In a recent comment on my Facebook page, I stated that I have no religion. A response to that from a friend asserted that my beliefs and worldview (atheism, humanism, etc.) were indeed a religion, because I believe there is no god. Here was my response. I've left out a few portions that were specific to the conversation, but this was the gist:
"Is atheism a religion?" inevitably turns into a discussion of semantics, and I hate arguing semantics - but here goes. :)
When I say I don't have a "religion", I (and many atheists/agnostics I know) am defining religion as the first Merriam-Webster definition:
"(1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance".
Since I don't have any religious observance (outside of satirical ones) and I do not worship a god or the supernatural and have no commitment to faith, I consider myself non-religious.
If you are using the second definition which is much more broad, there are philosophies I follow that are defined or could be defined as religious, as long as "religious" is not being defined as devoted to or worshiping a god or the supernatural:
"A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices."
For instance, dictionary.com's 6th definition of religion is:
"something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice."
Being an atheist means that I lack belief in any deity. I cannot prove a deity does not exist, and wouldn’t venture to try. I can explain why I think deities, karma and other supernatural beings or ideas do not exist, but simply put, you cannot prove a negative.
Building on that, in my estimation a lack of belief in something doesn’t equal a religion. I lack belief in plenty of things, including gods, goddesses, unicorns, elves, vampires, Lord Xenu and the Angel Moroni. Having a lack of belief in any of these does not mean I have a non-believing religion about each of them.
I TRY to be “religious” (determined; consistent) about my devotion to skepticism. I try to research things before parroting them, even though I fall short of that goal often. When I do engage people I know and try to convince them that they should do something, it is usually in reference to researching claims before spreading false information. Usually this is in reference to something a person saw on TV or read in an email and took at face value.
As far as humanism goes, a person can subscribe to any number of religions and still be a humanist. I happen to be a secular humanist, but again, I tend to fall short of the goal when implementing those ideas into my own life. When engaging others and I am not trying to convince someone to do research before accepting dubious information, I am usually supporting some facet secular humanist philosophy. Reason, logic, and a host of the other secular humanist values align with my own, thus I find it to be a good descriptor. Humanism and especially secular humanism could be loosely defined as a non-theistic religion, but most I’ve encountered consider it to be more of a worldview or philosophy than a religion.
Generally speaking, if you ask someone if they are religion or what their religion is, they will think you are asking about either their affiliation with an organized religion OR their theistic belief system. I would say I’m an atheist – I don’t subscribe to any theistic religion. I never really considered my non-theistic affiliations to be a religion, but again, that’s just semantics and open to interpretation.
I define myself as an Atheist, a Skeptic, a Secular Humanist and a Pastafarian. I'm also bisexual, bipolar, liberal, perpetually anxious, in love with music and crazily devoted to my spouse. If others choose to label any of those (aside from the one that is actually satirical religion) aspects as religion, so be it. :-]