Being predominantly faith-based, the religious fabric of American social and political affairs leads people to certain conclusions about the nature of how others relate to various concepts. The common themes which serve as the backdrop of our intellectual pursuits in life will inform the assumptions we make about others.
In this context it is easy to see why the %76 strong majority of the nation's population identifying as "Christian" would consider atheism a religion. However, there are certain counter intuitive nuances that suggest atheism is not a religion. Terminology alone provides evidence that there is no implied equivalency between the definitions of the words "religion" and "atheism". Religions are systems designed to serve as the foundation of philosophical and ethical positions, where as atheism does none of these things by default. Religion approaches social and political issues from a fundamentally different world view than atheism as a result of wholly incompatible systems of decision-making skills that take place in different regions of the brain.
An Examination of the Definitions
Purely in terms of a strict adherence to the definition, Atheism does not fit the criteria of a religion. The Merriam - Webster dictionary offers several definitions of the term "religion", the most applicable to the conditions of atheism being "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith". Examining these words closely, we can see how the conditions of the definition relate to the position at hand.
At its most complex, atheism can be described as a lack of belief in the existence of a god or gods. Note that this definition does not supply any particular cause, nor does it infer any particular set of principles. It would be a stretch to call Atheism a system of beliefs, being a single belief in itself. While some are clearly arduous supporters of the notion, atheists are anything but faithful as the position relies centrally on a lack of falsifiable evidence in the existence of any form of deity. Clearly, the definitions are incompatible with each other on a fundamental level.
Philosophical and Ethical Content of the Terms
Christianity provides a foundation of philosophical content based on several central ideas. One such idea is that a god exists and has opinions about various aspects of life and human behavior while another is that there is a system of spiritual purification in place to protect mankind from an afterlife of eternal suffering. The entirety of Christendom can be effectively summed up in this way, however there is a massive collection of doctrinal information contained within any translation of the Bible. The religion clearly informs and makes attempts to substantiate the adherent's philosophical and ethical positions on any number of matters.
Atheism, on the other hand, has neither philosophical positions nor information about ethics. As its definition states, atheism is simply a lack of belief in a deity. There is no further information and no additional doctrine. It is true that most atheists do go on to adopt various philosophical positions from a variety of eclectic sources. The key difference is that these sources and ideas are not endorsed by any tenant of atheism, specifically because there are none. All further philosophical or ethical stances taken by the atheist are extraneous to the definition of atheism, where as Christianity is doctrinally informed by its own sanctioned sources by definition. As stated in the examination of the definition, this is a defining feature of what constitutes a religion.
World-View As A Product of Brain Function
Taking the example of Christianity, it is no surprise that this religious position and atheism should create different world-views between the two groups of adherents. Among different religions, and likewise within the greater scope of multiple sects comprising the greater collective culture of an individual religion, there is the potential for differing world-views. The key factor in understanding why this is a defining point of the argument is that these world-views are not just the product of differing philosophies, but of entirely different cognitive behaviors which are the product of their respective position.
Taking a key issue that divides the two groups, evolution as an example, we can expose how religion informs entirely different thought processes. The greater scope of Christianity views evolution as contrary to Biblical doctrine because it violates the passages in the Book of Genesis declaring that a god created mankind in a completed form. Due to the nature of the religion requiring faith from its practitioners, the average Christian needs no further evidence to justify this notion. They may even react with hostility towards others who provide evidence to the contrary.
Atheism, on the other hand, has nothing to say about this. While it is true that most atheists would support the theory of evolution, it is also true that atheism contains no inherent philosophical information. Being under no divine mandate to accept information from authoritative or divine sources as fact frees the atheist to examine a situation according to whatever logical systems they wish to employ. Of course, this does not mean their logic will be inherently sound, but the mind behaves in an entirely different way.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have identified key regions of the brain that light up with electrical activity when a person engages in religious thought. The Right Parietal Lobe is specifically implicated though researchers would be quick to point out that it is a complex pathway. This region is located on the right side of the brain, above a person’s right ear. It is well established in neurology that the “logic center” of the brain is contained in the Left Cerebral Hemisphere, the entirely opposite side of the organ! This demonstrates that atheism and religion do not produce the same type of cognitive reactions to the information present. This also serves as evidence that atheism and religion are two entirely different cognitive behaviors.
We can demonstrate that there are clear differences in the terminology and ideas presented by the definition of “atheism” and “religion”. There is clearly a difference in the way religion handles ethical and philosophical matters as they are informed by self-imposed doctrinal justifications where as atheism has no further doctrine beyond the assertion that no deity exists and offers no native justification. We have also shown that the two systems produce different cognitive behaviors in their respective adherents as evidenced by the presence of electrical activity related to those systems producing electrical activity in entirely different regions of the brain. Clearly, we can safely assume that atheism is not a religion.