Atheism Is Not a Religion

Often we hear religious apologists claim that atheism is just another religion, and that one must have “faith” to be an atheist just as one must have faith to worship Jesus.

But atheism is not a positive belief system at all. It merely rules out belief in God and the supernatural. Atheism is no more a religion than “a-Santa-Claus-ism” is. It is possible and desirable for an atheist to build a system of beliefs rooted in the evidence and integrated by reason. Such beliefs do not compose a religion, either, nor are they expressions of religious faith.

Religious pluralism — the ability of people of many faiths or no faith to live together in harmony — rests on the idea that people can reach some common ground beyond religion, a common recognition of facts and reason available to each of our natural faculties. What happens when no such common ground exists?

A recent letter in the Free Press illustrates the problems:

The barriers to truth on this issue regarding prayer by government officials are primarily psychological, not logical. Most of the confusion is born from a misunderstanding of proper “church” and state separation, along with two logical impossibilities — actual neutrality in government and genuine religious pluralism. Both assertions are nonsense. … [A]theism actually presupposes and surreptitiously relies on theism to even have the appearance of cogency.

In other words, absent a common ground of reason, people of each religion must attempt to enforce their faith by law, to the extent of discouraging (by means unstated) other religions. The word for such a system is theocracy.

3 thoughts on “Atheism Is Not a Religion”

  1. I don’t know of anyone who thinks that atheism actually IS a religion, but atheism does have many characteristics similar to religion such as faith (since it’s impossible to KNOW there is no god then the atheist must take that “belief” by faith), proselytizing, belief ABOUT the supernatural (a definition of religion is simply ”a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe…” [Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006] ), atheist churches (see, and a US court rulling atheism a religion (see

    Someone once told me “if it looks like a duck, acts like a duck it’s probably a duck”. The same could be said of religion, if it looks like religion and acts like religion it’s probably a religion. Atheism might not be FORMALLY recognized as a religion but it sure has characteristics of most other religions in the world.

  2. 1. One need not disprove an arbitrary assertion. Pointing out that there is no evidence in something is not expressing “faith” that it doesn’t exist. In addition, the very concept of God is logically incoherent.

    2. Atheism is not a positive belief about something supernatural, but merely the belief that the supernatural does not exist. That’s far different from religious faith.

    3. The fact that there are “atheist churches” doesn’t imply that atheism is a religion. You could start a “stamp collecting church,” for instance.

    4. This is not the first time that courts have abused the language. However, free speech and freedom of conscience transcend religion; atheists too properly claim those rights.

    5. The motive behind classifying atheism as a religion is a peculiar one. The idea is that atheism, like all religion, is merely an arbitrary assertion. But how does that help the case for religion? Is your point that Christianity is no better and no worse than atheism? The view is deeply skeptical, in that its logical implication is that all beliefs are equally arbitrary, and nobody can really know anything.

  3. If atheism isn’t a religion, shouldn’t the “religious freedom” clauses of the First Amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, atheism, or agnosticism, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”?

    (see p. 62 of link; I withdrew my resolution that afternoon when they couldn’t display it on the big screen despite its being submitted first thing that morning, and I didn’t want to risk its being defeated since I didn’t have enough printed copies for everybody)

    For a clearer understanding of separation of church and state, I suggest you read “Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State” by Smith and Ross along with “Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State” by Dreisbach. Hamburger, taking a generally opposite view favoring stricter separation in “Separation of Church and State”, tends to simply ignore anything that doesn’t fit his view.

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