It’s not uncommon to hear some people characterize atheism as a religion. Is it? It depends, in part, on how one defines religion. That’s a tricky subject that does not have widespread agreement. Be that as it may, I think most people would say atheism can’t be categorized as a religion because religions worship deities, and atheism explicitly denies the existence of any deity. However, that’s not accurate. Most forms of Buddhism could be categorized as atheist or agnostic. There is no worship of any deity, and yet Buddhism is properly categorized as a religion.

That said, I don’t think atheism should be categorized as a religion. There are no “cult” practices, for example. There is no set of moral principles that atheists are bound to. Atheism is just an answer to a single question: Does God exist? A point of view on a single issue does not constitute a religion. It is not robust enough. And while it’s true that this question is properly categorized as a religious question, that doesn’t mean that every answer is a religious answer or constitutes a religion. Atheists answer the question in the negative. They do not think God exists. So atheism is a negative claim about what does not exist. How can a claim about what does not exist constitute a religion? Surely religions make positive claims about what does exist, not negative claims about what does not. As a meme I once saw expressed, if atheism is a religion, then “off” is a TV channel.

While atheism should not be categorized as a religion, could it be categorized as a worldview? Once again, one might argue that atheism is not a worldview because worldviews entail positive claims about reality and encompass a wide range of beliefs such as origins, morality, what’s wrong with the world, and where we are headed. Atheism expresses a negative point of view on just a single issue. Furthermore, most worldviews have a single answer to each worldview question, but atheists differ in how they answer basic worldview questions. Some atheists would consider themselves humanists, while others are nihilists or something else. If atheists can embrace other worldviews, then atheism is not a worldview in itself. For all of these reasons, I do not think atheism is properly categorized as a worldview.

Having said that, I do think that atheism has worldview implications. When you deny the existence of God, many things seem to follow from that. It affects ones view of origins, morality, humanity, meaning and purpose, what’s wrong with the world, and where we are headed. A world without God looks very different from a world with God. So while atheism is not a worldview proper, it does have worldview implications that atheists need to work through and defend.

At least that’s the way I see it. If you disagree, share your reasoning in the comments. I’m open to changing my mind.