I just had a thought, and I think it is time this site lived up to it’s name.
Before I begin this discussion I would like to make some things clear. At my most faithful I am a Muslim, and at my most doubtful I am an agnostic theist. Therefore, I am talking about Atheism as an outsider, and not as a person who is part of the Atheist community. I am not trying to downplay or insult Atheism, it is just a random question that turned into a full blown conversation in my head. Please keep an open mind.
Can Atheism be considered a religion(that is in the least traditional sense possible)? Initially, I thought that the straightforward answer was yes. The structure of Atheism is based on a set of beliefs.
Before I go further, let us use the example of Islam to draw a contrast. Islam’s sources of knowledge are three; The Qur’an as holy revelation, the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions, and the Sunnah (or way of life) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which, in a sense, is found out from the Qur’an and the Hadiths. From these sources come the theories about the origins of the the universe, of man, of morality and so on. And these can be interpreted and then practised in many different ways.
Now it can be said that Atheism, as a system of belief, has a similar structure. There is one source of knowledge, or a methodology, from which its theories arise; that is empirical observation followed by the Scientific method (i.e. experimentation). From this comes the theory of the big bang and evolution. But this system, as a whole, can be interpreted and practised in different ways. One friend of mine, an agnostic atheist, chooses to live and let live, so to speak. Even if I present an argument against the existence of God and it had some logical flaw, he will point it out purely because it is a logical flaw. He is pragmatic and very respectful, and we do get along well. Other Atheists I see harbour some sort of hate for “religion as a whole”, despising its history and its present state and doing all they can to undermine it because they see it as a threat. Some go as far as hunting down who ever thanks God for being helped in a dire situation instead of the people who “did the helping” so to speak. And again, other Atheists, interpret their inevitable death and lack of an afterlife as an opportunity to live life to the full and make it better for everyone else, others seem to slip into a depression and fear death for the rest of their lives.
But there are problems I ran into. For instance, in Islam there are more definitive sets of practices and beliefs one must have to be categorized as a Muslim. That means that although interpretations are numerous, there is striking similarity between all of them. Atheism is not like that, it is much more “free form” in a sense.
Secondly, and more importantly, you simply cannot use the Bible or the Vedic scriptures to disprove the Qur’an and vice versa, they are completely separate, each with its following who do not dispute its truth, or at the very least, take information from it. The Atheist methodology can be, in a way, used to dispute these scriptures in terms of their physical state (working out when the books of the Bible were written, for instance) and their content (did God really create the Earth in seven days? Does the Hebrew within it suggest that it is literal or metaphorical?). And so on and so forth.
It remains that Atheism is a set of beliefs, with a groundwork methodology, and people can choose to base their practice and conduct on these beliefs. However the methodology is outside “the box” of revelation, scripture and tradition. So can it be called a religion? pseudo-religion? Unique religion? Or no religion at all? Please, feel free to add to the discussion.
P.s. check the comments for some very good contributions.