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"3. 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)4

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