Could Secularism or Atheism or materialism be considered a religion? Any Philosophy that deals with life and people and how one interacts with all this in order to maintain some sense of a good life and has at its base a set of principles to deal with any philosophical problem one might encounter could be called a religion. Even evolution theory could be called a religion because it is supposed to answer fundamental questions of existence like "why are we here?".

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    I think it would be better to call them all a "World View" Atheist tend to not like it when you call atheism a religion.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 7:32
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    Why does it matter? You can define anything to be anything you want. I define a murple to be anything that's round and red. Is a red delicious apple a murple? Sure. Is a tomato a murple? Seems like it. I define a religion to be "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power." Is secularism a religion? Nope. Is atheism a religion? Nope. Wait, instead I define a religion to be "an idea or interest to which someone ascribes great importance." Is secularism a religion? Sure. Is atheism a religion? Fine, you got me. Why does it matter? What are you trying to suggest this changes?
    – stoicfury
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 23:43
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    FYI, the theory of evolution does not answer questions like "why are we here?"; it attempts to provide an explanation for how we are here.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 23:44
  • I know the basics of the generally accepted versions of Evolution Theory; over time random variations in the genetic code caused by cosmic rays or viruses or mistakes in the reading of the DNA code that is't corrected or some such problem in replicating the DNA code cause an offspring to have important differences in their 'own' genetic code that gets manifested as a variation in some trait or set of behaviours. IF the offsring survives and the variation is benefitial it might have an 'increased' chance of survival. Note; all the sucessful variations are still random.
    – user128932
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 2:45
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    And it does matter ; the question could secularism and atheism be considered a religion in a way many people might agree with ( not just some arbitrary redefining of words using 'murple'). Atheism and Secularism are sure promoted in our modern society and the media as if these philosophies answer a lot of important questions about life..
    – user128932
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 2:57

9 Answers 9


To a large extent this was inspired by Yannik's answer; but I hope that I elaborate on points differently enough to not be redundant.

As far as I can tell, atheism (or secularism or materialism, considered separately) is a component of an over-arching worldview not the totality of the worldview itself. For example Secular Humanism is a worldview whose breadth and scope is comparable to most religions, and atheism, secularism and physicalism are just a components therein.

I'm inclined to point out how this is similar to the mono/poly theistic division: there are worldviews with many gods, one god, no god but a host or more limited spiritual agents, no god and a rejection of all spiritualism. Worldviews in the first two categories are theistic, and what Westerners usually refer to as religions. Obviously, worldviews that fall in the third or fourth categories have the feature of being atheistic. To me saying "polytheism is a religion" doesn't fit right, I'd say "This particular religion is polytheistic." In this way of looking at things asserting "atheism is a religion" is a category error.

Similar considerations hold for secularism and materialism: these are (or can be) components of any set of worldviews, but aren't themselves in the same category as religions. As mentioned in the first, summary, paragraph Secular Humanism is a world view, comparable to a religion, that does exhibit all of these features.

  • I'm not sure I'd follow you completely on the second half of your third paragraph, but I think the point is valid, so +1.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 13:28

A lot of this hinges on what one takes to be a 'religion'. The term is not actually all that old in its current usage. (This is one reason why Japanese people imagine that they are not religious - 無宗教 [musyuukyou lit., "non-religious] - because they don't see things they regularly do like 墓参り [hakamairi grave vistations] or お盆 [o-bon holiday in August to welcome dead anscestors to your home] or お正月 [oshougatsu new years -- which involves going to a temple, praying and getting a fortune] as religious). Even in English, the term refers more to a sociological area of study than something else.

The debate is primarily over what religion is versus what religion does.

My sense is that atheists reject the term largely because they think the term has something to do with believing in a god or gods -- against the substantive definition as it is primarily associated with Western religions.

As you suggest in your question, if you define religions as things that try to answer the substantive questions of our lives, then clearly atheism in some forms fits that definition. Similarly, if you define at as generating a coherent life picture, it would fit that too.

But as suggested in a comment above, there are some other candidate terms to consider that are not as confusing as religion: like world-view, life philosophy, or just philosophy. (Here, meant not in the sense that is best applied to what philosophy.se should consider).

  • Is secularism non-religious ; is it irreligious ; is it anti-religious?
    – user128932
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:00
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    @user128932 - define both terms clearly and the answer will appear.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 12:28
  • Is secularism a denial of any religious philosophy as useful pertaining to life , and how one handles people and other 'things in life , including death. As such is the philosophy of secularism against any religion?
    – user128932
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 22:17
  • @user128932 I don't quite get what you're doing or how this is responsive to my previous comment. I said that if you provide your definitions for these two terms the answer will be clear. Part of the point is that the terms can admit several definitions...
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 1:05
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    Nietzsche criticized Christianity -- not "religion". Kierkegaard was critical of christendom but not Christianity. Not sure why you would define Schopenhauer as critical of religion. Each of them however also to some extent defines what they are criticizing. As I said above, philosophers are able to communicate because they bother to define the terms they use.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 6:14

Despite the general consensus, atheism insnt a world view or a life mentality. Its simply the rejection of theism. So an Atheist can be pro live, reject the theory of evolution and be against premarital sex. The same applies to secularism, if you are secular you only want the state and religion to be separated. You still can be a theist and believe in god. So it doesnt even come close to a world view.

For materialism, you could consider it a religion. Tho you would need to distinguish between religion as a way of living and religion as theism, because people would get confused and think you mean that they pray to money or something ;-)

  • Atheism is a rejection of theism ; is it a rejection of using any set of philosophical principles that might help how one handles life and people and any important questions about life?
    – user128932
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:04
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    mhh, i dont really understand your question. But if you are asking if atheism is the rejection of the philosophical ideas of theistic people my answer would not be 'definitely'. I would like to konw what you are asking tho ;-)
    – yamm
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 8:42
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    When you say "pro live", do you mean against the right of abortion? I don't like it when people use seemingly friendly words when in reality all they want is to force others to act according to their opinions.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 15:56
  • @user128932: Not philosophical principles. Only principles relating to some non existing super natural being supposedly punishing the bad and rewarding the good.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 15:58
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    @gnasher729: Yes, it sounds like a way of saying 'pro life' which is not the stance of 'you should not have a right to abort' but the stance that 'you should have the right to develop into a human' which, while at odds with having 'the right of abortion', is a greater issue than a simple attempt to force people to do what you want. Many would even argue that you don't 'develop into a human', that you are one. Others don't care. It's all complicated.
    – Magus
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 16:58

Obviously atheism is not a religion. Atheists completely ignore some strange belief system that some people have which causes those people to do all kinds of strange things. There are always people who say they believe in some god and atheists don't, but atheists don't say "I don't believe in god", they say "what is that god thing that you are talking about"?

Since that strange belief systems of others is ignored, it doesn't play any role in the life of an atheist and is of no importance whatsoever (except that from time to time this needs to be clarified to some people). As it doesn't play any role in the life of the atheist, claiming atheism is a religion is quite ridiculous.

See also a quote of Asimov in this thread where he says "I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time.".

  • Is atheism a belief system? Is a belief there is no possibility of an after-life a belief system?
    – user128932
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 4:13
  • If one is an atheist can such a person say they believe it to be true?
    – 201044
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 20:26

Religion is a broad and fuzzy term, so you can argue for it to be stretched to cover all kinds of beliefs and practices. However, the meanings of words are determined by usage, not by arguments, and if you take the trouble to google atheism and religion you will find that atheists are invariably bracketed with agnostics and other non-believers as having no religion, so on that basis atheism is not generally considered a religion.

You can, of course, point out overlaps between some characteristics of atheism and religions, but you can point out similar overlaps between religion and all kinds of other activities, and if on that basis you class them all as religions then you are simply blurring useful distinctions.


"considered a religion?" No "Any Philosophy that deals with life and people and how one interacts with all this in order to maintain some sense of a good life and has at it's base a set of principles to deal with any philosophical problem one might encounter could be called a religion." And Atheism has nothing to do with any of that. "Even evolution theory could be called a religion because it is supposed to answer fundamental questions of existence like "why are we here?". No, it's meant to answe the question, "Why are animals different"?


Obviously atheism isn't e.g. the Christian religion, though there are self defined "Buddhist atheists" (e.g. Stephen Batchelor).

One way to answer your question would be to ask whether an inverse or negation of a practice or belief can fulfil the same function, either on a social or individual level.

I can't think of any psychological factor which would make the latter impossible. Or anything phenomenological, though I'd welcome anyone's correction of that from the phenomenological literature on e.g. religion. The imagination is a powerful thing; what is a belief but imaginative conviction?

  • Disbelief has content for as long as we consider the alternative.

On a more material level, it's obvious that an atheist can act in any way at all, even attend church services. As a belief, it seems obvious it might fulfil the same ideological role in a collective: provide belonging; self expression (many people hear poetry in Nietzsche); or legitimation (e.g. persecution of religion).

So while atheism isn't any existing religion, and doesn't meet at least some dictionary definitions as it denies any deity, you may (or may not!) suppose it is a religion.


The League for militant atheists founded in the Soviet Union by Stalin's right hand Yaroslavski has this declaration:

It is our duty to destroy every religious world-concept... If the destruction of ten million human beings, as happened in the last war, should be necessary for the triumph of one definite class, then that must be done and it will be done.

More succinctly:

Religion must be exterminated at the tip of the bayonet

Nikolai Bukharin, the editor of Pravda

Was ten million hyperbole?

The Black Book of Communism estimates hundred million.

To balance the stellar performance of communism there's the Black Book of Capitalism with similar death figures and just as god-less except for hiding under the polished veneer of secularism.

The diligent reader is left with the exercise of making a balance sheet of these 100+100 million vs all the jihads and crusades of earlier centuries.

A fuller version of this viewpoint can be found in the Hitchens-Berlinsky debate


I wouldn't say atheism is a religion, but I have heard it said that the only difference between a religion and a cult is the number of followers. There are definitely groups of atheist who are as fanatical about spreading their beliefs and discrediting others, with a singlemindedness so strong that they rival St. Paul and all he did, especially the people who grew up religious and denounced it later in life. Again similar to Paul's conversion. That is cult like behavior. The Romans referred to early Christians as the cult of Christ, but no history book I've ever seen refers to them in that way. So cult and religion are in the eye of the beholder.

  • If I were a betting man i'd bet the farm that the down votes on my post come from exactly the type of fanatical cult like atheist I described. Its tragic really.
    – Mr. Durden
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 15:05
  • I'm down-voting because this does not answer the question. Specifically: even if some members of group behave in a "cult-like manner", that group is not automatically either an actual cult or a religion.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 1 at 4:57
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    I will take one farm, please.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 1 at 4:57
  • The other thing worth pointing out is that in Roman times "cult of >God X<" was used to refer to an association of people dedicated to maintaining a temple to God X, and carrying out the rites worshipping that God. It implied nothing about that God's existence, and has nothing to do with the modern sense of the word "cult".
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Mar 2 at 18:18

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