A “theist” is defined as one who believes in the existence of a god or gods. So, “atheist” describes one who does not believe in the existence of god. The common definition of the word includes someone who denies the existence of god. It can also define someone who believes that available evidence does not support the hypothesis that a god exists.
Atheism is said by some to be a religion, just as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, etc. There are probably some individual cases that make this true , where obsession has taken over good sense, but I would like to refute this proposition in general terms.
The world has through the centuries been made wealthier for the contributions of atheists and like-minded free-thinkers who barely hid the fact from the powerful and vindictive medieval church and early American church congregations. Think Copernicus, Newton, da Vinci, Darwin, Madison, Jefferson, Lincoln, Twain, Einstein and Ingersol, to name a few.
The point is that atheists:
are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, particularly of the supernatural or superstitious variety,
believe in the use of reason and science to understand the universe, and
are open to novel ideas and new ways of thinking.
So here is the difference between the so-called sky-god religions and atheism: The sky-god religions have their schemes all worked out. They are not interested in feedback to make their plan better, or more workable, or closer to the truth. (Suggest to the Pope that he use his “infallibility” to include women in the priesthood, or nullify celibacy, or ask a ranking imam in Mecca to declare equal civil rights for women throughout Islam, or to revise the Quran to remove citations to violence.) For them their plan is the revealed word of their god and no meddling will be tolerated. It is a top-down, hierarchical, ordered scheme of instruction on how and what each and everyone is to do for the aggrandizement of their organization and eventual containment of all humanity, or of their desired segment of humanity and death and destruction for the remainder. Period.
Atheism is not like religions because it is based on a continuous search for new truth, new empirical observations of the universe, new feedback loops that at any time can and will change or cancel the old order and produce new information, new elements, new paradigms with differences in all but one aspect. There will always be the element of information feedback. So if this is a religion it is a religion with an escape hatch from stagnation of the status quo like no other.
Knowledge gained is both internalized and passed to others who will listen. There is no element of evangelizing except to say it’s wrong to be pressed by others with theistic evangelism. What may be viewed as evangelic fervor of a relative handful of atheists among the vast numbers of fundamentalist religionists may in fact be defensive tactic against infringements, taking form as an “aggressive” offense such as, “All are free to practice religion in private, but not in the public square.”
A true atheist will observe facts and evaluate, even if offered that evidence by the religious. They must be new facts, not the same old BS as has been chanted before, ad nauseam, and no time will be wasted on obvious drivel. But if it were to be scientifically proved that God exists then it would be accepted by any atheist worth his/her salt and the revelation would institute a new paradigm of spirituality.
In that case, rather than “atheist,” a new label would be adopted. Perhaps, “former atheist” would distinguish between the new converts and those who had always been theists.
Another scenario that has a far higher probability is that intelligent life originating from the other side of the galaxy will land on earth and begin holding public seminars teaching humans how to avoid wars (caused by fundamentalist religionists) and clean up our planet before it is too late to save it from destruction (by wars and economic errors). It’s in the realm of possibility — but I’m not holding my breath — that saviors are coming from the other side of the galaxy or that proof of a god exists. In the meantime, atheism presents humanity with an ideal that makes a lot of sense, even though it probably doesn't qualify as a religion.
© 2006 R. Leland Waldrip