IS ATHEISM A RELIGION?

Religions

‘Theism’ means ‘belief in a god or gods’. Believers usually sign up to the values and principles of a godly belief system: it’s an ideology. Theistic ideologies are commonly known as faiths or religions. Many ideologies have the suffix ‘ism’; for example, liberalism, socialism, and communism but, in the case of ‘atheism’, the ‘ism’ ending has merely been inherited from its root: ‘theism’. The prefix ‘a’ turns the meaning around to the negative, that is, ‘not a belief in a god’, so ‘atheism’ is as far from a faith or religion as it’s possible to get.

Atheism is not a belief system, so that should end this article right here, but theists will likely not be satisfied. They might point to the things atheists and religions have in common: religions form churches, atheists form associations; churches and atheist associations appoint members to formal roles such as bishop and president; church members give offerings, atheists pay subscriptions; churches hold services, atheist hold meetings. Churches and Atheists both have literature they value and people they admire.

The problem is, these are superficial similarities and if they make Atheism a religion, they make political parties and table tennis clubs religions too. That is obviously absurd.

There is one organization in the United States which makes it their job to decide which group is a religion and which is not, and that’s The Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Religions receive highly favorable treatment in the USA and the IRS wants to avoid giving these advantages to organizations that are not genuine religions. So the IRS has a set of criteria they apply to any group claiming to be a religion. The primary criteria are listed below with how Atheist groups qualify [shown in parenthesis].

  1. Distinct legal existence [Some Atheist groups are legal entities.]
  2. Recognized creed and form of worship [No creed or forms of worship.]
  3. Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government [No ecclesiastical governance.]
  4. Formal code of doctrine and discipline [No doctrine.]
  5. Distinct religious history [No religious history.]
  6. Membership not associated with any other church or denomination [Atheists may join any number of atheist groups.]
  7. Organization of ordained ministers [No ministers of any kind.]
  8. Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study [No courses of study.]
  9. Literature of its own [No literature reserved for one group.]
  10. Established places of worship [No worship.]
  11. Regular religious services [No religious services.]
  12. Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young [No instructing the young.]
  13. Schools for the preparation of its members [No atheist schools.]

With only one criterion applicable to Atheists (and that one all political parties and many clubs share), the IRS won’t be granting religious tax exemptions to Atheist groups any time soon.

Theists might follow-up by asking why Atheists bother to meet to talk about gods they do not believe in. There are several reasons atheists meet but none of them are to talk about gods they don’t believe in. A common reason, especially in very religious countries, is to find some time to socialize with like-minded people who are not preoccupied with religious beliefs.

In many cases, atheists meet as a reaction against religious intolerance, the infiltration of religious dogma into schools and legislation, or the entanglement of church and state. They meet to get organized in an attempt to combat these religious excesses.

Let’s spell this out; Atheists have no beliefs in common, no gods of any kind, nothing they worship, no scripture, no shared values, and no dogma. They have no clergy, no schools, and no sacred buildings. The only thing all Atheists share is a lack of belief in gods.

Why then do the religious so often claim that Atheism is a religion? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask religious people that question. Perhaps it is to try to establish a false equivalency, an attempt to drag Atheism down to the level of a religion—a set of unsubstantiated beliefs, in a landscape where beliefs are held only on faith. If so, they would be completely wrong about that too. 😯

 

21 thoughts on “IS ATHEISM A RELIGION?

  1. Rivergirl says:

    Good grief, atheism is not a religion… it’s the very antithesis. People of faith just need to accept us believing in nothing.
    😉

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    • Archon's Den says:

      If they can’t build themselves up, the religious will settle for tearing everyone else down to their level. I ain’t goin’ – not without a fight. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    • dolphinwrite says:

      Everyone believes in something. To not believe in one thing requires believing in something else. It’s just how we’re built. Humans have to believe in something to feel at ease or confident. The only thing I can see is to be an atheist is to subconsciously beleive in one’s self, in fact, believing one is god, knowing enough to know there is no god. Otherwise, atheists would be agnostics, unsure but willing to listen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    I don’t believe in ghosts either. I wonder if I’m missing a meeting somewhere?

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  3. spawneedave says:

    Atheism is a religion, like bald is a hair colour

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I think an awful lot of Christian apologists just throw whatever arguments they can come up with against the wall to see what sticks. That alone makes me want to avoid them.

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  5. dolphinwrite says:

    This question has been around probably almost as long as people have been on the Earth…, maybe. People believe what they believe, for a variety of reasons. For myself, I just knew there had to be more, later realizing I had to have been created, for where did “I” come from? How did I, all of us, get here?
    A family member doesn’t believe there is any life after death. Once dead, one ceases to exist. That’s a belief system. You believe something. I asked this relative once, so you’re okay with the idea that upon death, you will never ever be conscious of anything, that you’re non-existence is forever, and never will you see or think again. A troubled look crossed his/her face, so I changed the subject.
    Katherine Hepburn viewed death as a long sleep, without any dreams. Of course, from her vantage point, you never wake up because there’s no “you” to wake up upon death. But it’s interesting that many atheists do believe in something, and often times it’s self-created or through reading others, sometimes Buddha and the like. If Katherine truly believes what she claimed, then there’s no longer a her, for she had ceased to exist and will never ever be again.
    We read somewhere that Neanderthals existed at the same time as our current species, but also that homo sapiens sometimes “married” those Neanderthals. If true, and if true Neanderthals had no conception of an afterlife, then that might explain some of the diversity of beliefs due to the genetic pool, but that’s for intellectuals to decide. I just know, by talking with others, that people have their views.
    Perhaps, for some, it’s more involved. Adult family members pushing religion too much. Representation that doesn’t truly follow the bible. Not getting what is prayed for. Tragic circumstances. Confusion. Many other ideas come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Archon's Den says:

    You raise some interesting points, but I respectfully disagree with your first (perhaps mistaken) claim. The question at hand is whether Atheism is a religion. It’s not, for 12 of the 13 reasons above. Atheists – those who do not believe in the existence of God (or gods) have been around as long as those, who believe He/they exists.
    Atheism isn’t even a belief system – more like a disbelief system. It’s only in the last 20/25 years, as Atheists became more numerous, more vocal, possessed of better counter-arguments, that Christians have felt forced to employ tricks of definition, to level the debate field. If we are organized, and have a church, then Atheists must be an organized religion also. If we have unproven beliefs, then Atheists must have a belief structure too.
    Christian Apologists claim that they know what Atheists think, feel and do. Many have the audacity to claim that they know what God thinks and wants. It makes them and their uncritical followers feel good. It just doesn’t stand up to reality. 😈

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    • dolphinwrite says:

      One cannot see or look through the eyes of another, so in that sense, I see your point. We can only go by our own understanding and experiences. From that, atheism is believing that there is no after life, so it’s believing something. Or that there is no god, which again, is believing something.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Most days I think I’m an agnostic, but today I feel more like an apathyest (apathiest?)

        Like

      • Archon's Den says:

        I’m largely with you, Jim. The word is apatheist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism

        Like

      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Dang! And here I thought I had coined a clever new word. Thanks! 😌

        Like

      • Archon's Den says:

        Actually, you did – and I’m impressed! It’s just that someone else also did – first. Dictionary.com still hasn’t heard of it. I can’t trace the word much further back than 2003, although the expressed concept seems to be about 20 years old. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jim Wheeler says:

        After reading the history of the word you so kindly provided, I think that we both may be “practical athiests” rather than apathiests. But I’m not sure. I just can’t get up enough enthusiasm to think the thing through.

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Hi, dolphinwrite. Um, your comment made me think further on the subject. With respect, I don’t think atheism is believing in something. I think it’s simply an absence of belief.

        Take ET’s for example. I don’t believe in them because there’s no meaningful evidence for them, but I think it’s possible, even likely, that they exist. I also think, based on my understanding of science and physics, that there’s almost zero possibility that any of them will ever visit Earth. Why “almost?” Because I’m not so arrogant that I won’t evaluate new evidence about almost anything.

        So far though, I haven’t bought into the Bermuda Triangle, a Creator, UFO’s, Sasquatch, Nessie, luck, or ghosts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dolphinwrite says:

        Okay. Thanks for the share. I get it when people say they don’t know. That’s cool. It’s when one says there is no creation. Then, I say, how do you know? To say there is no god is to make one’s self god, for only one who knows everything can make that statement. Not knowing and pondering the reasons for things is the process of finding out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Archon's Den says:

        With many Christian Apologetics, for Atheists to admit that, “I don’t know.” is taken as a sign of weakness, and a surrender. If you don’t know, then WE DO!
        To claim that there is/was creation, is at least as deluded as claiming that there wasn’t, without evidence, and far more desperately egotistic and arrogant, to presume to speak for God. 😳

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      • dolphinwrite says:

        I could be wrong, but an attempt at using language to subject another for their views as prideful is in place. I can do that too. Not hard. But that’s not the point here. At least, not for me. I’ll go only so far as reasonable discussion occurs. Then, the point is lost, which we seem to be nearing. **Over the discussions, here and elsewhere, I have shared what I have come to understand. What I don’t understand, I cannot share. I know I know very little, that the older I get, the more I realize how little I know. Funny, the more I know, the less I see I know. But, what is showing is certain. If someone explains to another that the reason the car isn’t working is because of the battery, the other person can choose to believe it or not. The first one “sees” the answer, the second doesn’t have the understanding as yet. Perhaps the first has worked on cars, the second only read about them. Like most people, I’m just a work in progress. Try not to read into my words beyond what I say. I apologize for no one. But the science, the research, the pondering, and discussions have shown me that creation is a certainty. But that was my road, little steps at a time. Little ah haa moments. Each person finds their crumbs of evidence, like I did, and who knows what those tidbits lead to.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. […] No, it’s not! We refuted that. […]

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