As I mentioned in my first post, many religious folk have misconceptions about atheists — and some of those misconceptions make them hostile toward nonbelievers.
I started this blog to help take some of the stigma away from the term “atheist,” so let’s start by putting some nasty rumors to bed. Here, then, are the 10 myths about atheists that frustrate me the most*:
10. Way down deep, atheists really do believe in God.
Also known as the “You’re just going through a phase” argument, this is a very condescending thing to say to an atheist. Do you know what you’re telling me when you say this to me? You’re telling me, “I don’t think you’re smart enough / know yourself well enough / understand the world enough to truly say you don’t believe in God.”
I’m a smart person. I’ve been living with me for 40 years – I think I know myself pretty well. And I used to be a believer; I think I understand the world you’re talking about (the world of religion, because that’s your only frame of reference). When I say, “I’m an atheist,” I do NOT mean, “I’m an atheist, but only a little.”
I do not believe in God, Sam I Am. Not even if you offer me green eggs and ham. BUT, that brings me to:
9. Atheists are 100% sure that what they believe is true. Atheism is just another religion.
Er, no. While I am very firm that I do not believe in gods, that does not mean that I believe with 100% certainty that there are no gods.
It’s a small distinction, but an important one. See, I (and most atheists I know of) would happily change our view if someone presented just one shred of actual, verifiable and testable evidence for the existence of a god.
“I believe there is no god” is an active statement. “I have no belief in a god” is not. It’s just the absence of belief in the absence of good evidence.
8. Atheists have no moral compass.
Here’s what bugs me the most about this statement: If you need a higher power to tell you to be good to your fellow man, and I don’t, which of us is the less moral person again?
We can debate morals another time; suffice it to say that atheists are like everyone else. We don’t murder (any more than the general population), we don’t steal (any more than the general population), we don’t sacrifice babies to the God of Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson, last time I checked).
Morals do not come from a god. They come from us being social animals that have to have moral and ethical codes in order to live together.
7. You disbelieve just because something bad happened to you.
In my deconversion story, I talked about a bad time I went through. While it was harrowing, it was not the ultimate reason why I stopped believing in God.
I first stopped believing because I never “felt the presence of the spirit,” whatever that means. And then I started reading more, learning about other beliefs, and realized religion is a confusing mess. So many different religions, with sometimes thousands of sects within those religions believing different — and sometimes directly contradictory — things about supposedly the same god.
And most of them think they’re the only correct ones. That everyone else is going to hell for not believing the right way.
It just never made sense to me.
6. Well, you were never a true Christian, then.
Just a minute ago, I talked about all those different sects, all thinking they’re right and no one else believes the correct way.
That mentality, whether conscious or subconscious, is what leads to this statement, I think.
“It’s unthinkable to me that you would not believe the same thing I do; therefore, you didn’t believe it the right way.”
I know of many people who were strict, fundamentalist Christians but are now atheists. I know of pastors and passionate clergy who stopped believing. One of the co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is former pastor Dan Barker. Don’t tell me these people were not “true Christians.”
5. You must be so sad and hopeless, with no meaning or purpose to your life.
This is, frankly, insulting.
My life has meaning. I find meaning in my family. I find meaning in giving to charity. I find meaning in volunteering — at a *gasp* religious organization!
Here’s the main difference: Instead of coasting along, looking forward to an afterlife, I do what I can to make this life worthwhile. I believe there’s only one go-round, so this life needs to count for something.
I don’t fear death any more than a religious person does, either. Death is a natural part of life, and when I’m gone the atoms that make up whatever it is that I am will become a part of something else. I think there’s beauty in that.
4. Atheists are so angry all of the time. They’re also intolerant, rude, and just plain mean.
As I said in my very first post, this myth is a huge reason why I started this blog in the first place.
It’s true that the atheist movement has some very strident voices at the top. I’ll write a post about some of those atheist leaders’ bad behavior and how it reflects on the rest of us in another post.
But, as I said in that first post, those guys don’t speak for all of us. Does the Westboro Baptist Church speak for you? (If it does, I’m not sure you’re going to like what you read here. O.o )
“Nice atheist” is not an oxymoron. We’re not all jerks. We don’t all hate religious folk.
We do get angry (sometimes because we hear the things on this list over and over again), but it’s not our natural state of being. I have some causes I get very worked up about, and you may see some anger from me on this blog (I said I’d be civil, not a doormat). But that doesn’t mean I’m angry at you, specifically, dear reader.
Which brings me to…
3. You’re just angry at God/religion/some Christians who misbehaved.
I’m not going to lie: There’s a lot in organized religion to be angry about. It seems like I’ve discussed that already…
But I’m not mad at God. I’m not mad at religion in general. My disbelief has nothing to do with anger. It has everything to do with owning a rational mind that prefers to have evidence for the things it believes.
2. You’ve just replaced religion with science.
I would say, “Yes, and…?” but for the implied accusation behind this statement: “Science is your religion.”
And that’s false. Religion is a belief, or set of beliefs, in a supernatural cause for the universe that may or may not continue to act in the world.
Science itself is not a belief. It’s a process for testing hypotheses to see if they’re false. The scientific method is set up to prove assumptions about the world false. If a hypothesis fails scientific tests, it’s thrown out as a possible cause for the thing being researched.
Science, then, is ever-changing. How we think the world works today might change tomorrow in light of new evidence. That’s a far cry from adherence to dogma as evidenced by religion.
1. You hate God.
I do not hate God. I also don’t hate Satan. I also don’t hate Krampus, or Cthulu.
It’s hard to hate something you don’t believe exists.
These myths are the ones we atheists seem to get the most. Some of these can be pretty damaging in terms of relationships with family and friends who are believers. I hope my answers to these help dispel a few misconceptions and make these conversations a little more harmonious.