First of all, I don't really understand the point of accusing atheism of being a religion. Are you saying that since atheism is a religion that atheists are not permitted to critique "other" religions? How does this follow? Not only do all three mainstream monotheistic religions condemn each other as apostates, but all three themselves harbor their own violent infighting. Consider the conflicts between Orthodox/Reform Jews, Protestants/Catholics and Sunnis/Shi'as. Obviously this line of thinking is fallacious. Some people will then argue that the atheist utilizes just as much faith as their own religious convictions. In other words, atheists believe in things without sufficient evidence just as much as the religious. This is profoundly untrue and I will explain why. First, lets look at the definitions of both religion and atheism.
Religion is defined as a set of beliefs concerning the nature, and purpose of universe, esp. when as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and often containing a moral code governing the affairs of human conduct. A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of people or a sect.
Atheism is defined as disbelief in the existence of a god or gods.
Now, I grant that a philosophy does not have to be inherently theistic to be a religion. Certain sects of Hinduism and Buddhism as well as lesser known religions like Jainism do not believe in any gods. What makes these worldviews religious is not their particular stance on theism, but rather their fundamental sets of beliefs and practices with moral codes governing their conduct.
But what about atheism? Isn't atheism a "worldview" with "sets of beliefs?"
As the definition clearly states, the answer is no. Atheism is simply an assertion of what someone does not believe, not what they do believe or what they assert to be true. An atheist can be a genocidal communist (as Stalin certainly was) or an atheist can be a devout Jain. Atheism denotes no political affiliation, moral code, or philosophical disposition. An atheist can be a student of Ayn Rand or equally a student of Immanuel Kant. And everywhere in between. Are you beginning to see why that is simply not religion?
This is why, although I'm perfectly comfortable with the term atheist, I rather prefer the descriptor of pearlist. By subscribing to Pearlism, I am making a positive assertion about what I believe, namely in physical evidence and reasoned logic.
But aren't most pearlists atheists?
Well, yes they are. By my lights I do not see how they could not be. But this question is ignoring the distinction of terms I am laboring to make for your own sake. Correlation is warranted. But to make the terms synonymous would be an error.
But what about people like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens who go around promoting atheism? What makes them different than fundamentalist evangelists? Aren't they atheist "prophets"?
We'll get to fundamentalism in a moment. What makes people like Dawkins and Hitchens different from evangelicals is that their claims can be supported by verifiable evidence. Further, they are not claiming that if you dissent from their (again, evidence based) version of reality that you will suffer for it. True, the world may suffer for it presently, but you are not personally destined for eternal damnation. Richard Dawkins has written truly remarkable books about Darwinian evolution. These books are vastly thorough, providing evidence upon evidence upon evidence for the wonderful explanation of the diversity of life, and yet people still accuse him of having the same faith of a Christian. This is willful ignorance and total nonsense. They are not prophets because they do not claim divine inspiration from invisible agents.
Now, to this issue of atheists being the same as religious fundamentalists. I'm just curious, what would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would it be a person who only half-way rejects the god hypothesis? What fundamental sets of beliefs would the fundamentalist atheist be reverting to in his/her proclamations? Just as an evangelical fundamentalist hearkens back to a literal interpretation of the Bible, does the atheist fundamentalist refer back to "literal" interpretations of Bertrand Russell or Mark Twain or Epicurus? Of course not. You see here we run into the same issue of category description as we did with religion.
Okay, that makes sense. But isn't an atheist still utilizing faith to believe in things they cannot observe like the big bang or love or whatever?
No. The big bang is observable by studying the Doppler Effect of the stars in the rapidly expanding universe. Love (and morality and many emotions) are easily observed in fMRI experiments monitoring brain activity in human beings. We understand the chemicals involved in pleasure (like dopamine) and understand the parts of the brain that are particularly wired for certain emotions. It is the opposite of faith to reserve judgment until sufficient evidence is in. It is the opposite of faith to change previously accepted ideas in light of new and convincing data (Pluto is not a planet, the Universe is expanding, etc.) It is the opposite of faith to desire answers to questions.
And what will answer our questions? Will God? Has God seriously ever answered any of your questions without you assigning agency to some vague bible verse or emotional sleight of hand? I doubt it. Science can answer some of our questions. Not all of them. Not even most of them. But physical evidence and reasoned logic have been outrunning religion for centuries. And they will continue to do so. At any rate, I'd rather know 0.0000001% of what is true rather than believe in 100% of unverifiable mythology.
Yours in reason,