It is common to hear some atheists make blanket statements about religion, which is usually about how bad religion is for society or how religion is filled with irrationality. Assuming these things are true, the tendency to label religion this way is mainly looking at what religion has been in the past or what religion currently is in the present. But, that doesn’t mean that religion has to have the undesirable characteristics that critics point to.
For example, we could conceive of a naturalistic religion. Naturalistic religion wouldn’t include gods nor supernatural beings. We could also combine humanism with naturalistic religion to yield a religion that places focus on rationality, empathy, and science.
One might object by saying this wouldn’t really be religion; however, this would beg the very issue at hand. The fact is that it is very difficult to pin down a precise definition of “religion”. Some like to say that religions necessarily include gods, but this would disqualify Buddism as being a religion. Moreover, it would also disqualify certain liberal interpretations of, for example, Islam from being considered religious. But, that doesn’t seem right.
One might also object that religion has to include belief in supernatural beings. Once again, this doesn’t seem to be true, and it begs the question.
Naturalistic religion would, of course, have implications for society and the university. In terms of society, naturalistic religion would offer non-theists a sense of something greater beyond themselves, and it would offer a deep sense of community. In terms of the university, naturalistic religion could be investigated in religious studies departments. In addition, there would be a fresh air breathed into the philosophy of religion, which is a subject that tends to focus too much on classical theism/Christian theism. This would, thereby, also entail that certain atheists can’t object to philosophy of religion (as a whole) merely on the grounds that they themselves don’t believe in gods (which isn’t to say that this is a good objection itself).
It might be suggested that I am just playing word games with the word “religion”. But, I don’t think this is the case. It seems as though we can speak of religion without referencing gods and the supernatural, as evidenced by religions that don’t include gods or the supernatural.
It might also be suggested that I am just substituting naturalistic religion in place of humanism. But, as said before, these two can be combined because they aren’t the same thing. One can be a humanist without being a naturalist.
But what about secular humanism? Is it a religion? Is it a naturalistic religion? Well, most secular humanists would deny that secular humanism is a religion/naturalistic religion. But even if secular humanism were a religion, that just vindicates my thesis. Nevertheless, secular humanists usually say that secular humanism is more of a worldview than a religion. Not all worldviews are religions, (or, at least, it doesn’t seem plausible to suggest worldview=religion).
Also, the distinction between”secular” and “religion” often seems unhelpful in some respects. For instance, we often talk about how college football in the united states is a religion.
None of this is to suggest that atheism and/or naturalism are equivalent to religion. But, it is to suggest that one can be a naturalist and at the same time subscribe to a particular (naturalistic) religion.