When most people think of an atheist, the last thing that they think to compare atheism to is religion. By its very definition, atheism is the disbelief in a God or gods. This also implies disbelief in the very basis for religion itself (belief in a supernatural being or power).
Despite the textbook definition, though, is atheism considered a religion?
Theologically/philosophically speaking, atheism is not considered to be a religion. In fact, it’s the very opposite of religion. However, atheists are still protected by the First Amendment, which allows them the same freedom of speech and beliefs granted to traditional religious institutions.
Out of curiosity, I’ve asked a number of my other atheist friends and followers the same question. Despite the facts, though, I’ve gotten a number of different opinions from different individuals. So, I figured that this would be a perfect time to break down the question and explain some of the key differences (and similarities) between atheism and traditional religion.
How Is Atheism Similar To Religion?
Just the other day, I was halfway through writing my Are You an Atheist Quiz when I started to think about some of the similarities between organized atheism and religion. Of course, by the textbook definition, atheism is definitely not a religion.
However, I do admit that some atheists behave very “religiously,” in the sense that they’re almost religious about their disbelief in religion. I know, it’s a strange paradox. But when you’ve met and conversed with as many atheists as I have, you’ll start to see where I’m coming from.
So, despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, here are some of the ways that atheism is at least similar to religion. These are the main reasons why so many have individuals often confuse atheism as a religion.
1) Both Have Firm (and Similar) Beliefs
Despite the fact that atheists don’t have a “God,” many atheists have a very strong belief. Unlike agnostics, who believe that God may or may not exist, atheists are quite firm in the assertion that there is, in fact, no God at all.
They also do not believe in any mystical or supernatural forces. Essentially, we’re all just animals on a rock flying through space and trying to fulfill our biological urges to reproduce, be healthy, safe, and comfortable. Everything else is just transitory.
2) Both Openly Advocate For Their Belief
You know how everybody jokes that religious people are always bringing up their religion? Well, atheists do the same thing. Once you get them started on a tangent, they might not ever shut up… especially if you start asking them to provide arguments for their belief in atheism.
How Is Atheism Different From Religion?
Alright, so I’ve shown you some of the ways that atheism is similar to religion. But how about the ways that atheism is different from traditional religious ideology? These are two of the key differences between the two beliefs.
1) Religion Implies Supernatural Beliefs
No matter what religion you look at, almost all are centered around some type of supernatural belief. For some it’s a monotheistic God; for others, it’s a number of different gods. Religious followers also recognize that these supernatural beings also have supernatural powers that defy the laws of physics and science as we know them.
Atheists are pretty much the exact opposite. God doesn’t exist, there certainly isn’t a multitude of gods, and the supernatural is all just the result of hallucination or mythology.
2) Atheists Don’t Follow Religious Laws
Since atheists don’t believe in any god or religion, they also don’t follow religious laws. This means that there’s no “sabbath” day that they need to regard. They aren’t bound by religious restrictions around things such as sex, food, drinking, and moral behavior. If they happen to “follow” any of these laws it’s due to a personal choice, not a religious obligation.
Does The Constitution Regard Atheism As A Religion?
So, this is another interesting angle that I’ve been presented with as an argument for why atheism could be a religion. Under the First Amendment, atheists have a right to freedom of belief and free speech. Similar to Christianity, therefore, atheists are allowed to openly speak about their beliefs, hold conventions, or even organize non-profit groups.
Is Agnosticism A Religion?
Now, you might also be wondering, “Okay, say atheism isn’t a religion… but what about agnosticism?”
Although atheists and agnostics share similar disbelief in the supernatural, they also aren’t completely opposed to it either. The “on-the-fence” nature of agnostics technically makes them even less religious than atheism. Agnostics don’t worship any god and don’t really have a firm belief in any ideology. They’re simply admitted that they don’t know and they’re open to evidence from either side.
All in all, this means that agnosticism clearly is not a religion.
Although atheism arguably shares similar characteristics to religion (a firm belief and outspoken proponents), it ultimately is not a religion. So, the next time somebody asks you to answer this common question, I hope you’ll have a good answer already prepared!