Of all the absurd propositions advanced by religious persons, the idea that atheism is a religion is one of the most far-fetched. That such a notion could even enter their heads illustrates muddle-headed thinking of a most egregious nature.
Granted, not all of the world’s religions have theistic beliefs. May branches of Buddhism, for example, are non-theistic. However, this does not automatically make a Buddhist an atheist. What makes Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and all the others fall under the category of religion is that they all share certain traits. One of these is a reliance on mysticism of some sort. Another is that they are all fundamentally anti-life; all teach that this earthly existence is miserable, and all seek some way of escaping it. All religions have the same underlying desire: to avoid the reality of earthly existence and to get “right” with some supernatural realm, whether it be a god, Nirvana, or the alleged oneness of the universe. Religion thus functions as an escape mechanism for those dissatisfied with life here on earth.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines religion in three ways:
The first definition states: “Belief in the existence of a supernatural higher power.” As discussed above, most scholars would find this definition too restricting, but we can safely say that without some aspect of supernaturalism and/or mysticism, religion would no longer be religion. Atheism eschews all aspects of supernaturalism and mysticism and holds that the universe is a natural place run by natural laws. We do not retreat into a fantasy world of our own creation.
The second definition: “A particular system of faith or worship.” Atheists have no faith, and we do not respect any form of faith. We recognize faith as a cop-out, a position taken by the religious when their other arguments fail them. Faith is a smokescreen the believer wants to hide behind, hoping that the term will somehow give them some kind of intellectual respectability and legitimize an obviously indefensible position. Worship may be viewed as the acting out of one’s religiosity. Religions incorporate several different factors into their belief systems. These include myth (legends and folklore usually of ancient origin), ritual behavior (such as the Eucharist or the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca), mysticism (an attempt to find some kind of “better” reality by magical means) and personal experience or conviction. Remove any of these and you no longer have religion. All of these defining characteristics of religion are absent from atheism; there is no mystical element, no rituals, no mystical “revelations,” no supernaturalism, no priests, no prayers, no holy places, no gods, and, most important of all, no dogma.
The third definition: “Something compared to religious faith as a controlling influence on a person’s life, i.e. ‘football is his religion’.” This third definition is not a definition at all; it is a comparison. This comparison is not very favorable to religion as it equates it with fanaticism. In addition, atheism cannot fall under this example either, as it does not control our lives, but is merely one aspect of it, albeit a major one.
So, as defined by the Oxford American Dictionary, atheism is in no way equated with religion. However, those who seek to degrade atheism are rarely dissuaded by the facts. Many years ago I once had a religious studies professor who, impressed with my defense of atheism, claimed that my enthusiasm showed that I was religious and that this proved atheism to be a religion! This nonsense of course falls under the third definition listed above and can be rejected accordingly. Other religious people claim that atheism is a religion because we deal with and concern ourselves with religion. This too is patently ridiculous; calling an atheist religious because he deals with religion is akin to calling a fireman an arsonist because he deals with fire. The atheist is a person with self-confidence and the ability to think freely, without the mindless crutch of religious superstition clouding his thinking. Our concern is with the problems of this world, not with ways of getting into an imaginary next life by making Brownie points with a deity. In examining the various problems of the world, we recognize the obvious fact that many of these stem from religion.
In addition, we atheists find religious customs and practices barbaric and degrading. They are barbaric because they represent the last vestiges of primitivism in the human race; as but one example, the Eucharist is simply a modern-day version of the ancient cannibalistic religious ritual of god-eating. These customs are degrading because they put humans on their knees, staring fearfully at a nightmare apparition that exists only in their minds. Atheism puts people back on their feet and restores their dignity.
Atheism is a positive, life-affirming alternative to religion and its anti-human dogmas. I call religions philosophies of death because this life is constantly degraded and death, perversely referred to as “eternal life” is elevated above it. Christianity illustrates this point perfectly; its entire theology is based on a hatred for this life and the imaginary joys to be gotten in the next one. Since there is no next life, atheists rightly recognize Christianity for the scam it is. Any system that teaches that this life is a mere testing ground for our death is a philosophy of death.
Anyone who claims that atheism is a religion is either completely ignorant as to what atheism and religion really are, or else is aware but does not possess the honesty to admit the truth. To the Christian, every atheist is in a sense a threat because we are living proof that their system does not work for everyone and that their dogmas are false. The New Testament admonishes Christians to go forth and convert the world, and the existence of even a single solitary atheist is proof that their supposedly all-powerful god and his Bible weren’t powerful enough against human reason. Those that are entrapped in the cult called Christianity are simply unable to grasp that there are people in this world who do not share their belief systems; the fact that these people seem to get along just fine only makes them angrier. But not all of us are slaves to our fears. Exasperated at their failure to convince us of the verities of their faith, they lash out at the atheist by saying that we too are a religious system, thereby including us in this nonsense called religion; by this, they hope to show that atheism, rather than being an alternative to religion, is merely another religion. Then, they try to show how our “religion” of secularism is destroying the world. They insist that we too have faith, that Robert G. Ingersoll is our “god” and that we “worship” our minds and/or humanity. They are, in short, trying to include us in their madness. It is sad that their minds are so restricted that they cannot conceive of anybody being free of religion.
It has even been argued that, since we do not worship their god, we worship nothing. In fact, the reverse is the case; since their god does not exist, they worship nothing (nothing, except perhaps their own imagination). Just look at the way they con themselves: they talk to a god that never answers, they deprive and even injure themselves attempting to achieve a “higher state of being,” they bemoan their existence while enthusiastically awaiting their “afterlife,” they listen to preachers who intellectually haven’t advanced since the Christian Dark Ages, and they think that they see images of their icons on trees, windows, and tortillas. Then, they want us to respect their beliefs!
Atheists will have none of this nonsense. We recognize it as a form of insanity that has no place in our lives. Atheism, far from being a religion, is the exact opposite of it. There is no heaven or hell but, metaphorically, we create whichever one we want here on this earth and in this life, the only life we have.
When religious people call atheism a religion, they are revealing something about themselves they are not likely to admit; that the word “religion” has become so discredited that even they are using it as an epithet. This can only be viewed as a victory for atheism!