"I get this question all the time from religionists. 'Isn't atheism a religion as well?' Aside from the cute responses like 'If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair color', it is really difficult for religionists to "imagine no religion". Its like they think humans cannot live without religion, so what ever they espouse, must be a religion. Here is the way I have taken to explaining it to them.
"Athiests have no imaginary friends, religionists do- its that simple. We live without the need for an invisible being invading our mind and thoughts, censoring us and making us do crazy things like pray to the imaginary being, fear the imaginary being, listen to hours of sermons from people who think they can communicate with the imaginary being, etc. How is it a religion when we simply don't have imaginary friends. In most premodern cultures, people had imaginary friends. Modern people look upon Amazonian tribes with imaginary tree or animal friends, North American Natives with animal and sky friends, and think it is quaint if not a bit delusional. It seems crazy, by modern standards, to pray to the cloud god for rain or to the buffalo to provide meat. Yet religionists pray to their gods for all sorts of favors - what is the difference? So, to sum it up, atheists don't have imaginary friends, religionists do. How can it be any simpler?
"Atheists don't care if you want to have imaginary friends. That is your right and privilege. What we object to is when you say that your imaginary friend disapproves of us and tries to impose the will of your imaginary friend on us. That tends to irritate us a lot. When your imaginary friend tries to tell us who we can and cannot sleep with, that is a problem. Your imaginary friend tells you that we are going to his hell, we don't take kindly to your sharing that particular delusion. Your imaginary friend says women can't have control of their reproduction, that won't get you very far. We would prefer that you keep the things your imaginary friend tells you to yourself. We don't care if you call your friend Allah, God, Zeus, Mary, Jesus or Shiva, we prefer to have real friends, who care about us and can talk and listen to us."
"Atheism isn't really an organizing principle, like an imaginary friend can be (gods). We don't have an anti Santa Clause society to oppose the myth of Santa because the Santa crowd doesn't try to gain political power over those who don't take him seriously. Atheists are activists because we don't like people with imaginary friends trying to take control of the legal system. Most of us follow a more positive value system called secular humanism. While secular humanists live without imaginary friends, they also think it is possible to create an ethical way of living without reference to imaginary friends. Secular Humanists are no more a religion than your bowling league."
Feel free to pass this along, please give proper credit and websites.
Darrel Ray www.thegodvirus.net or recoveringreligionists.com