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An Atheists Guide to Religion

Updated on April 12, 2008

An Non-Believers Guide to Religion

Unfortunately people who have previously either not been interested in religion or only vaguely spiritual often come to religion due to the efforts of many religions and sects who actively recruit new members. This is not the most likely time that you will be given a balanced discussion of the various pros and cons of the different religions on offer. So slightly tongue in cheek I set out to survey the world's major religions and check out their accessibility for the enquiring non-believer.

Hindu Temple, Chicago Photo:teipsum
Hindu Temple, Chicago Photo:teipsum


Developed in the ancient Vedic civilization 2000BC to 600BC. the oldest religion is still a major religion, running 3rd in total numbers, behind Christianity and Islam. Currently practised in India and Nepal where 90% o the approximately billion adherents still live. Hinduism is the world's third largest religion. The Indian diaspora have scattered Hindi worshippers as far a field as UK, Malaysia, Fiji and Canada. Hinduisms central belief is that of an eternal soul which is continues on after death, into another body or, eventually to nirvana. Hinduism is extremely diverse and includes monotheism, polytheism, and even atheism!

Can I join?

No initially Hindu's believed that everyone was Hindu and this philosphy still underlyes their religion. In addition the development of the caste system made it difficult to place converts in their correct "place" - caste being inherited at birth. Hindu's believe that religious freedom is based on the right to retain one's religion and not be subject to proselyzation

Good points: you won't be hasselled for being a non-believer

Bad points: its all pre-ordained, who your parents were still make all the difference in the caste system. However the caste system is in decline so it's hard to find anything to dislike about a religion which actively preaches live and let live.

Young monk, Luang Prahbang, Laos Photo: Lissie
Young monk, Luang Prahbang, Laos Photo: Lissie


Buddhism began around the 5th century BC with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, now known as as "the Buddha".Buddhism has been almost entirely replaced by Hinduism in its birthplace of India, but is still common in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Tibet. Approximately 350 million people practising Buddhist's making it the fourth-largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

Buddhism emphasises a way of life which does no harm and tries to emulate the Buddha by study and meditation. Lay Buddhists live by the five precepts refraining from taking life, theft, sensual misconduct, lying, use of intoxicants.

Can I join?

Its not generally recommended: His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama frequently states that it is best for Westerners to remain with their current religions. Buddhists believe that that conversion is not part of Buddhism and so, one would not convert or encourage others to convert. One realizes Buddhism, usually after contemplation and study of Buddhism dharma.

Good Points: Fantastic literature to study and mediation and study are strongly encouraged.

Bad Points: giving up meat, alcohol and illicit sex.

Mecca during the Haj Photo: ForUrEyeSOnly
Mecca during the Haj Photo: ForUrEyeSOnly


Islam is based on teachings of Muhammad, a 7th century Arab figure. There are between 1.1 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity. Islam is the predominant religion throughout the Middle East, as well as in parts of Africa and Asia. Large communities are also found in China, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Muslims believe in the same God of Christians and Judaism - but believe that the Torah and Bible have got it wrong, Jesus was a prophet but not the son of God. The key Islamic document the Qur'an was given to Muhammad, God's final prophet, and regard the Qur'an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam.

Islamic law. The five pillars of Islam which should be practised by all Muslims include the belief in Allah, ritual prayer five times a day, alms giving, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and once in their lifetime every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it should make the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Can I Join?

Yes Any human being can embrace Islam. You simply say and believe that there is No God except Allah and that Mohammad is his Messenger - in Arabic which is : Ash hadu alla ilaha illa Allah, wa ash hadu anna Mohammadan abduhu wa rasuluhu.

Once you have said this all your past sins were forgiven. No matter what sin you've committed, all of them are now forgiven.

Good Points: for a man you do get to run the household and have multiple wives. You can now travel to Mecca - a city barred to non-believers.

Bad Points: praying five times a day can get inconvenient.

Michelangelo's Pieta, St Peters, Vatican Photo: Clark
Michelangelo's Pieta, St Peters, Vatican Photo: Clark


Christianity Is a religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recounted in the New Testament. It has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents, more than any other religion, and representing about a quarter of the world's population. Developing from Judaism, Christainity is the oldest major religion to focus on a single God rather than a pantheon of deities. Perhaps to compensate for this though Christianity has splinted into a huge number of competing sects: the first split occurred from the seventh that divided it into a Western (Latin) branch, generally known as the Roman Catholic Church, and an Eastern (Greek) branch, which has become known as the Orthodox Church. Another major schism, the Reformation, resulted in the splintering of the Western Christian Church into several Christian denominations. Down to the present day different variations of Christianity are constantly developing.

Can I join?

Oh yes! Although a few sects are exclusive such as the Exclusive Brethren and some might want you to do some study such as the Roman Catholics many Pentacostal sects will be more than happy for you come right on in.

Good Points: Lots of choice if you don't like the local church, try another congregation.

Bad Points: Arrogant self-belief that this particular version of the TRUTH is the only one can get a bit wearing for those around you who do not share your belief. You might find your social life constrained to church functions and that you are put pressure to donate significantly to the church.

So which to choose? Well I personally find atheism to have a lot to offer: The non-belief in god allows you to sleep in on Sunday, or which ever holy day your particular religion holds to. You have to do no study, can eat and drink anything you like. Also you can treat all of your fellow human beings as equals, no need to distinguish between believers and non-believers.


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    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      6 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Good Hub. Two points follow.

      1. Judaism, Islam and even Hinduism all contain the ideas of a Holy War or a divine right to kill. In Judaism it is the covenant in Joshua; In Islam it is Jihad; in Hinduism Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to kill his family based on religious principles. All of these teachings are wrong. Moses said, "Thou shalt not kill."

      2. We are more than the material body. This is demonstrated by the existence of telepathy/ESP. We are a form of energy and telepathy is a flow of energy. I had 5 verified telepathic experiences in my teens. Also see the biography of Edgar Cayce. We are spirit/energy.

    • Ben Augustine profile image

      Ben Augustine 

      9 years ago from Iowa, US

      I looked at the statistics in Britannica 2005 for an essay I did. I can't say for Confucianism, but I can attest to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Non-Religious, and Atheism.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Oh, and I love the summaries and graphs and humor on this page.

      Thanks Lissie: entertaining, informative and appreciated.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I agree with Lissie: live and let live I say!

      I understand wanting to be a part of religion in order to feel a part of something, part of being human is to want to be and feel accepted. Unfortunately, many who are part of a religion buy into the fear-based theology and hypocrisy of their man-made rules. Religion is the number 1 cause for racism and prejudice the world over. Anywhere you find hatred, I guarantee you can trace it to religion, somehow. Obviously hatred is taught, it is a learned behavior; and most hatred of differences (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.) stem from religion and culture differences. People hate what they don't understand. Knowledge is the truth path to understanding and tolerance.

      It shouldn't matter what my beliefs are or what anyone else's beliefs are, we are ALL members of the human race. As such we should all get along and protect and save this planet while we are here. Be the best person you can and live your life as positively as you can, and whatever happens after we die happens. There's not ANYTHING ANYONE can do to change that. Instead of focusing on religion, how about we focus on our life, our children and all our descendants that come after us. Because regardless of what we believe, we need to leave this world a better place for our children and the following generations.

      No one can know what is after this life, but we can certainly control and affect when we know, right here, right now. If religion helps you find your place in life, that's fine; but if I choose not to belong to a religion, then let me be and I'll let you be.

      My beliefs don't affect your life, so why should your beliefs affect my life. And regardless of what anyone says, nobody's beliefs should affect anyone but themselves.

      Okay, this is long enough, so I think I'll end with one final thought. I think a requirement to high school AND college should be that everyone take a theology class (unbiased) and a cultural anthropology class. The underlying idea of both is 'my way is right to me... but her/his way is right to her/him.' Tolerance and respect. I may not accept or understand it, but if I respect it, then we can all get along.

    • thephilosopher899 profile image


      10 years ago

      Great info and well researched...Thanks

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      The objective of any religion is to evolve a God out of man. If only the 'religious fanatics' could know this then there wouldn't be any need to increase the number of followers or proselyzation. Just give the attention to religion it actually deserves.

    • profile image

      Last Legend 

      11 years ago

      Religion is MAN MADE. the problem with religion is it causes to many wars and "no,no, this is how it is" fights. I believe in god and jesus,but don't need to go to church to suffice that. Eveyone is free to believe what they want. My opinion is that atheists are 2 things:

      1. Scared to accept a higher power or...

      2. Want to live life freely and do what they want without worrying about consequnces.

      But, lets let each other live in this world. everyone just has to fight over these things when we can live and let live

      Let us not fight over our belifs,but fight for what we believe for!!

      nice debate kicker though!

    • wyanjen profile image

      Jen King 

      11 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

      I loved you last sentence "You can treat all of your fellow human beings as equals, no need to distinguish between believers and non-believers."

      That sums up religion, spirituality, and atheism perfectly.


    • KatyWhoWaited profile image

      Kate MacAlpine 

      12 years ago from Anywhere, USA

      Excellent, comprehensive, yet easy-to-understand hub! Again, excellent! There is also a group such as myself who is the opposite of the non-believers seeking belief. We are the ones who almost entered the convent or seminary; we're the ones who can still recite the Balimore Catechism backward and forward; we're the ones who had a firm foundation well into adult life, and because of that have been able to take a leap and risk non-believing. I call myself a "religious apathetic" meaning I really don't care what happens after death and what passage interpreted by humankind is true or not. I find it arrogant to say we understand who God is. To me, there is only one commandment a loving creator would have issued forth, but it's one that makes sense for both the believer and non-believers: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That phrase, uttered in that particular English translation, is all we really need to know, isn't it?

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Great thread! Agnostic here, actually working on a little booklet describing past dieties and all the similarities, pretty sure all the god stuff originated from early humans worshipping the sun.... then over the last 10,000 years got humanized.... just my two cents... my book when finished is titled "Skydaddies in a Nutshell". Would luv to send you a complimentary copy when its done.... :)



    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Elda God and certainy not the Christian's God doesn't have the monopoly on being nice to people

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      i think christianity can be redefined in so many ways by people, people differ. You have your opininion about religeon and that's great, we respect that, Honestly i am a 13 year old child, i have looked at this world through my own eyes and i see how people differ, how they argue, how they talk and respond, i know basic things about life, i have'nt expierence half of what's still out there, You see, i see a lot of people who claim to be christians and then it's so strange, like for example they would share that fact with people over and over and their heart is actually a cold dark hole absorbing posivtive feedback, but never being satisfied. i have seen people claiming to be athiests but having the same characteristics of children Of God , it's funny how people are.. right? all i can say for sure is " I am a christian, i beleive that when i look up to the sky, there is someone up there who sees me, believes in me, that's what i beleive, i don't look at the behaviour of christian people or kids really, the only way to really discover is to look at life with open respectful, human eyes and decide what's there to see in Jesus' your own life

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Summer Snow - life is brief but fun- yes you can die at anytime so I take the philosophy of live it to the full - I have no need to believe that there is anything else - that's just humanities arrogance. I dont need God to make a meaning for myself - I understand science and evolution enough to understand the world

    • summer-snow profile image


      12 years ago from London

      Are you seeking religion or are you seeking God? There is a difference between religion and God. We've all heard some of the crazy beliefs that certain "recruiting" religions put out and I guess if it's something you've grown up hearing then you probably are right in your beliefs. God cannot be understood by simply attending a gathering at a church/ temple/ mosque for all the days of your life. And that is why random followers of christianity, islam, hinduism, etc fail to gratify the enquiring mind of someone like you.

      In reality ALL religions are pathways to One God (personal) and His light (impersonal), whether the followers know it or not and while people can deny the existence of God it doesn't change the fact that God will continue to exist and observe every activity of every living being - like He always has because He is Eternal.

      You don't have to seek God in Religious institutes to know He is there, just identify the millions of miracles around you everyday (the miracles of life, the orders of the universe, everything made to correlate in harmony, the master design of the most creative and intelligent mind). After that sort of research you can't say we're here by accident. Even accidents are caused by some one! They don't happen on their own! Or we'd all just aswell be dead by now.

      Still, life is fragile, we could die at any time, so what sustains you in a world where there is risk at every step of the way? 



    • SEM Pro profile image

      SEM Pro 

      12 years ago from North America

      Your last comment said it all Lissie - who would want to spend eternity with anyone who didn't get the point of Jesus' message in the first place. Nowhere in "love thy neighbor as thyself" insinuates your neighbor is only lovable if they [mis]interpret the same things. "Judge not and ye shall not be judged" doesn't extol any virtues of condescension either.

      Great hub, interesting perspective. As an atheist, do you believe in reincarnation?

      One of the Baha'is' belief is "independent investigation of the truth". That seems a more modern explanation and suggestion to grow on whatever messages can be gained from past Manifestations, rather than staying stuck in a mini box of belief, more often than not distorted by ego, greed or vanity.

      Truly accepting everyone without judgement may be in your DNA from your Mom. Whether labeled or not, you embody some of the wisdom pearls given to us through the ages. Thank you for writing - enjoyed your viewpoints

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      And maniacs like you proove my point - that's why I don't believe it God- who wants to spend eternity in your company LOL

    • johnb0127 profile image


      12 years ago from TX

      Jesus Christ died on the cross for all of our sins. If you don't accpet him as your personal lord and Savior, you will not live with him and other fellow believers in paradise; you will be perished to Hell where you will live for the rest of eternity. When you die of course. Faith in Jesus Christ is the one and only true religion!


    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Nope a religion requires the belief in a spiritual being- non-belief is not a religon! Unfortunately the most unpleasent people around mis-represent themselves as Christians and other religious fanatics - live and let live I say!

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 

      12 years ago from HubPages, FB

      Lissie. It was interesting to read your hub. It is difficult to sort it out who is religious or not. It is not just to be registered as such. I think that biblical believers are only few. Rest are only registrants. I think that Christianity should be way of life. Religion is according to my definition (and others): Opinion about God, His Word and moral issues. That’s religion. God hates religions, but love the people. The atheism is also belief there is no God. That qualify as religion (that's how I see it).. The fact is that I consider the important fact, which is genetic, is: faith and love. The faith confirms, that there is God, since religion is reflection seeking for lost God. The second is love, which enable person to love and forgive even unlovable person. It can be done, again, only through faith. The faith has telescopic eyes. The faith sees man how he is going to be, not how bad he is now. The Christian is not who was born as Christian or parents dragging him to church. God does not have grandchildren. In this time America and Europe are regressing. But Asia, Africa and South America, there is tremendous revival. Love ya.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Glad you enjoyed it LondonGirl

    • LondonGirl profile image


      12 years ago from London

      fascinating summary, thank you for writing it.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for commenting Amanda - I remember be worried as a kid: if God was going to save all the (Christian) sinners from hell how come all the people in India and China weren't going to get saved. It wasn't their fault they weren't born in our country! Never got an answer for that one! Sometimes kids have great insights!

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      12 years ago from UK

      My Mum was a committed Christian and took us along to church. As an adult I also flirted with a local church and found it a rewarding experience until there was a change of priest. The new guy was young and ambitious, and keen on guest speakers, one of whom was a heavy duty hellfire and brimstone evangelising Christian from the States. It put me right off of the church, and I've not gone back. As you say, there are many compensations. I do get to lay in on a Sunday now!

      I loved your hub. It all goes to show that our religious preferences are all too often merely a matter of geography!

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for your thoughtful coment: and I know my mother would have agreed with you and she was a very strong Christain but without the arrogance which seems to be popular at the moment. I guess I do strongly believe in one thing :live and let live - if you're not God you can't tell me how to live me life!

    • Denny Lyon profile image

      Denny Lyon 

      12 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

      You do write with a wonderfully authentic voice!  As an American I've lived in Taiwan, so I can mention with certainty that actually Buddhism is not a religion but rather a contemplative life philosophy.  A Western mind tends to think of it as a religion but they don't.  Lovely religion.  I enjoyed the Taiwanese a lot as they taught me so very much on both spiritual and cultural levels.

      As a Christian I hear a lot of accurate bashing.  It reminds me of what Ghandi said to his racist Victorian peers, "Your Christ I love but you Christians I hate."  Yes, there is a lot of arrogance; I see them as immature and mean-spirited and have as yet to catch on to what Christianity is all about:  unconditional love for others. 

      A lot of non-Christians angrily confuse the culture built up around a religion vs. the real religion.  The same thing has happened to Islam.  The religion itself is not all that bad but the cultures that have attached themselves to it, well, some are just virulent.  Could have more to do with centuries of serious genetic in-breeding where brothers and sisters and first cousins marry each other for generation after generation and it's not a wonder why there is insanity.  Religious differences is just the excuse for the violence.

      Very interesting article!  No, I'm not intimidated or offended by my many atheist friends.  Everyone has a different life path.  So who am I to get in the way?? Besides, Christianity is not for the faint of heart as it requires a lot from the ego.  Learning how to forgive the unforgivable is the ultimate challenge for a person. Since it is such a challenge it intrigued me.  Guess interacting with Taiwanese Buddhists and Taoists gave me a leg up on getting the ego to behave better... grin.  ~ denny

    • profile image

      current news 

      13 years ago

      Fun analysis: religious tourism has a great history after all

    • profile image


      13 years ago from Eastern India

      I would like to comment on the comment of RFox on humans being meant to be omnivorous. Medical science has said that humans have been structured to be vegetarians. Carnivorous animals have a much shortened intestinal length - more than half of humans' 30 feet - because meat needs to be dispelled quickly from the body.

      Buddhism forbids any harm to the life of another living being. The possible reason why most Tibetans (read Tibetan buddhists) consume meat is that Tibet is situated in tough and terrain where vegetation was/is difficult.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      13 years ago from New Zealand

      RFox Iwas thinking more of friends who are Sri Lankan Buddhists and definitly vegetarian - I like the pragmatic approach to life and vegeteables are a little in short supply in places like Tibet!

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      Great hub!

      But have to disagree with Buddhists giving up meat. Most Tibetan Buddhists actually eat meat. We try to limit the harm we do to other sentient beings but we're also realists. Humans are meant to be omnivores so our bodies sometimes can't take pure vegetarianism. The Buddha's rule was that an animal should not be killed specifically for you. However if it was already dead (say of natural causes) then it's fine to eat because you're not causing it harm. it's already dead. Lol.

      Giving up alcohol and illicit sex is true though i'm afraid. No more beer filled debauchery. *sigh* :D

    • lavenderstreak profile image


      13 years ago from Seattle

      I think I read somewhere that the Dalai Lama likes steak. You really had fun with this one and I had fun reading it. Keep em coming.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      13 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks Angela - agreed- though to be fair to the Buddhists they do some absolutely wonderful vegetarian food!

      Misha - I'll have a bit more of a look around - I got the graphic from Wikipedia and its seemed about right. I believe that most Han Chinese are supposed to aetheist - courtesy of the regime - so imagine their stats are distorted - also quite a number of Buddhists amongst the outlying including Tibet and southern China.

    • Misha profile image


      13 years ago from DC Area

      Nice Hub Lissie, pleasure to read :)

      I just got puzzled with your religions distribution diagram - are you sure you used the trusty source? I would imagine for Confucianism to take a bit more than 0.1%, considering that Chinese population probably represents about a quarter of the whole Earth population, and Confucianism seems to be the most popular religion over there...

      I may be wrong of course, but it seems way off at the first glance...

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      13 years ago from Around the USA

      Interesting comparisons. My favorite part? Bad Points: giving up meat, alcohol and illicit sex. This made me laugh out loud.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      13 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for the comments Yes Terri Pagans may well have it right - I guess I just missed out on the whole spirituality gene - I just don't feel the need.

      topstuff - in fact u are right - while my mother was dieing of cancer Iwould have loved to have believed that she was going to a better place - she was a fantastic Christian woman and if there is a Heaven she is in it. Unfortunatley wanting to believe is not the same as belief !

      Marlo although I know some genuine Christians I find the present "war" between Islam and Christians to be just as horrible as the various intra chrisitian wars such as Northern Ireland balances them out- as John Lennon said "imagine ... and no religion too ... nothing to kill and die for"

    • MarloByDesign profile image


      13 years ago from United States

      I loved you last sentence "You can treat all of your fellow human beings as equals, no need to distinguish between believers and non-believers."

      That sums up religion, spirituality, and atheism perfectly.

    • topstuff profile image


      13 years ago

      In my childhood i listened one thing that if a pigeon looks a cat coming towards him and closes his eyes,danger doesnot go.So Atheism might not be also ones choice who want to see.You made that easy,but its also not that easy.

    • profile image

      Terri Paajanen 

      13 years ago

      Excellent hub, with a fresh perspective. As a side note, we Pagans sleep in on Sundays too and we really don't have a problem with "ilicit" sex. ;)


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