I had a debate with a friend shortly before Thanksgiving on whether or not atheism is a religion.
You see, I am surrounded by a fair amount of atheists in my line of work and, as a theist, this tends to lead to some friction. Your mind might be jumping to the conclusion that as a somewhat lax Catholic, I am the one telling them they are wrong. On the contrary, I get preached to by atheists far more often than I get preached to by Catholics, by Pentacostals, by Mormons, or by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I endure so much preaching from atheists (I’m looking at you BJ Nemeth), that I often wonder if part of their doctrine is similar to religions that encourage believers to spread the word. I’ve told BJ more than once that I fully expect him to start going door-to-door, ringing bells to proclaim to home owners “You know there is nothing, right?”
If you don’t believe in God or the afterlife, more power to you. If it makes you happy, who am I to judge? I don’t even mind the preaching. I understand that if you believe in something or the absence of something strongly, you feel compelled to share it.
There is one point where the aforementioned atheist friend and other atheists lose me though:
When they claim atheism is not a religion.
On the surface, I understand this argument. Rejecting theism, the belief in god or gods, is choosing not to believe in what is often the defining trait of a religion. However, there are several religions that do not require belief in a deity, like Wiccan, Taoism, Scientology (stop rolling your eyes), and some sects of Unitarianism all have a belief system absent of a deity.
So now it is time for me to be that annoying girl that whips out the dictionary to prove a point. Here are the five definitions of “religion” as listed on Dictionary.com:
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
So, save for possibly the fourth definition, I am not seeing how atheism doesn’t apply. The atheists I know hold the belief there is nothing and it dictates how they go about their everyday lives, they all seem to agree about the lack of a God, and, according to recent research, their numbers are growing by the day.
The thing about religion is that it extend beyond God. Religions are cultural institutions, social constructions, and imbued with influence from aspects of society that have nothing to do with heaven, hell, or a higher being. At its core, a religion is a belief system. Now, while atheists may contend the lack of belief in a God is not a belief, I’m not sold. Hearing atheists talk, the more I am convinced this belief in nothing is not all that different from belief in something in that they draw the same strength to get through life from their position that I draw from mine.