of faith.




Religion - 1.

a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.



Atheism is the lack of belief in such a supernatural power. You don't call religion the lack of belief in fairies, flying pigs, etc.

Atheism doesn't have neither a set of beliefs, values and practices, nor a spiritual leader.

Sure, atheism may be pursued with zeal and/or conscientious devotion, but if you call it religion, then football (or any other sport) would be a religion, fighting for human and/or animal rights would be a religion, fighting in a war would be a religion, providing for your family would be a religion, etc.


And, if we think about the more common use of atheism, the rejection of god and religion, how can something be exactly what it rejects?

Here's the route I'd go. First ask him to provide you with a written definition of religion (beware if he proposes a shallow or practically meaningless definition of religion they you may have to have a discussion about what exactly a religion is first) then proceed to explain why atheism doesn't satisfy that definition. Keep in mind that atheism is merely the lack of belief in gods. Don't let your definition of atheism get too complicated, because really atheism isn't that complicated.


Here's an example based off of wikipedia's definition in it's religion article.


Religion is a set of beliefs

Atheism is the lack of one belief; the lack of belief in gods.


concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe,

Each individual atheist is likely to have their own beliefs surrounding the cause, nature and purpose of life and the universe however their beliefs are not derivative of atheism itself. Typically an atheist's beliefs surrounding the cause, nature and purpose of life and the universe are subject to change and derivative of science, logic and reason but not always since atheism has not dogma of it's own; remember atheism is merely the lack of belief in gods.


Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life.

Atheism has no narratives, no traditions, or sacred histories. Atheism does have a few associated symbols but no official symbol. Some of those associated symbols are the stylized A, flying spaghetti monster, and the invisible pink unicorn among others. Practically everything has a history, atheism of course has a history but not one that practically any atheist would consider sacred.


They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

Every person on the planet does this, this isn't something that exclusively the religious do. The difference is that an atheist does not have a dogma so they must derive their morality, laws, lifestyle from other sources typically but not always being science, logic, and rationality and history/culture/family traditions for the lifestyle portion of it.


Most religions have organized behaviors including congregations for prayer, priestly hierarchies, holy places, and/or scriptures.

Atheism does not have organized behaviors. There are some so called atheist congregations if you use a loose definition of the word congregation, most atheists are not members of atheist congregations and they certainly are not for the purposes of praying... some may use meditation however. There are no priestly hierarchies in atheism, holy places, or atheist scriptures.


Hopefully my example is a good one... I typically in the past have discovered that little of what I say no matter how logical and rational it is going to get through the skull of a person who has made up their mind that atheism is a religion... the yeah buts are endless and they oftentimes like to move the goal posts (change the definition as you refute it) which is really frustrating and part of the reason I say have them write the definition down for you.

If your friend can call Atheism a religion, it is not by the same definition of religion that Christianity or Islam would be subject to.  Atheism is only a religion in the same ways that people call music, art, writing, sports, World of Warcraft, technology and science religion.


True religion wishes to re-define the word "religion" itself, so that they can turn the table on us as hypocrites.  Religion involves spirituality, faith, and/or a god of some sort.


Atheism involves none of the above.  (I've heard a few atheists describe themselves as 'spiritual atheists' but no such thing exists in my mind.)

Philosophically speaking, atheism CAN be one's religion, just as alcoholism can be a "religion"  It all depends on what your "meta theory" is. Religion can be defined as "something one believes in and follows devotedly" and it does not necessarily mean a deity has to be involved.  

Because religion requires faith. Atheism requires no faith... Your friend might be getting the words "Faith" and "Belief" mixed up. If you're an Atheist you believe in NOthing, the word NO negates something (Even though nothing is still something). 


If you're a theist you believe in a deity,  Atheist negates that. 


It should be fairly obvious, but Atheism is NOT a religion because being a religion would require organization, leaders, followers, and pointless rituals. None of which Atheism holds to it's name.


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