As a group, atheists and “nones” (those who answer “none” to questions of religious affiliation), are often misunderstood by their more godly counterparts in the world. It can’t be that we really don’t believe in God, there must be something else amiss. I’ve been greeted with disbelief plenty of times upon revealing the truth of my atheism to certain people, “But you’re such a nice guy,” is often hurled at me as though the concepts “nice guy” and “non-believer” are mutually exclusive. So, in an effort to dispel a few myths (heh… no pun intended), I’ve compiled this brief list of common misconceptions about atheists. Don’t assume these things about me and I promise I won’t assume your Christianity equated to homophobia, misogony, racism, and fear. Promise.
Also; I realize I’m most certainly not the first to write an article like this. I’m not looking to win a Pulitzer here, I’m just tired of trying to explain these things away all the time. Perhaps if enough people see this (I’m talking to both of my regular readers here), I won’t have to anymore.
I’m Not “Angry at God.”
This one gets tossed around a lot. “You had a bad experience at a particular church” or “Bad things have happened in your life” and “now you’re mad at God.” Not at all. Many atheists may ask questions like, “Your congregation prayed for Phyllis Smith’s sprained foot and she was healed, praise the lord, but little Timmy Johnson still died of his leukemia, no matter how many people were praying for him,” as a point of argument showing the absurdity of prayer specifically and religion in general (and I don’t mean to upset anyone here… actually I don’t give a fuck if it upsets you, religion is pretty absurd), but we’re not actually upset with God and more than we would be with Lord Voldermort or Darth Vader or any other literary villain. Being imaginary has at least one distinct advantage; it is impossible for me to be mad at you. Were god tangible, I still wouldn’t be angry with him, but I would suggest that he has a lot of fucking explaining to do.
This is an assumption we hear a lot. “Can atheists even have morality?” And if that question is answered affirmatively, it almost invariably followed by, “Where do you get your morals from?” It’s really pretty offensive, when you think about it. You have green eyes, you must not be capable of morality.” That’s the kind of sense it makes.
I’ll tell you where atheists get their morality: the same place everyone else does: empathy and understanding. I don’t need a 3500 year-old book to tell me that killing people is wrong. I need only understand that I probably wouldn’t like to be killed and it logically follows that this is not a good thing to go around doing. Internally we just know that not raping and murdering causes less harm, pain, and grief than committing those acts does. Even certain animals can display this moral, empathetic behavior and children are capable of it from a very young age.
In fact, I tend to scoff at anyone who does claim that morality comes from the Bible or any particular god, because the Bible is about the most immoral thing I can imagine anyone reading. Abraham being commanded by god to sacrifice his son at an altar but only for pretend? It’s all a test? Pretty fucking immoral. Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt because she dared look back at the destruction of Soddam and Gomorrah? Other than that what crime had she committed to deserve death? Immoral. The entire population of the earth being drowned in a global flood,,, except for Noah and his bunch, of course… yeah that strikes me as being pretty damn immoral. Read that fucking book sometime. It’s full of shit like these few examples. In fact. it’s full of shit, but that’s just my opinion. I may be right.
Atheists Think All Religious People are “Stupid” or Mentally Ill
I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of this one, many of us have. Passions run high sometimes and it becomes easy to say the wrong thing. Bill Maher has often equated religiosity with insanity on his Real Time show. It’s just jokes. At least I think it is, I really can’t speak on Bill’s behalf. The truth is, we… I don’t think religious people are stupid or crazy, really. I certainly think some of the ideas and beliefs are crazy and I don’t mind saying so. Your beliefs do not deserve respect just because they are beliefs, regardless what you may have been told. And have you ever really thought about some of this shit? A divine being speaks the world and everything in it into existence, but to create a man he needs to use dirt? And he doesn’t create a female version at the same time, no. He has to perform surgery on his dude to take a rib out of him and use it to create the girl. What the actual fuck? Talking snakes, burning bushes that also talk, people conversing with donkeys (Shrek!), dudes walking on water, people rising from the grave… on and on. But if you believe it, you’re not necessarily stupid or crazy, you’re just mislead. People you respect and look up to have been telling you these things your entire life. It’s not your fault. Also, hey, I used to believe it too. If I can quit, so can you. There’s hope, I promise.
Atheists “Know” There is a God, “They Just Don’t Know they Know”
You gotta love this one. The presuppositional Christian Apologist Sye Ten Bruggencate pulled this in a recent debate with Matt Dillahunty and I seemed to be all Matt could do not to shoot himself in the face at the time. Making an assumption that you know what’s going on in my head better than I do is just rude.
What leads to this thinking seems to be the idea that the “evidence” for god lies in all of creation. Of course we know there is a god, we need only look at a sunset or a flower or a tree. Never mind that there are perfectly logical scientific reasons for the existence of all these things and their “beauty,” Never mind as well that the same god who created the beautiful sunset must also have created the Ebola virus, the shark (a fearsome predator which will eat pretty much anything it can latch its jaws onto), and cancer.
Atheists have all had Bad experiences in Church
No, not all of us have. There are some atheists who were fortunate enough to never have had to sit in a pew, ever. How I envy them. Because although we haven’t all had negative experiences in church, many of us have although those are not necessarily the reasons for our atheism. In fact I’m willing to bet that most people who have spent any amount of time in church have had some kind of negative experience there, atheist or not. It may not be as bad as being a raped altar boy, or even as rotten a story of how I was frightened into conversion as a young teen (wrote about that previously, look it up), but something not-so-nice has happened to most folks at church, I’d put money on it.
Atheists “Worship” People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens
NO, we really don’t. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett are collectively called the “Four Horsemen” of modern atheism with good reason. Those of us involved in the movement have appreciated and adapted their thoughts and writings for “the cause” and we are largely in agreement with them. They do not, however, speak for all atheists everywhere. Richard Dawkins is not, for example, “The Pope of Atheism” nor would he want to be, I suspect. Each of these men encourage (past tense in the case of Hitchens) free thinking and intellectual reliance on no one outside person or organization. Did I read The God Delusion and God is not Good? Sure I did. Loved ’em. Although Hitchens could come off as kind of an ass now and again. I felt he was brilliant. But I do not “worship” him or anyone else.