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10 Myths Many Religious People Hold About Atheists, Debunked

Atheists are moral, loving and multicultural, and you might even find them in foxholes.

By Amanda Marcotte | 13 September 2011
AlterNet


In a regular poll conducted by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell on American political attitudes, atheists recently lost their spot as as the most disliked group in America to the Tea Party. Still, number two is simply way too high in the unpopularity rankings for a group of people who just happen to spend Sunday mornings in bed instead of in church. Polling data shows that nearly half of Americans would disapprove if their child married an atheist and nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t see atheists as sharing their vision of American society, numbers that outstripped similar prejudices toward Muslims and African Americans.

Of course, the real reason atheists are so hated has little to do with jealousy for all their free time, but largely because most Americans are better acquainted with myths than with the realities of atheists’ lives. Unfortunately, atheists often have these myths tossed in their faces, usually by believers who would rather talk about what they heard atheists are like rather than uncomfortable subjects such as the lack of proof for any gods.

These myths do more than hurt atheists. They also harm the basic religious freedoms of all Americans, regardless of their beliefs. Religious freedom and tolerance don’t mean much if they can’t be expanded to include those without religion. With that in mind, here’s 10 of the ugliest myths about atheists, debunked:

1. There are no atheists in foxholes. There are many variations on this myth, but the basic idea behind it is that atheism is a luxury of the problem-free, and as soon as they feel fear or weakness, atheists will run straight into the arms of religion. This myth irritates atheists, because it tries to make a virtue out of preying on people’s weaknesses in order to sell them a lie. If you heard a marketer brag that he targets people who’ve been diagnosed with terminal illnesses because they’re easier targets, or a guy say he likes to cruise funerals because grieving women are easier to pick up, you’d think that person had no morals at all. But targeting people in moments of weakness to sell them religion is regarded as a normal and even virtuous strategy for proselytizing.

Beyond concerns about manipulation are the concerns about accuracy. Believers argue religion offers unique comforts to people in fear or pain, but what many atheists realize is that religion often provokes more anxiety and fear than it soothes. If we accept that God is all-powerful, as many religions claim, then it’s like being in an abusive relationship that can’t be escaped for eternity; a relationship with a God who will throw us into hell for not fearing him and who allows horrors like the Holocaust to happen. Many religious teachings aren’t actually that soothing at all if you take a step back and look at them clearly. For atheists, believing that evil is more an accident of nature than something imposed on us by an inscrutable supernatural being is the far greater comfort than any prayer could be.

2. Atheists are just angry with God. Atheists often point out the logical inconsistencies of many religious beliefs—such as the belief both that God is all-good and all-powerful, but he somehow also allows evil to exist—and believers use that to conclude that atheists are angry with God. We aren’t. You can’t be angry with a being that you don’t believe exists. I’m no angrier with God than I am angry with Zeus or the aliens that keep kidnapping drunks sleeping in their cars. Anger with religions for promoting false beliefs isn’t the same thing as being angry at the being that believers invented.

But I also have to quarrel with the very notion that a person’s arguments can be dismissed because of anger. Smugly accusing someone of anger doesn’t do anything to discount the content of the argument. I’d argue that people who see vile behavior in the name of religion and don’t get angry are the ones who have something wrong with them.

3. Atheists are aggressive and rude. This myth has been around in various forms for a long time, but it really took off after the rise of “New Atheism,” which focuses its energy on disproving religious claims instead of merely pleading for tolerance of atheists. This myth only persists because belief is unconsciously privileged over atheism, causing people to believe it’s somehow ruder for an atheist to say, “I don’t believe in God and here’s why” than for a believer to intrude in your personal space with pamphlets, attack people when they’re feeling low with religious claims, knock on your door to proselytize, or force your children to recite religious language in school. Objectively speaking, believers commit transgressions against good manners far more than atheists. But atheist arguments tend to disturb believers more than arguments for God disturb atheists, so atheists get an unfair reputation for being rude, even when they are merely outspoken or unapologetic.

4. Atheism is a white dude thing. It’s easy if atheism makes you uncomfortable to write off atheism as the hobbyhorse of a tiny minority of men with overly high opinions of their own intelligence. That men such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins get most of the media attention devoted to atheism only reinforces this myth. If you scratch the surface, however, you’ll see that the ranks of outspoken atheists have far more women that the media would let on. Atheist blogger Jen McCreight grew so tired of this myth that she compiled an extensive list of prominent female atheists such as Susan Jacoby, Rebecca Watson and Lori Lipman Brown. Greta Christina followed up with a list of prominent atheists of color, such as Debbie Goddard, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Hemant Mehta. Women are specially targeted for religious oppression around the world, so of course, many of us will be open to arguments against the legitimacy of religion.

5. Atheism is just a faith like any other. You occasionally see agnostics trot this one out, as well. The idea is that arguments for and against the existence of any gods have equal value, but it’s simply not true. The logical position toward an extraordinary, supernatural claim is skepticism until proof is offered, and so far none of the thousands of gods that have been claimed to exist throughout history have lifted a finger to prove themselves. In fact, most believers grasp this for themselves; they automatically disbelieve all religious claims except their own, barring actual proof that never produces itself. Atheists just do religious people one better, and make no exceptions for a religion because it happens to be the one we were raised in or convinced by friends to convert to.

I always flinch in embarrassment for the believer who trots out, “Atheism is just another kind of faith,” because it’s a tacit admission that taking claims on faith is a silly thing to do. When you’ve succumbed to arguing that the opposition is just as misguided as you are, it’s time to take a step back and rethink your attitudes.

6. Atheists don’t have a moral code. Atheist are routinely asked how people will know not to rape and murder without religion telling them not to do it, especially a religion that backs up the orders with threats of hell. Believers, listen to me carefully when I say this: When you use this argument, you terrify atheists. We hear you saying that the only thing standing between you and Ted Bundy is a flimsy belief in a supernatural being made up by pre-literate people trying to figure out where the rain came from. This is not very reassuring if you’re trying to argue from a position of moral superiority.

If anything, atheism correlates to better behavior on average. Atheists are under-represented in prison, for instance, and more religious nations have higher rates of violent crime, teen pregnancy, early adult mortality and even abortion. But setting the numbers aside, we can see that even religious people generally believe that morality exists outside of religion. After all, most religious people condemn people who commit acts of evil in the name of religion. If religiosity were the measure of morality, terrorists who murder in the name of God would be more moral than atheists who pay their taxes and give to charity. You’ll find few believers agreeing that a murderous terrorist for God is a better person than a nonviolent atheist, showing that believers grasp that morality doesn’t come from religion, but that we can measure religious claims against our pre-existing understanding of morality.

7. Atheist lives are bleak and lack meaning. Those in the atheist activist community find this one particularly insipid, because we so often deal with people who suffered religious abuse and were only able to find peace by abandoning religion. There’s really no reason to believe that happiness and fulfillment come from a supernatural place, or else believers would have no need for fulfilling work, loving families, friends, and hobbies, since their spiritual beliefs would suffice. Most atheists actually find our lack of belief in a supernatural being makes it easier to fill our lives with meaning and joy. Since we don’t believe in an afterlife, many of us find ourselves more motivated to make the most out of the time we do have instead of looking to the next life to make us happy.

8. Atheists are hedonists who don’t understand the true meaning of love. As an open reproductive rights supporter, I’ve certainly faced my share of believers accusing me of being an atheist so I can simply indulge my sexual appetites and avoid some abstract true meaning of love. It is true that one of the benefits of being an atheist is that you’re no longer crippled by religious phobias that assume that sexual fulfillment and real love are mutually exclusive, but that certainly doesn’t mean atheists don’t feel genuine love. I suspect some Christians enjoy making high-minded claims about feeling deeper love because they know there’s no way to measure their claims. But the higher divorce rates in more religious states don’t bode well for claims that sexual purity and Christianity make love deeper and truer.

9. Atheists have no way to cope after losing loved ones without the belief in an afterlife. The belief that religion has sole ownership over death is so ingrained that it often causes believers to behave in inappropriate ways toward grieving atheists, using the occasion of a loved one’s death to try to coax us into taking up religion. Some believers who do this are openly predatory, but some mean well, and simply can’t imagine how atheists cope without telling ourselves pretty stories about an afterlife. Atheists have every right to be skeptical of the argument that belief in the afterlife quiets the pain of grief. After all, many religions teach that the dead person could be burning forever in hell, which can cause far more anxiety than relief.

I imagine the nothingness of death is much like the nothingness that existed before birth. Believing in the afterlife seems to have more to do with the egos of the living than concerns about the dead, and by letting go of the need to make the end of someone else’s life about your own fears of death, many atheists can focus on working through the grief in a healthy way. So please, believers, don’t use the death of loved ones as an opportunity to proselytize.

10. Atheists are out to destroy Christmas. It’s September and so this myth is relatively quiet, but it tends to come out every year after Halloween, to accompany Christmas decorations going up. For Fox News, ratcheting fears about a “war on Christmas” has replaced caroling as the annual holiday ritual. It’s all very silly. Atheists don’t oppose ritual or holidays. Most atheists in America tend to see Christmas as a mostly secular holiday celebrating family that can be turned into a completely secular holiday with a few minor tweaks. Even the few atheists who don’t celebrate Christmas at all certainly have no plan to make war on the holiday, beyond simply requesting that the government obey the First Amendment by not promoting Christianity above other beliefs, no matter what time of year.

In my experience, non-believers have some of the best Christmas celebrations around. You can get a tree and decorate it in punk rock style, or put up a pro-atheist sign in your yard surrounded by festive Christmas decorations. My family tends to prefer all-night poker games for Christmas instead of going to Christmas mass–all the family togetherness, but with less boredom. Or you can choose to have “Christmas” in July and save yourself the expense and headaches of holiday travel.

Debunking these myths about atheists in print can only do so much to quell believer fears about the supposed atheist menace. Even better would be for believers to find themselves an atheist, and instead of simply attacking them with these myths in an effort to frustrate them into submission, instead get to know them better. You might find they’re basically like everyone else, except more rested on Sundays and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

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48 Responses to 10 Myths Many Religious People Hold About Atheists, Debunked

  1. Joan Reply

    September 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Love it. I have found tho that the birth of this person called jesus was probably in late Sep or early Oct. The bible says so ….. :)

    • Red the Fister Reply

      January 6, 2012 at 2:51 am

      allow me to play the "devils" advocate for a moment here…
      who says a celebration must take place on the calender day of the event being celebrated?

      love the article!

    • guest Reply

      March 6, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      Who says he was necessarily born anyways?

  2. Julius T. Csotonyi Reply

    September 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Wonderful piece of writing, Amanda! You've articulated some of the major misconceptions about atheism superbly. I do hope that religious believers will read this, and really think about it.

    It's amazing how much hostility exists exists toward atheists simply because people don't understand it properly, or think that they do but have relied only on the opinions of ministers and the religious community rather than those that would understand the concept best, i.e. atheists.

    And when we complain about the ignorance that exists about atheism, science and rational thought in general, I hope that more believers will realize that (most of us) are not intending to arrogantly say that believers are stupid.

    Far from it: it's perfectly natural that a person is not expected to know everything about every world view and field of science. What people like you and I are trying to do is to exercise our responsibility to make information more available if we have in fact studied it.

    All we ask is that people consider this information rationally and not dismiss it immediately because it differs from one's beliefs, and to entertain the thought that atheists and scientists may be misunderstood if one attempts to learn about their views from those that hold an opposing world view to them.

    • Ruth Reply

      March 11, 2013 at 2:24 am

      I wish to address the issue you bring up in your 3rd paragraph, e.g. most of us do not intend to arrogantly say that believers are stupid. I do not think believers are stupid, and I hope I have never appeared arrogant, but I'm not sure you realize how much intellectual ability religious people have sacrificed over the years, nor how they think and what they value. Take the flat earth period for example and the fates of scientists who tried to point out alternatives.

      I believe that in large part, most believers choose NOT to think. Logic and critical thinking is perceived as a threat to their beliefs, which they will tell you straight away are based solely on faith. They are of course correct to be frightened. They manage, however, by choosing to feel instead, quoting scripture as though it were legal precedence, and supporting one another in their faith-based lifestyles.

      Feeling is much more valued and, in many cases, is credited with being conversation with god, or the will of god, which only they have perceived in prayer. The Bible, after all only provides a few rules and the rest is up for interpretation. They must feel so they will know the holy spirit when they see it, or know god's plan for their lives, etc.. Christians indoctrinated from birth have learned, by the time they are adults, to value feeling over thinking, over critical thinking, which of course precludes guidance by the scientific method to discoveries or conclusions about the biggest issues such as how we all came to be, and where it all might end, and everything in between.

      Bit by bit, religious dogma eats away at their abilities to process reality. For many, all information acquired by any means other than divinity, either written or imagined, is either suspect or dismissed completely as a contradiction of the divine word. Science has suffered greatly because of these attitudes and values.

      However other areas, which warrant at least as much concern are English and communication. It cannot have escaped the notice of a literate person who spends any time at all these days listening to the news, especially those banal little tidbits of philosophy from the man or woman on the street, or anyone who has spent time reading (or trying to decipher meaning from) the volumes of prattle on the internet, that even the most basic knowledge of English grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, and the ability to make a point or state a thesis and support it, has gravely deteriorated. In many cases I am not at all certain that most people other than doctoral theologians have an inkling about how to follow a line of thought presented beyond an 8th grade level, such as the this article does.

      So with all due respect, no name calling, and no arrogance intended, to immerse ones self in religious dogma as a lifestyle appears to erode intelligence over the years. Of course other lifestyles do the same. But believers seem to have justified and condoned the devaluation of education.

  3. Heather Reply

    September 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I do agree with the idea that Christmas has reached the state were non Christians can easily just celebrate it.

    I'm a recovering Mormon (believe in god, just not the church) and even the LDS that I know admit that the holiday has been messed up, Christ was born in spring, and it's really just a pagan holiday. They emphasis the fact that it's a good reason for family to be together and any good reason is a good reason.

    Some of my favorite Christmas parties or Holiday parties have been with people from either mixed groups that don't always believe in the holiday or the atheists. My non believing roommate actually has a Christmas party every year. I think it's her favorite holiday, she gets very into it. Her reason? She likes giving and getting gifts and hanging out with people and time off work.

  4. Jean Reply

    September 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    My still believing daughter doesn't know how to wish me a Merry Christmas even.
    It IS still a holiday and something that I did celebrate with my family while raising them, after they grew up and had their own kids and since I became an atheist. Why can't she just say Happy Holiday? It doesn't bother me if the believers say Merry Christmas even. We still do presents and decorate and have a big turkey dinner.

    • Greg Reply

      September 15, 2011 at 3:05 am

      Point out that she can quite easily talk about Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (Odin's day, Thor's day, Frieda's day, Saturn's day) all the time, why should you see a problem with "Christmas Day"?

  5. Still Wandering Reply

    September 15, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Reality shows us that contrary to the cliche, there are no theists in foxholes. If theists really believed their god will always protect and care for them, there would be no need to be in the foxhole with the atheists, where everyone places their faith in terra firma instead of the almighty.

    • Dane Reply

      January 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Well said :)

  6. Tim Cole Reply

    September 15, 2011 at 5:09 am

    Well, I consider myself a hard agnostic, because I think it’s impossible to have any concrete knowledge of a “deity.” For me, that implies that knowledge of existence (either way) is also unknowable. From that viewpoint, it’s a reasonable argument to suggest that complete atheism implies a degree of unprovable belief.

    I dislike calling that “faith” because of the tremendous baggage heaped on the word. I *have* used that argument with reasonable people who follow a religion (there are a few, amazingly enough). My point has always been that most people can find some kind of common ground, so there’s no reason to start some ridiculous feud. It bothers me to see that argument used to foster more bad blood.

    • Anonymous Reply

      September 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      Tim, atheism makes no claims, we simply lack belief. You are an agnostic atheist. There is no such thing as simply an agnostic…you either believe or you dont and agnosticism concerns knowing. No one can know, and those who claim too like theists or strong atheists are making claims they cannot prove.

  7. Hailey Reply

    September 16, 2011 at 4:55 am

    @Tim Cole, you're conflating the meaning of agnostic. Atheist and agnostic are very different things. Only one refers to religiosity. Atheism is a belief proposition. A, meaning without, and theos, meaning god. Agnosticism is a knowledge proposition, meaning simply "without knowledge". Agnosticism is not a faith, or lack of faith.
    I'm not really sure I know what you mean by "complete atheist". Wile I agree that pretty much every theist is atheist to a certain extent (know an Muslims who believe in Vishnu, or Christians that believe in Zeus. Yep, denying someone else's god makes you atheistic toward their belief), if you do not believe in the supernatural, you don't just disbelieve part way.

  8. Fiona Reply

    September 16, 2011 at 5:52 am

    As you touch on in your first sentence, the problem is not that religious people believe that without religion their lives would be meaningless, they would be sinful, etc., etc. The BIG problem is that they fail to understand that religion is a matter of opinion, not fact–from which they get the idea that no matter what they do to get you to give in, it's a GOOD thing for YOU. I've found that if someone cares enough about you to be determined to save your soul, there's really nothing for it but to avoid them entirely.

    When Darwin was dying his wife, whom he dearly loved and who loved him very deeply, was distraught that if she couldn't badger him into accepting god in his final days, they would never be together in heaven. Because he loved her (and because it didn't matter), Darwin finally gave in and allowed himself to be baptized. It made her happy, which is a good thing. On the other hand, it undercut his life's work by giving creationists throughout the centuries a chance to parrot the inane remark, "Evolution is wrong. Darwin recanted on his deathbed."

    • guest Reply

      November 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm

      Darwin was baptized as a child. He moved from orthodoxy to agnosticism. So baptizing him again would make no sense unless he officially changed religions for his wife. (though even for that I can't find any evidence) -there are a lot of legends though over Darwin's' death. can you provide a link?

  9. Mundify Reply

    September 16, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Unknowable – This stance annoys me. I have more respect for a theist than an agnostic, hard core or not. The theist has at least taken a stance, albeit in my view an erroneous one. An agnostic wants to sit on a fence because it is just subtle enough to not offend either group.

    It is very popular to paraphrase the 'proving a negative' argument. But god is given as a 'thing' with no definition, characteristics, place or time. I would argue that the only reason I can not 'prove' the non-existence of god, is that the believer does not know what he or she is talking about in the first place.

    It is possible to prove a negative, and there are many examples of this. As for god, the only reason for not being able to prove or disprove 'it', is that nobody knows what it is supposed to be in the first place.

    There is no god, period.

    • Josh Reply

      November 14, 2011 at 12:39 am

      Definition: as in what he looks like? The god of Christianity is described as looking like us in form
      Characteristics: Have you ever even read the book that Jesus supposedly wrote through his followers? The old testament shows God's faithfulness yet sternness and demand for undivided loyalty and the New testament documents Jesus' life on earth through the eyes of his followers
      Place or time: Revelation 22:13 pretty much says that God is infinite in both of these aspects. as a result of this we as humans cannot comprehend his full existence anymore than we can comprehend space going on for eternity

    • Josh Reply

      March 28, 2013 at 3:12 am

      You do realize that your view of agnosticism is completely and utterly ignorant right? Claiming that knowledge of a deity is unknowable is league more sane than someone claiming they know for a fact that one does or doesn't exist. By the way, the term for that is Gnosticism. Only deluded idiots or Gnostic, regardless if they are Theist or Atheist.

  10. Freedem Reply

    October 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    i am troubled with the insistence by Theist and Atheist alike that the Bible is an encyclopedia (Atheists just say it is a very bad encyclopedia) . There is much said in most religious texts that is more about political control than enlightenment, but there is also insight that cannot be found by those who do not spend a great deal of deep thought seeking to understand about life. It is quite possible to have God as a short cut to explain a concept without actually expecting an actual critter of that name living in some alternate universe, Just as it is possible to explain Murphy's laws and his sick sense of humor, and hatred of hubris without anyone expecting any sort of actual Murphy..

    From such a point of view the whole Atheist / Theist dichotomy breaks down as such a person could be described as both and neither at the same time, and belief not involved at all, either for or against.

  11. Gramma Share Reply

    November 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    This article is completely biased. The author makes sweeping generalizations about Theists and Atheists alike, which causes this horrific attempt at “debunking” to lose all credibility. Good job, Amanda.

  12. Mack Hopkins Reply

    November 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Great article, I loved it.

  13. Smithy Reply

    November 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    You know, I couldn't even finish this. I'm an atheist, and I feel like YOU'RE the enemy. You talk about how atheists want religious freedom and tolerance, and yet all you continue to do is use your platform to talk about how wrong religious people are. YOU are the reason people think atheists are a threat to America. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE AN ATHEIST WITHOUT SHOVING IT DOWN THE THROATS OF THE RELIGIOUS. Thanks for not being part of the solution.

    • Josh Reply

      November 14, 2011 at 12:21 am

      yeah I'm actually a christian and the main thing I saw was that he used little evidence and instead based his arguments on misconceptions and stereotypes of religion (especially Christianity). That's pretty ironic I though since that's exactly what he is complaining about others doing to him. Also he groups atheists as one side and religious as another when different religions believe completely different things and usually try their best to not identify with each other.

      • DaBarr Reply

        January 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm

        I WISH these were stereotypes of religious people. I have, however, met every single one of them. I'm a Recovering Catholic (the damage goes on for a lifetime). We'd have to be living locked in a bathroom all our lives, without a window, and never talk to another human being not to have met religists just as described. And worse. Oh, Lordy — WORSE.

  14. Quinn Reply

    November 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    God is real. No, God is not an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne. "God" is merely a conceivable term given by humans – it is the Source of creation, love, and wisdom. And evil exists because we have choice, and some things just choose to be bad. "God" does not punish anyone – people, by law of attraction, will either attract positive or negative experiences to them… all by choice, even if it's unknowingly so. I think taking responsibility for yourself is the HARDEST task on earth, because people don't want to be judged or think there's something wrong with them. In truth, no matter what you do or how you feel, you're choosing to be that way and have the choice to change direction any time you want (thus changing the experiences in your life). Everyone is at different levels in their soul progression, and I think people who believe in nothing at all just haven't figured out the wonders of the universe yet. And that's ok. :)

    • Edward Reply

      January 10, 2012 at 11:36 am

      I have heard this argument from almost every side and (lack of) religion out there, and I don't like it. The reason being that, although it holds a lot of merit, it is far more appealing/satisfying to reason than the merit it holds. The whole and entire problem that I have with religion is the way that it promotes choice v.s. destiny, though I will not get into the religious argument here. There are too many factors in this world to say that someone can't just have a crappy life by chance… in fact, if how one carries oneself has any effect on the 'good/bad' situations and influences in their lives, then there is logically bound to be concentrations of multiple people where the outlook of the group has more effect than even the strongest individual will could. You need not look very hard for evidences of this, but as an unrelated( as I intended the evidences aforementioned to be implied/open-ended) yet conceptually similar example; I can't bring myself to blame people born into extreme wealth when they exhibit (though not usually the case) ignorances of real-world problems of varying magnitudes. If something like that can have predictable (quantitative) effects on the type of person one turns out to be, then who cares if everyone in the world has choice except for one group or another… it's still not universal enough to pass as dogma, and when taken as the 'one way' will undoubtedly do harm to the very people who need the most help, not to argue against self-fulfillment.

  15. Allan Reply

    November 24, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I tell my kids the truth about "god" but still lie to them about Santa! I figure, one day soon they will find out the truth about Santa, but they might spend the rest of their lives listening to the same played out lies about god.

  16. Mac Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Great article. I would point out that while the things you say in #1 are indeed correct…the whole atheist and fox hole thing is also just false. Just ask the Atheist Camel.

  17. Pingback: Misconceptions | Rippere

  18. Stephen Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Fantastic article Amanda. Says so many things that I was thinking but could not articulate. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and I will share with my friends who just look at me strangely as if I'm the devil incarnate when I say simple things like "but of course there is no god".

  19. Bob Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I am glad to say that I have been a lifelong atheist. I was born an atheist–just like everyone else–but I was never indoctrinated into any religion. As an adult, I don't see the need. In fact, it seems like a rather primitive practice, especially if you have studied cultural anthropology and examined the tribal practices of primitive societies.

  20. Bob Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I am glad to say that I have been a lifelong atheist. I was born an atheist–just like everyone else–but I was never indoctrinated into any religion. As an adult, I don't see the need. In fact, it seems like a rather primitive practice, especially if you have studied cultural anthropology and examined the tribal practices of primitive societies.

    I look at Christmas as more of a cultural holiday. Our society celebrates it, despite the fact that it was created as a way to bring new followers to an expanding religion. It's about family, friends, music, food, gifts, and good times. That's enough of a reason to celebrate. Don't you think so?

  21. dan l beaulieu Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    There are no atheists in foxholes… except the ones who held Brest-Litovsk for 6 weeks in 41… the ones pinned against the Volga at Stalingrad in 42… the ones dug in around Kursk in 43… the ones who broke the seige at Leningrad in 44… the ones who marched into Berlin in 45… etc etc etc….

  22. Ash Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    While I really did try and have an open mind reading this, it does contain some of my main problems with Atheism. While I don't claim any religious affiliation I guess I'd just call myself "open" because I've studied all the religions of the world and been able to take a great deal from all of them. What continually bothers me is that I feel as open as I've tried to be, Atheists continue to remain some of the most close-minded people I've met. This article compares religious people (I'm asssuming no matter what their religious preferance) to a person involved in an eternity long abusive relationship. And then you call us judgemental and uneducated? I can name four major world religions off the top of my head that don't even include the concept of a God and more that don't even have a solid concept of an eternity of any sort.

    And to say that many religious beliefs aren't soothing is to assume that people only come to religion for comfort which is just not true. Life is hard and trust me so is the upholding of any religious belief but people do it because they want to be better people not so they can have an easy life.

    • JJ Reply

      October 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      What are four major world religions that do not include the concept of a god?

  23. Ash Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    And I think you have the whole foxhole thing wrong. To say that religious people use bad situations to impose religion is completely misinterpruting the saying. The one person I've never heard of in a foxhole is a missionary. The saying suggests that in moments of great fear of in the face of death some athiests may choose to believe in God or an afterlife, but it never implies it's at the suggestion of another person.

    And I've never understood why you guys focus so much on trying to disprove God. I've never met a religious person who could claim they could prove that God exists. Of course they can't, that's why the Christian faith is exactly that, "faith", it was never about certainty. Focus instead on trying to prove your own theories. From my study of Darwinism there are holes in it big enough to drive a Ford through and the fossil records from the Cambrian era alone totally turn it on it's head. If you don't want to believe there's a God fine but if you don't want anyone else too you've got along way to go as far as evidence.

    • Edward Reply

      January 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      Woah, calm down with the slander. I thought it was pretty well implied that this article was 1) speaking from personal experience (aka, all of the examples have been run into by the author enough for a need to address them be felt)
      2) Trying to provide an alternative approach to most 'atheist explanation' articles out there, and thus addressed some things that have fallen by the wayside specifically because they are seen as immoral to argue back about(and again, there would be no need for this article at all if the stated positions against atheism weren't readily and predictably encountered) but it's perfectly fine for random(perspective dependent) guys in suits to hand out the new testament in front of a school building and tell eleven year-old children that they're going to hell if they don't take one… even if the reason was that they already had THAT copy of the new testament…
      3) (though not AS implied, it comes through to most atheists and believers who get opinions thrown at them on a regular basis) Almost jokingly more direct than most atheists dare to get, but not to laugh in anyone's face, but to ACTUALLY provide, from the perspective of those who the information applies, explanation of things that you might not second guess unless you're told you're incorrect for buying into. Even then it's expected that the majority of people will take the defensive and ignore the cry for understanding all the harder. But it's there if, for example, someone who can't so well express it feels the same and wants to redirect a friend who is searching for these answers here.

  24. tarani Reply

    January 6, 2012 at 12:49 am

    I’m trying to learn more about Atheism, but this article and subsequent commenting has left me feeling…yucky. Overall, I did learn so I’m thankful. And even as a believer who is a Christian, I agreed with the majority of what you said, particularly the piece about sexual fulfillment and meaningful love and morality.

    But just as feedback as to how to not to discourage openness and dialogue (which is what I thought this was going to be going into it), here are just a few of the snippets that contributed to my “yuckiness”…
    “…preying on people’s weaknesses in order to sell them a lie…” (the inherent assumption being that it’s a lie, but preying on people in general is wrong and harsh to blanket all believers as doing such)
    “…like being in an abusive relationship that can’t be escaped for eternity…” (really?)
    “…Anger with religions for promoting false beliefs isn’t the same thing as being angry at the being that believers invented…” (using words like false beliefs and invented doesn’t really engender reciprocal respect…because like an above commenter mentioned, you are assuming that i like rationality or reason)
    “write off atheism as the hobbyhorse of a tiny minority of men with overly high opinions of their own intelligence…” (this just bc since when are white men a tiny minority?)
    “Atheists just do religious people one better, and make no exceptions for a religion because it happens to be the one we were raised in or convinced by friends to convert to.” (yeah, ’cause that’s the only way that religion happens or persists. no one actually has any personal beliefs…?)
    “…There’s really no reason to believe that happiness and fulfillment come from a supernatural place” (none? i see your point and agree with the latter sentiment, but again with the absolutes…)

    But you made me laugh at the end with, “and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating.”

    But i did all that to say that until there’s mutal respect on every side, I guess this is just going to be a lot of myths being lobbed back and forth. And I thought this was supposed to be a getting to know you type of affair, not fight through all of the myths you’re throwing back at me just so that I can try to understand a little bit…type of…party.

    And not that the commenters were trying to have any kind of dialogue, but stuff like this is also not cool.

    “But god is given as a ‘thing’ with no definition, characteristics, place or time. I would argue that the only reason I can not ‘prove’ the non-existence of god, is that the believer does not know what he or she is talking about in the first place.
    It is possible to prove a negative, and there are many examples of this. As for god, the only reason for not being able to prove or disprove ‘it’, is that nobody knows what it is supposed to be in the first place.
    There is no god, period.”

    “I tell my kids the truth about “god” but still lie to them about Santa! I figure, one day soon they will find out the truth about Santa, but they might spend the rest of their lives listening to the same played out lies about god.”

    “and I will share with my friends who just look at me strangely as if I’m the devil incarnate when I say simple things like “but of course there is no god”.”

    “I am glad to say that I have been a lifelong atheist. I was born an atheist–just like everyone else–but I was never indoctrinated into any religion. As an adult, I don’t see the need. In fact, it seems like a rather primitive practice, especially if you have studied cultural anthropology and examined the tribal practices of primitive societies. ”

    Yeah…the end. Peace all.

  25. ignatz Reply

    January 6, 2012 at 3:25 am

    [Objectively speaking, believers commit transgressions against good manners far more than atheists.]

    "Objectively speaking"? You've done a study? Or is your objective statement actually a biased guess?

    There are bad manners on both sides, but the fact is that militant atheists can be incredibly smug, rude a-holes. You should also write an article from the other side, since militant atheists battle an enormous number of straw men. Many of which are in this article. They also have the tendency to assume that every one of their opinions is the stuff of objectivity, science and reason, even though they've often just pulled it out of their butts.

    Did you know that being a theist proves that I'm stupid and irrational (along with the vast majority of humanity throughout history, one presumes, unlike the genius who's making the claim)? Even though my IQ is well into the 99th percentile? Really. I've been told many times.

    • eclectos Reply

      January 6, 2012 at 6:52 am

      Then may I ask you, with your obvious intelligence, to justify your belief that while life is too complex not to have been created, exactly how something that created that life, which would no doubt have to be at least as complex, came to exist without being created by an even more complex entity. Perhaps you'd be good enough to explain how some people are saved from death by your loving God while others are left to die in fiery wrecks. Or why a loving God would allow millions of children to be born into abject poverty and spend short lives of desperate hunger, eventually dying of starvation and thirst. Or why there are so many religions, all consisting of people who believe theirs is the truth but that only yours really is.

      Please do not answer with some variant of "God works in mysterious ways" or "it is not for us to know God's plan." I want to see a reasoned explanation that makes rational, logical sense. I don't even ask you to tell me what God is made of, where heaven is, or how it is that a mind that is made up entirely of muscle and electro-chemical reactions manages to survive after the power goes out.

    • aaron Reply

      September 25, 2012 at 3:39 am

      Like the Atheist-ban? The Atheist abortion clinic/doctor bombers/killers? The Norway bombings/shootings? The fights/deaths between towns in India? The lords resistance army? Rawanda, Spanish inquisition, the crusades, countless wars, honnor kilings, acid attacks, mind numbing numbers of rapes, murder of gays, children being beaten to death with Atheist-verses? NAZI'S. Yup! None of that was committed by xtians, muslims, hindi's.

      I've never even once heard of killings in the name of killings of Atheism. Just a thought.

  26. Eclectos Reply

    January 6, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Sadly, people of faith trust what they are told by people who mostly say what they want to hear: Preachers, Fox News, Right-wing politicians, talk radio. Rational arguments, whether about corporate greed, global warming, evolution or atheists, do not resonate. I suspect this is because somewhere deep in their brains is the knowledge that their beliefs cannot stand scrutiny, therefore they cannot allow anyone, most of all themselves, to challenge them for fear of having to admit what they already know but choose to deny. When I challenge a believer, I invariably get one of "Why do you have to keep attacking?" or "You just don't understand God's plan," or a quick change of subject. I never get a valid rebuttal because, of course, there is no such thing. In short, don't expect the faithful to read this and, for the few that do, don't expect them to accept a single argument. They just don't work that way.

    • Moonchild Reply

      January 8, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      Silly American! I don't even get Fox News!

  27. Allison Reply

    January 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I was raised for the first twelve years of my life as a Christian, but soon found myself questioning if I truely believed what I was being taught every Sunday in church. I became an Atheist and decided that I needed to learn more about the world, the way it works, and the religions that are practiced today. I spent nine years on this journey to find meaning and on the way I heard so many of these myths directed toward myself. The one that bothered me more than anything was "where do you get your moral values if not from the Bible". I hated when I got that question, as if the moment I did not live by the Bible, any teachings that I had gotten from anywhere (even my Buddhist father) vanished and I was ready to steal, cheat, lie, and murder.
    No one seemed to understand when I tried to explain to them that I had a moral compass that I learned from society itself and that was enough to teach me to be a good and moral person and that I did not need a book to tell me every move to make.

  28. Allison Reply

    January 6, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I have since found peace in the Christian religion, but on my own terms. I refuse to believe that you have to believe in something to have a good afterlife (as long as you were a good person), that being gay is wrong, that any denomination is the "right" one, or that I have the right to push my beliefs on anyone who does not want it.
    I do believe in the afterlife, as I have seen and felt too many things not to, and I believe that you can live a happy and fulfilling life without religion. I will not judge and I will not push. It is not my place and if you are happy the way that you are, well, then who am I to come in and screw with it or question?
    Everyone else should be so courteous to do the same and shut up!

  29. Aaron Reply

    September 25, 2012 at 2:59 am

    Thank you! This is a wonderful article!

  30. Criver Reply

    May 26, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    As an agnostic who thinks ethical/political commitment (in coalitions that include religious activists) to the cause of human and civil rights (including those of vulnerable religious minorities) is more important than positioning on the ontological status of any deity, I don’t subscribe to every single claim made here. Nor Am I sure all those “myths” are actually debunked. However, I do like the succinct articulation of why many religious assumptions about disbelievers are unwarranted and silly. Just a few annotations that I would include on several of these assumptions:
    7 and 9: Some atheists seem obsessed with Abrahamic theism, perhaps bc they think it’s the only form of religious belief that has been seriously and philosophically defended. If this were the case, it would still be a form of theocentrism. I mean, why not simply engage Deism instead? Otherwise, they are sharing with some Judeo-Christians and Muslims the assumption that, whether God exists or not, it’s a matter of the existence of the Abrahamic god—an facile leap of faith that has not considered religious pluralism seriously. On the other hand, claims that w/o god we are nothing and that nonbelievers lead bleak, meaningless lives w/o ways to cope w/ human loss, is also Eurocentric. Nietzsche once tackled this issue when he confronted Schopenhauer’s pessimism: if you’ve been raised to believe that this life has meaning only as a stepping stone to an other-worldly place, then of course you may have been conditioned to see life in a pessimistic way once you confront the possibility of such place not existing. However, alternative ways of leading meaningful lives exist: e.g., the non-believer who fights against social injustice, finds spirituality in aesthetic creativity, leads a life of philosophical and scientific pursuit of wisdom/knowledge, and/or pursues communion with others, w/ mother earth and other forms of life. For a religious but still atheistic example (not the only one) of finding meaning and coping with human loss, think of the Theravada Buddhist who has been raised and trained in detachment.
    5 and 10: While disbelief may include commitment by some people (including some militant, “new” atheists like Sam Harris) to some unwarranted positions (including political ones), it’s just a misconception to say that atheism is just another faith. I think it’s safer to say that atheists and religious people both have positions on religion, and as such, neither set of positions should be legally and politically endorsed as a matter of constitutional rights. This, however, entails separation bn “church” and state, which is not the same as “war on Christmas.”
    6 and 8: Already for 12 years, I have been teaching ethics and have seriously confronted Dostoyevsky’s idea that w/o God everything is permitted. As I have shared w/ many students, many centuries before Dostoyevsky, Socrates had already shown that position to have no philosophical merit. Buddhists here give us another example of a moral life w/o commitment to the existence of a supreme, transcendental god. Idiots like Dinesh D’souza spread lies about the supposed immorality of atheism by conflating certain forms of atheistic communism (which certainly killed millions in the name of a political cause) with killing for lack of morals. The problem, however, is not lack of religion or lack of morals, but value-driven dogmatism (political or religious) married to political power.
    1-4: As a non-phallocentric brown disbeliever, who knows many other non-sexist, non-heteronormative, non-Eurocentric, non-white disbelievers, I think I the claim that atheism is inherently a form of white male privilege is arbitrary. On the other hand, a personal experience w/ religious believer-on-religious believer rudeness disabused me of the idea that rudeness is a matter of belief vs. disbelief. For instance, a relative of mine once tried to prey on my grandmother’s death to convert my Catholic family into his version of Evangelicalism, when my family’s service respected my relative’s family’s grief. I just simply walked out on his bullshit. This is the kind of anger I may feel about religion, definitely not anger at what I believe is very unlikely to exist. Cheers.

  31. Terry Koch Reply

    July 26, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    The fact that there are lots and lots of snarky, immature adolescent white boys in atheism who think that they invented atheism themselves, are under the impression that they came up with the theory of evolution on their own, and developed the Big Bang theory in their parents' living room does NOT prove that atheism is false. It only demonstrates that atheism, like anything else, draws its share of annoying twits.

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