Still, even though I am not an atheist, atheism is often purposefully misrepresented by religious zealots. This article from the American Atheists website puts the record straight. An excerpt (emphasis mine):
Speaking of the original meaning, the word atheism comes from the Greek atheos, which means “without god.” The original meaning of the word, based on its Greek origins, mentions nothing about “disbelief” or “denial.” A short and single-word definition would be “godless.”
The fact that the dictionary definitions use the phrase “there is no God” betrays the theistic influence in defining the word “atheism.” If dictionaries did not contain such influence, then the definition would read, “A belief that there are no gods.” The use of god in singular form, with a capital G, is indicative of Christian influence.
In addition, using words like “doctrine” and “denial” betray the negativity seen of atheists by theistic writers. Atheism does not have a doctrine at all and I certainly do not “deny” that gods exist. Denial is the “refusal to believe.” Atheism does not “know there is a god but refuse to believe in him (or her, for that matter).” That is as silly as saying that you know Big Foot exists but you refuse to believe in him. If the evidence of gods was insurmountable and provable, and atheists still refused to believe, then that would be an act of denial. This is similar to how Scully refused to believe in aliens and UFO encounters even though Mulder had insurmountable evidence of their existence. Scully denied the existence of aliens and UFO’s even though the evidence was overwhelming. She was a horrible example of a skeptic!
Atheism is not a belief system. Atheism is not a religion. Atheism may be part of an individual’s religious beliefs, but atheism, in and of itself, is not a belief or religion. Some religions do not have a concept of god(s). One out of three religions worldwide is atheistic in nature, meaning that they worship no gods: Taoism, Buddhism, Spiritualism, New Age, and others (Macmillan Information New Encyclopedia: World Religions, 1998).
Atheism is a lack of belief in gods, from the original Greek meaning of “without gods.” That is it. There is nothing more to it. If someone wrote a book titled “Atheism Defined,” it would only be one sentence long.
Is atheism a religion or a belief system? Let us look at the different definitions of religion and see if atheism belongs in any of them (using the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2006).
1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.No atheism resides in that definition. Atheists do not believe in a supernatural power or powers.
2. Beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.Atheism does not have a spiritual leader and atheism does not have any rites or rituals (practices) around such a spiritual leader. Atheism requires no initiation, no baptism, there is no Atheist Bible (Koran, Vedas, etc) to read, no rituals that atheists must go through to join an Atheist Church (temple, mosque, synagogue, sect, etc), and no central beliefs that all atheists must adhere to in order to be “true atheists.”
As I mentioned above, there are religions that are atheistic in nature, and they may fit the second definition. Atheism is not the religion. The religion just happens to be godless. Atheism is not the central tenet of their belief system, nor is it the foundational rock of their belief system.
The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Every atheist is as unique as a fingerprint when it comes to his or her individual philosophy, convictions, and ideals.