How would you define a religion?
Let’s go to an easily referenced source, even though it gets the definition of atheism somewhat wrong. Dictionary.com defines a religion in its primary definition as:
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.
That pretty much covers, within it, the later definitions as well, so it’s a good point from which to start. Remember, the definition for atheism used in this blog, and by most atheists, is:
The personal statement ‘I do not believe in god/s’
So let’s break it down…
1. Is atheism a set of beliefs?
No. Atheism is the lack of a singular belief. A lack of belief in a god or gods.
2. Does atheism say anything about the cause, nature and purpose of the universe?
In and of itself? No. Atheism just says we don’t believe in god/s. Many atheists also give the thumbs up to naturalism and materialism (not in the money-grubbing sense) but you can’t conflate atheism with these other things, however much the Venn diagram overlaps.
3. Does atheism reference a superhuman agency or agencies?
Other than to say we don’t believe in a god/s? No.
4. Do atheists have devotional or ritual observances?
No. There are no atheist prayers, devotionals, holidays, observances, washing of the feet, praying to Mecca (or, indeed CERN) or anything else.
5. Does atheism espouse a moral code?
Atheism? No. Atheists will tend to pick up a moral code from somewhere. Some look to nature and the altruism present in social species, others to philosophy, others to game theory. A few are nihilistic, true, but atheism in and of itself says nothing about a persons morality or lack thereof. Statistically speaking though, atheists tend to be less likely to be criminals, though the reason for this correlation is unclear.
Personally speaking I mingle some game theory, some epicureanism and some utilitarianism to come to my moral code.
Summary: Is atheism a religion? Is it bollocks. It fulfils none of the criteria that define a religion.