The Human Truth Foundation

Is Atheism a Religion?

By Vexen Crabtree 2016


Atheism is the non-belief in god(s). Some people add to this simple definition and argue that atheists are actually religious by default1,2. One argument is that in order to be an atheist you have to "deny God" and by doing so, you admit that God exists. Others say that "not believing in god" is automatically a "religious" belief and that it requires "faith"1. These positions are obviously daft - most people also deny that unicorns and tooth fairies exist. But this doesn't mean that such people are members of an a-unicornist religion. They are, for various reasons, non-believers. Disbelief does not automatically equate to a religious disbelief. One articulate argument that some atheists are religious in nature was best vocalized by William James:

Book Cover[The more fervent atheists] have often enough shown a temper which, psychologically considered, is indistinguishable from religious zeal.

"The Varieties of Religious Experience"
William James (1902) [Book Review]3

But however fervent someone is about things that don't exist, it doesn't make it religious. Take football. The psychology and emotionality of followers can be very intense, and we can easily imagine William James say the same thing about football fans as he does about some atheists. The truth is that 'zeal' is a trait that can be applied to any human activity where there is enough enthusiasm. You might as well say that 'religious people, psychologically speaking, have often shown a temper which is indistinguishable from football fanaticism'. In other words, just because there is a strong drive, it doesn't make it a religious drive. This is the case with the most 'fervent' atheists: their zeal does not make them religious.

Here follows the main arguments against the idea that atheism is a religion.

Calling atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.

Don Hirschberg

Current edition: 2016 Mar 05
Parent page: Atheism and Secularism

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Harrison, Guy P.
(2008) 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Prometheus Books, New York, USA. An e-book.

James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. A paperback book. Book Review.


  1. Harrison (2008). Chapter 6 "Atheism is just another religion", digital location 401-3.^
  2. "Is Atheism a religion?" by Daniel Smartt on (2010 May 04), accessed 2016 Mar 03. His article is crammed full of ridiculous assertions and leaps-of-logic about what atheism actually means - but he seems to have a lot of followers in the USA. Under his 7 numbered headings, he argues that atheism "has stories" and refers to evolution. But millions of atheists throughout the world have no idea about evolution, and eastern Buddhist atheists could easily share no stories at all with Western atheists. There's no "atheist story". His section 2 on "Experiential" is almost incoherent and seems mostly concerned with Charles Darwin. Etc. I am tempted to write a page-long rebuttal of Smartt's mistakes!^
  3. James (1902). P54.^

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