What do you think of when you hear that someone is an atheist? According to ABC News, Alternet, and the New York Times, the impression is usually far from favorable. But what’s behind our negative image? Why do my fellow Americans think so poorly of me and my secular ilk? Amanda Marcotte of Alternet surmises that:
“…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.”
In my personal experience, I can say that my atheism is more of an issue when I’m visiting in a conservative city or neighborhood. In Los Angeles where I live (though I won’t be an Angeleno for much longer), it’s a bloodless descriptive term, much like one would observe my height or hair color. However, most of California as well as most of the country, is not like Los Angeles. Most Americans are still religious, and most of them would disapprove of their children marrying an out of the closet atheist.
My atheism is more of a descriptive term for a portion of my personal ideology rather than my core identity. Atheists as a group are quite diverse–we come in a wide variety of genders, ideologies, ages, ethnicities, and class backgrounds. While I can’t speak for anyone else on how they came by their atheism, I can at least speak for myself. I will address the following misconceptions about atheists by explaining how it may or may not pertain to me:
1) Atheists have no morals
This one really pisses me off. There’s no other way to say it–just because I don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in kindness, compassion, and fairness. I don’t need God to tell me that I shouldn’t rape or kill you–they’re common sense morals, and if you need an unseen (and unprovable) authority to tell you what’s right then you’re the one with the moral problem. Are there immoral or amoral atheists? Undoubtedly. But let’s not forget the multitudes of immoral and amoral members of God’s flock either. It’s perfectly possible to be a moral and ethical person without adhering to any kind of religion.
2) Atheists are mainly annoying and insufferable white guys
There are so many things wrong with that myth I’m not even sure where to start. First, I’d like to say that anyone can be annoying and insufferable regardless of race, gender, and ideology. Second, annoying and insufferable white guys come in all political and religious flavors. I’m not a white guy, though I do have white guy ancestors on both sides of the family. Still, I don’t think it’s fair to blame my assorted character defects on the dead white guys in my family tree, as convenient as that may be. And for the record, they weren’t atheist either.
3) Atheists are pushy, rude, and arrogant about their beliefs
I know many atheists and religious people who are guilty of this. However, I would say that religious people are far worse on this end, because they have more political power in this country. That said, I certainly have been rude and pushy on occasion. I’m very rude and unforgiving during in rush hour traffic. I can be really pushy and overbearing when I’m trying to cancel a cable contract on the phone with a customer service agent. I’ve been told about my arrogant behavior regarding my refusal to eat salads made with iceberg lettuce (that’s not real salad, I don’t care what anybody says). I refuse to patronize supermarket bakeries because of my unshakeable conviction that their cakes and pastries totally suck. Pushy, rude, and arrogant? Guilty as charged.
4) Atheists are a bunch of empty hedonists
My religious cousins would definitely say this about me. I disagree, of course. How can I prove that I’m not just another thrill seeking hedonist? It’s true that I have tried hallucinogenic mushrooms in the past and enjoyed it. I do drink 1 or 2 shots of tequila as medicine when my throat is sore. I smoke a cigarette or 2 when I overeat on occasion. I used to habitually vaporize marijuana until my asthma started acting up. I went through an “assortment” 😉 of relationships before I settled down and got married. Nowadays, I go to bed at 11 pm and have added more leafy greens to my diet in an attempt to avoid wrinkles. Though I lead a staid existence now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with hedonism per se–as long as it’s not the kind of pleasure that is only obtained at the expense of others.
5) Atheists are mad at God
Again I speak only for myself. I started out being angry with God, back when I believed in his existence. I grew up Catholic, and the anger was a gateway to my divorce from religion. That said, I want to clarify that I am not angry at God now–because I can’t be angry at something that doesn’t exist. I was only mad when I thought he was there, because how could he let injustice happen if he had the power to do something about it? I’m still angry about unfairness and injustice of course, but this has nothing to do with God and everything to do with giving a shit about our fellow humans.
6) Atheists hate Christmas
Jesus H. Christ, this one really grates at me. I LOVE Christmas! It’s true that I don’t celebrate it in the Christian way–to me, it’s not about the birth of Jesus and the 3 wise men, but a winter holiday where you get to celebrate togetherness, community, beautiful decorations, and fantabulous food. Allow Cracked.com’s David Wong to explain the real reason we should all love Christmas:
“It’s hard to understand why Christmas came to be a big deal even for people who have never stepped foot inside a church without understanding the context. And the context — which does predate Christianity by thousands of years — is that December kicks off winter in the Northern hemisphere. And for most of human history, winter meant a bunch of us were going to freaking die.
“We’re so detached from that idea today, when the cold means nothing more than mild annoyance and sometimes slippery roads, that it’s hard to grasp how recent this was, and that this was the way of things for virtually all of human history. Every year, you headed into winter with just enough stored food and fuel to get by. The old and the sick knew they might not make it through, and an especially harsh winter could mean no one would feel the sun’s warmth ever again. Every year, you watched all of the plants turn brown and shrivel into husks, followed by an unrelenting darkness and cold that threatened to swallow you and everything you love.
“And looking back at that, we see an awesome little portrait of exactly how much humans kick ass. Every year, you see, winter arrived with a short day followed by the longest night of the year (aka the winter solstice), and since before recorded history, humans have been celebrating that day with a feast, or festival, or outright debauchery. On that longest night before the frozen mini-apocalypse, in all times and places you would find light and song and dancing and food. Cattle would be slaughtered (to avoid having to feed all of them through the winter), families would travel to be together, and wine would flow. Precious supplies were dedicated to making decorations and gifts — frivolous things, good for nothing other than making each other happy.
“These celebrations went by many names over the millennia, and everyone did it their own way. But deep down, I think the message was always the same: “We made it through another year, some of us won’t see spring, let’s spend a few days reminding each other of what’s good about humanity.“
7) Atheists will eat babies
This is actually true. I love roast suckling pig and roasted lamb chops. The vegetarian atheists I know love to snack on baby carrots. Personally, I find baby corn to be delicious in stir fry vegetable dishes. I love chicken eggs, which are not technical babies. It does however, qualify as eating an abortion. I have never eaten a baby chicken or a baby cow, but I did try duck fetus once, much to my regret. To my knowledge, I do not know of any atheist who has actually dined on a human baby.
I have a hard time understanding the mistrust towards atheists. We’re really just like everybody else when it comes to the most important things. If you’re a believer and you’ve never met a real life atheist, I suggest that you keep an open mind and listen to one when you get the chance. Most of us don’t want to convince or convert you to our way of thinking. We just want you to see that we are a legitimate part of society just as much as you are–no more, no less.