Could Secularism or Atheism or materialism be considered a religion?


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 it's 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?".


Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 936

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 – 2014-09-19T07:32:07.627

1Why 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 – 2014-09-19T23:43:44.393

1FYI, 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 – 2014-09-19T23:44:44.850

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 – 2014-09-21T02:45:22.183

Dear stoicfury; yes the theory of evolution does answer why we are here. Evolution is 'labeled' like a fundemental truth by many Philosophers and Scientists ; it implies there is no supernatural , we are all just neuro-chemical 'machines' and we 'got' here for no 'reason' at all ; we are just the 'byproduct' of the 'unfolding' development of the Earth. So it answers why we are here with ; 'For no particular reason..' – user128932 – 2014-09-21T02:52:50.197

2And 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 – 2014-09-21T02:57:35.410

Evolution Theory implies we Humans are just the 'result' of an almost mechanistic set of biological process that some have said are inevitable on any planet capable of supporting some sort of 'life'. So we are 'here' because of a set of 'mechanistic' processes 'developed' all sorts of complex systems including 'Us'. One could say , according to this Evolution doctrine we are not 'here' for any great supernatural or philosophical reasons , we are simply here ( for no particular reason). This is how Evolution 'can attempt' to answer a basic question of life. – user128932 – 2014-09-23T04:06:22.927

Atheism also answers the question 'Why are we here?' in a way similar to how Evolution Theory answers it. FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON. You see most people are aware of these fundamental question and would like them resolved somehow. Leaving them unresolved is a problem so they answer something like 'why are we here?' with a religious belief or with a set of philosophies ; like we can't know this ( agnostic) or there is no supernatural ( atheist and/ or materialist) or I don't care ( suppressing the question) or leave it to philosophers and just have fun ( suppressing with distractions). – user128932 – 2014-09-24T04:48:02.983

If Atheism and Agnosticism and Materialism are NOT belief systems what are they? They are not facts ; ie, any 'subset' of ideas that are part of these 'things' have not been proven one way or the other. They are 'systems' of ideas that are opinions and/or interpretations of 'available' info. So if they are not belief systems what are they? Can a World view be called a belief system? – user128932 – 2014-09-30T03:36:15.583

yes, it can perform the function of religion, at least for as long as religion is a live issue in society. – None – 2016-09-20T08:13:41.837



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.


Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 4 599

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 – 2014-09-19T13:28:37.717


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 ;-)


Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 405

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 – 2014-09-21T03:04:59.670

2mhh, 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 – 2014-09-22T08:42:04.733

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 – 2014-09-22T15:56:21.053

@user128932: Not philosophical principles. Only principles relating to some non existing super natural being supposedly punishing the bad and rewarding the good. – gnasher729 – 2014-09-22T15:58:19.370

1@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 – 2014-09-22T16:58:43.177

@gnasher729 yes pro live is the movement agains abortion. People will always use words to have a good image. But just for the sake of the argument. One side wants to kill someone and the other doesnt. which one is more friendly^ – yamm – 2014-09-23T06:55:54.937

Is Atheism a rejection of USING the philosophical ideas of theism to try to solve some of the fundemental philosophical problems of life ( and if anything comes after). – user128932 – 2014-09-26T04:02:10.830

@user128932 no, atheism doesnt provide any answers to any question about live and what matters. It is simply a rejection of theistic ideas. The 'point' of atheism inst to answer these question but to reject certain stupid answers. – yamm – 2014-09-26T08:56:13.250

I don't think all theistic philosophies are stupid? Actually the only theism that is ridiculed regularly is Christianity. Are you implying there are other religions that are stupid? – user128932 – 2014-09-27T01:14:04.770

@Yannik Ammann ; you said '..Atheism doesn't provide any answers to any questions about life and what matters.' So if someone believes they should adopt an atheistic point of view would this actually prevent them from thinking about or trying to answer basic questions about life and 'what matters'. Would this viewpoint leave a philosophical do-not-analyse area or hole in the person's life? – user128932 – 2014-10-23T04:48:55.607

@user128932 not at all, it just means that atheism inst the answer to these questions ;-) if you want an answer to 'what is the purpose of my live?' and you try to find it in atheism you wont find an answer, because atheism simply just rejects theistic believes and doesnt come with an religion like guide book to get into heaven(heaven as answer to the question about life). – yamm – 2014-10-23T12:41:54.207

YET would an atheistic viewpoint PREVENT one from any type of analysing or questioning what life is 'all about' and whether there is an after-life? (I did not mention the word heaven..) – user128932 – 2014-10-23T18:46:56.840

Does the atheistic viewpoint indirectly or directly 'require' one to not think about whether there is an after-life? – user128932 – 2014-10-23T18:49:14.660


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 should consider).


Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 23 970

Is secularism non-religious ; is it irreligious ; is it anti-religious? – user128932 – 2014-09-21T03:00:36.727

1@user128932 - define both terms clearly and the answer will appear. – virmaior – 2014-09-21T12:28:16.773

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 – 2014-09-21T22:17:47.673

@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 – 2014-09-22T01:05:07.473

Is secularism 'idealogically' against any religious philosophy? In other words is it 'anti-religious'? ( What are some of these 'several definitions?) – user128932 – 2014-09-23T04:10:10.327

Look around on this page for a comment by Stoicfury. It explains the problem of several definitions. Without defining "religious" and "secular" and "secularism" and "religious philosophy" it's impossible to make sense of your question. With these defined, simple logic is enough to provide an answer. – virmaior – 2014-09-23T12:08:33.410

I thought religion and secular and religious philosophies had a few basic definitions that many acedemics can agree on. If each of these terms have MANY useful but distinct definitions how can any acedemic legitamately analyse ANY such term. Somebody else could easily disagree with any analysis and say their interpretations are better. Nothing would get done.. – user128932 – 2014-09-26T03:58:02.043

Simple, academics explain which definition they are using when they write a paper. Religion and Secular(ism) both are quite difficult to define. Philosophy is generally clearer but it's not clear what is meant by adding "religious" in front of philosophy. – virmaior – 2014-09-26T04:00:59.173

If religion is difficult to define why do a lot of philosophers try to criticize it, like Yannik Anmann below and gnasher729 on this site. Also Neitzche (forgive spelling) Kierkegard, Schaupenhauer etc. There must be a commonly accepted definition of religion for philosophers to even communicate about it. – user128932 – 2014-09-28T06:05:23.407

Putting it simply, can a belief that Atheism is the 'correct' philosophical 'position' for one to take in life such that 'it' resolves the basic questions about life and existence (that might trouble a person if left unresolved) actually resolve such 'basic' issues? – user128932 – 2014-09-28T06:11:04.423

1Nietzsche 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 – 2014-09-28T06:14:46.610

To know whether a belief in atheism resolves "the basic questions about life and existence" would require a clear definition of atheism and what you think it entails and criteria for what counts as resolving a question. – virmaior – 2014-09-28T06:15:46.777

I'm sure my definitions of atheism are incorrect or inconsequential to professional or respected philosophers. Philosophers are able to communicate because they bother to define the terms they use BUT could a non-professional philosopher or a 'meagre'-reputation philosopher communicate ideas using the presently accepted definitions used by respected philosophers ( whatever they may be)? I know a poor-reputation philosopher could easily have his or her ideas shot down if they have 'POOR' definitions. So I'm using the presently accepted defintion of Atheism in my question. – user128932 – 2014-09-30T03:47:49.170

Also I'm not writing a formal philosophical paper. This is supposed to be a site open to anybody.. – user128932 – 2014-09-30T03:49:44.057

It is open to anybody but "philosophy" as defined for the site means the academic discipline. – virmaior – 2014-09-30T03:58:30.883

When I say philosophers define their terms, I'm suggesting that you do the same. We can't just assume we have the same definitions in mind for these sorts of things. There is "presently accepted definition" for something like atheism. you need to tell us what you want it to mean. – virmaior – 2014-09-30T03:59:52.047

So this site is open to anybody as long as they follow accepted acedemic traditions. And they give all the terms they use with their own definitions. They can not appeal to already established definitions that many acedemics use, they must give their own definitions so they can be more easily criticised. I don't want to interpret any 'presently accepted definition' of atheism in my own way for my own arguments ; I know that would not communicate anything. – user128932 – 2014-10-02T05:31:34.073

The entire point I'm making is that there are "already established definitions" ready at mind for a global audience for terms like atheism. Saying you don't want to "interpret any 'presently accepted definition' of atheism in my own way for my own arguments" is akin to saying you don't want to be involved in thinking. – virmaior – 2014-10-02T08:04:30.753

No I said I wish to appeal to the already established definitions ,ready at mind for a global audience. Why am I arguing about definitions. This doesn't change my initial question; Can Secularism or Atheism be considered a religion UNDER ANYBODIES definitions of religion or atheism or secularism? – user128932 – 2014-10-04T05:31:19.927

@virmaior ; What are your definitions of Atheism and secularism? – user128932 – 2014-10-06T20:00:15.277

Is there a reputable philosopher or acedemic that would consider Secularism or Atheism a religion given their own definitions of such concepts? – user128932 – 2014-10-23T04:41:15.340

@user128932 Bertrand Russell famously recounts that he knew a student who he thought proclaimed his atheism as strongly as any religious proselytizer. But that is an vaguely remembered anecdote of an apocryphal quip leading to an informal analogy wrapped in an enigma. Lots of religionists claim that atheism/secularism is an alternative religion. But that still doesn't answer your question. – Mitch – 2016-10-04T17:07:20.143


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.".


Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 3 297

Is atheism a belief system? Is a belief there is no possibility of an after-life a belief system? – user128932 – 2014-09-23T04:13:23.137

If one is an atheist can such a person say they believe it to be true? – 201044 – 2015-07-14T20:26:55.413


"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"?

De Ha

Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 11


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.


Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443



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.

Mr. Durden

Posted 2014-09-19T03:37:41.443

Reputation: 17

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 – 2016-10-07T15:05:14.313