Is Atheism a Religion?


February 23, 2013 by mattfradd

Is Atheism a religion?

In this article I want to propose the extraordinarily controversial question, is atheism a religion?

What is Atheism?

Traditionally, atheism has been defined as, “the position that affirms the non-existence of God. [Which] proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.” [1]

Today’s atheists often claim the exact opposite. Atheism, they say, is not a positive proposition, but rather, a suspension of belief. Though atheists are, of course, free to adopt any definition they’d like, this word play certainly makes for confusing conversation.

The concept of “agnostic”, it seems, has been evicted from it’s letters and forced to take up residence in the seemingly muscular shell of “atheism.” The concept of “atheism” now appears to be cohabiting with “naturalism.” The two seem very happy together. [2]

In considering the question, is atheism a religion, I want to deal, not with the novel (suspended-belief/synonymous-with-agnosticism) definition but with the traditional (positive proposition) one.


According to, Religion can be defined as:

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Atheism is a set of beliefs cocerning the cause (it has none), nature (it is the result of matter + time + chance), and purpose (there is none) of the universe.

It is interested in answering what religions are interested in answering: “Is there such a person as God? How should we live? Can we look forward to life after death? What is our place in the universe? How are we related to other creatures?

[Atheism] gives answers here: there is no God, and it makes no sense to hope for life after death. As to our place in the grand scheme of things, we human beings are just another animal with a peculiar way of making a living”[3].

Devotional Practices?

You might be thinking, okay, what about the “devotional and ritual observances” part? Atheists don’t do that do they? umm, they’re starting to. They even have a Sunday schedule:

  • Welcome / notices
  • Song
  • Guest speaker
  • Song
  • Reading
  • Final Address
  • Song

What? Where no donuts!? Classic rookie mistake. Anyway, those are my thoughts… What are yours?


[1] The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Also, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy states: “According to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God.”

[2] Atheists are by no means the only group guilty of this word play. I’m sure most of you recall that unfortunate video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”  Some of the atheist YouTube commentators I’ve seen have been merciless in condemning the video as a distinction without a difference; I’m in full agreement with them.

[3] Plantinga, Alvin, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. 

18 thoughts on “Is Atheism a Religion?

  1. carloshelms says:

    You bet atheism is a religion.

    Religion[ ri-lij-uhn ]
    1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
    2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
    3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.

    …And quite often it’s as “fundamentalist” as anything in Christendom, Judaism or Islam. If you have doubts, just question an atheist about his beliefs and be prepared for the meltdown.

  2. Rachel says:

    My priest once said, “if atheism is a religion then not collection stamps must be a hobby” lol. But I dont agree, as much as i love and adore him. I think it is certainly becoming a religion as alot of atheists are “religiously” atheist. Take Richard Dawkins for example (even though I know he doesnt represent all atheists and alot of atheists actually dont like him) he’s massively guilty of what he accused religions of; forcing opions down people’s throats, being arogant, not being open to what others have to say. In fact I believe Dawkins version of atheism is just as bad, if not worse than, other reliogions in these respects. However its more of a religion that stands AGAINT what it does NOT believe in, rather than standing FOR something it DOES believe in. Take that sunday assembly website, right at the top of the page they describe themselves as “godless.” Ok, so you’re lacking in God. What are you abundant in? Not much as far as I can see. And the Humanist Asociation’s website is all about how they are doing things without religion and without God and “we’re leaving religion and God out of things and we have nothing to do with God or religion!” Fair do’s, what do you have anything to do with then? Why make such a big song and dance about things you have nothing to do with, but dont really talk too much about things you do have something to do with… probably because without God there is ultimately nothing. Also, I may be wrong, but I think the “atheists” who started the sunday assembly desperatley want to go to Christian church (as they’ve called it an atheist church) and dont want to admit it lol because ultimately we’re all looking for God whether we want to admit it or not because its in our human nature to want to know him and love him.

    • carloshelms says:

      Good points, Rachel. However, I contend that everyone has a “god” whether they believe they believe in that god or not. Most people are both obvious and oblivious to the fact that they worship at some kind of altar day-in and day-out. The altars of money, good looks, status, prestige, self, whatever – also qualify as “gods.” THE God simply puts all that into perspective…if we are willing to listen.

      Anyone can argue with religion; but how can anyone argue with “Causes to Become” and His Natural Law handiwork?

      • broomstick says:

        Very true. Everyone one worships “something” whether they realise it or not. I used to be far too obsessed with music, following bands around etc. I said it was a love of music but really it was an unhealthy obsession with people and wordly things and it was looking for consolation and an opportunity to dedicate your self to something greater than yourself in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons. I realsied how unhealthy my mind was and how unhappy and unfulfilling life seemed. I had also suffered from a physical illness which brought on alot of depression and made me sink deeper into my obsession in order to find some solace. Thankfully, I had always had a belief in Jesus so i began to turn to him more. Gradually, with His help, I realised what I had to do; get rid of any “relics” of my old life (as I suppose non-religious religions also have their versions relics, i.e. autographed CDs, posters, stolen towles rock stars wiped their faces with during a gig, although they’re nowhere near as awesome as relics of the saints) and start a new one in Him. Then the fabulous Pope Benedict visited my country in september 2010 and as I watched him on the telly during this turning point in my life, seeing how wonderful and gentle he was in contrast to the baying protestors and the ridiculous celebrities calling for his arrest as soon as he landed on British soil, I found the Pope and what he stood for to be far more appealing and I thought, “Im going to officially become a Catholic.” So I did. Easter 2011. And I couldnt be happier and oh, how I want that happiness for everyone because I know they’re searching for it too!

      • carloshelms says:

        Welcome to the fold, Sister!

        Quite a ride, huh?

        My course has been circuitous as well: a trip from cradle-Catholic through disbelief (and the world) into protestantism (and anti-Catholicism) and back to the fold. I wondered what it was that I was runnin’ from. Had to have a look-see and guess what I saw?

        Is life now easy-peasy? Hardly. But living where suffering has a purpose and everything is a blessing – I mean, what can top that? God is good – ALL the time.

  3. I consider atheism disbeliefs instead of beliefs.

  4. Travis says:

    If my local bookstore and library are anything to go by, Atheism IS a religion. In fact these days there seems to be more books on Atheism in the ‘Religion’ section then anything else.

    • Rachel says:

      Thats so true. This is really naughty of me but what I do in such book shops is (and Im not saying anyone else should, but…) I grab the Bibles and hide them behind the forward facing atheist books (its mostly the God Delusion so they can show off the famous front cover in a forward facing position) that way when an atheist picks up a copy of the God Delusion or whatever they’ll find a Bible behind it heehee. You never know. It may make people have a little think.

  5. I think what you’ve described is a worldview, not necessarily a ‘religion’. Have a look at this piece I wrote here:

    I think that atheism is essentially the ‘foundation’ for the construction of a religious system be it either highly organised (e.g. Buddhism) or functional (e.g. sport).

    • carloshelms says:

      Well then, another common atheistic “religion” is anti-religion. Although it isn’t recognized by that name – its function defines it. It exists in opposition to religion – especially Judeo-Christian religions.

  6. […] week, Catholic Apologist Matt Fradd wants to call atheism a quasi-relgion. What the f***?! People are so hellbent on calling atheism a […]

  7. Atheism has none of the features of religion such as a holy text, clergy, accepted rules and punishment, hierarchy or central organisation. And of course no belief in afterlife or higher power. So no its not a religion.

    The one case you mentioned is just that, one unrepresentative case. Just because a handful of people of doing something does not mean it is a central tenet of Atheism.

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