Top 10 Misconceptions About Atheists
Atheists have been getting a lot of attention these days it seems, as non-believers have been organizing on social networks like never before and conflicts involving religion continue to find a spot in the headlines of news media outlets across the globe. Things are heating up, and atheists are in the middle of it.
With all of the cross-talk being continuously splattered across the online forums and yahoo comments sections from both believers and non-believers alike, a few misconceptions about what it means to be an atheist have developed and seem to come up over and over in my conversations. To set the record straight and to help you learn a little bit more about this part of my Humanist philosophy, here are the Top Ten Misconceptions About Atheists:
1) If you’re an atheist your life is meaningless. FALSE. As an atheist I don’t believe that there is any objective meaning or plan in life ordained by a supernatural power, but that does not mean that I can’t have personal meaning in my life. I’m sure there are atheists that go through life without much direction, just like there are Christians and Muslims that walk through life aimlessly as well. But there are many atheists who lead very productive and meaningful lives. They have jobs, families and mortgages; they have children and they pursue goals in life in accordance with their own personal meaning, just like everyone else. I personally feel that life holds more meaning and satisfaction for me now that I am an atheist than it did when I was a Christian. Please read my blog post about the meaning of life.
2) If you’re an atheist you have no morals. FALSE. Many religious people claim that their morality comes from God. In other words, if you don’t believe that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, and if you don’t follow God’s commandments, then you have no morals. Many religious people even suggest that this is what attracts people to atheism in the first place. This is incredibly insulting. If you as a Christian are saying that your belief in an imaginary God is the only thing keeping you from stealing, murdering, lying and raping, then there is something truly wrong with you. I have morals because I have a conscience, and I can tell the difference between what is right and wrong. In fact there are even many species of animals that display moral and ethical action and thought, and they certainly don’t believe in a higher power. Please read my blog post about what religion gets wrong about morality, and also my blog post about the true nature of good and evil.
3) All atheists are miserable and mean. FALSE. Atheists have a reputation as being cranky, pretentious know-it-alls who constantly bash religion and hate their own miserable lives. While I’m sure there are some atheists who fit that description perfectly (just like there are many Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus who also fit that description), this of course does not describe every atheist. Many atheists are, however, particularly outspoken against god and religion or are simply lost or depressed due to bad experiences with religion in their past, and some non-believers, unfortunately, can be very mean to those who choose to believe in God. I do not endorse this behavior. Please read my blog post about how to speak out against bullshit without being mean.
4) There are no atheists in foxholes. FALSE. Some people believe that atheists actually believe in God deep down and will, when faced with a life and death situation, cling to the idea of God once again and even pray for help or guidance. Again, this is insulting. If a person is an atheist, then they do not believe in God. Period. I have been in several scary instances where I could have lost life or limb and I did not once think of God or pray. In fact, in a crisis situation, I would think it’s much more productive to focus on how to stay alive rather than praying for divine intervention. Please read my post about the existence of God.
5) Atheists worship the devil, eat babies, and hate our country. FALSE. Atheists do not believe in ANY deities, including the mythical figure of Satan, nor do we worship them. We do not eat babies. I honestly don’t know how that one got started. And we most certainly love freedom, equality, justice, and have national pride. Here in America, where the separation between church and state is guaranteed in the Constitution, being an atheist can be especially patriotic, and we are often very politically vocal when a religious group infringes on this establishment of our founding fathers.
6) Prove that God doesn’t exist. IMPOSSIBLE. You cannot prove that something does not exist. I cannot prove that God does not exist, any more than I can prove that a omnipotent Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist. Atheism is not itself a claim, it is a rejection of the claim that God exists. I don’t believe that there is enough evidence to say that there is such a thing as God, and I do not personally believe that there is a God. In fact, I think the evidence leans to the negative by far. That is what it means to be an atheist.
7) Atheists worship science. FALSE. Atheists do not worship science, or evolution, or Darwin, or nature. We see no need to, although many atheists do have a great reverence for life and its processes. And atheists do not have faith in science, as religious people have faith in God. Faith is the belief in something without the need for any evidence. Instead of faith, I trust in and use reason, logic, and the processes of science to look at the evidence to figure out what is going on here. It also helps that science is a self-correcting discipline, meaning the story can change with better evidence as time goes by, and that is perfectly normal and okay (even expected and hoped for!), while religions tend to not change much over time, clinging to dogmas that are thousands of years old despite better evidence to the contrary.
8) Atheists hate God and his followers. FALSE. Atheists can’t, by definition, hate or be angry with God, since we don’t believe in a God or Gods. We also don’t hate people just because they are religious. As I said before, there are many atheists, like myself, who are outspoken against the harms of religion, and there are, unfortunately, some atheists who personally attack Christians and others on the internet or in person. Again, I do not agree with this behavior. I believe in the power of having positive conversations. Please read more about that in my blog post about saving the world.
9) Atheists don’t believe in anything. FALSE. Atheists are very individualistic and are free to make their lives significant in any way they see fit. Some atheists want to make the world a better place, and some just don’t care. Some are very compassionate and do a lot of charity or activist work, and others don’t bother. A movement called Humanism, which is what I identify with, is made up of people who don’t believe in God or a higher power, but they do believe in the power of humanity to be ultimately good and successful, provided that we change the way we humans are handling things at the moment. We believe in logic, reason, education, and compassion, and many are working to help our fellow humans to “wake up” to what’s really going on here.
10) Atheists believe we all came from nothing. FALSE. Most atheists, if they subscribe to the findings of our best science, believe that our Universe was created in an event called The Big Bang. We do not believe that nothing magically came from nothing. We don’t yet know what came before the Big Bang, but perhaps one day we will know the whole story. As for life on Earth, we don’t believe that humans evolved from nothing. We admit that it is remarkable that molecules came together in forms that could process energy and replicate, but after billions of years, that’s exactly what happened. Apparently that’s what stardust does.
To quote atheist author Sam Harris, “The truth is that atheists are free to admit that there is much about the Universe that we don’t understand. I mean it is obvious that we don’t understand the Universe. But it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it.”
So remember, we non-believers aren’t all bad. Help make the world a better place…hug an atheist.