I grew up being told some absolute lies about atheists. Now I am one. So I’m going to take a moment here to discuss some myths about atheism:
1. Atheists are just mad at God.
Similarly, I have been told that I am an atheist because I am bitter at my parents and because I think their legalistic version of religion is all there is, and have never experienced the real freedom religion can bring. This is not true. First, my parents are wonderful people, and I’m not bitter at them. Second, I became Catholic upon leaving fundamentalism and found true beauty and wonder and freedom in religion. I’m not an atheist because I’m angry or don’t understand religion; I’m an atheist because I honestly don’t think there is a God out there to begin with.
2. Atheists just want to be able to have premarital sex, etc.
Um, no, I’m an atheist because I literally don’t think there is a God. I had no agenda for becoming an atheist. This is true of every atheist I’ve ever met, and I’ve met plenty.
A related argument is that atheists are just atheists because they don’t want to be held accountable to a higher power. Again, this is ridiculous. I became an atheist because I don’t believe that there is a higher power, not because I know there is a higher power and don’t want to be held accountable to it.
3. Atheists know in their hearts that there is a God.
Um, no, that’s simply not true. If I “knew in my heart” that there is actually a God, then I wouldn’t be an atheist. I’m an atheist because I literally don’t think there is any evidence for the existence of a God, and I think the world makes a lot more sense when you take the idea of “God” out of it. Everything fits a lot more nicely and everything suddenly makes sense.
I actually really hate this particular myth. It’s so arrogant – the person stating it infers that he or she can know my innermost thoughts, and that’s simply not true. I’m not pretending to be able to read your mind, so don’t pretend to be able to read mine.
4. Atheists are amoral people.
Again, not so. Atheists are not more likely to go to prison than Christians. They are not more likely to commit crimes or get divorced. In fact, atheists are actually less likely to divorce than Christians, and less likely to commit crime or go to prison. Countries that are more secular and have higher percentages of atheists have lower crime rates than those that are more religious. I am not trying to tie religion to divorce or crime. Given the large number of issues at play in things like crime or divorce, that would be really silly. What I am trying to do is point out the craziness of the claim that atheists are somehow less moral than Christians, or that they’re more likely to commit crimes or be hedonistic. This simply is not true. As far as my personal experience goes, I don’t really do things that differently from when I was a Christian. I don’t rape, murder, and steal. I just no longer go to church or pray.
One more thing to point out here. The people who make the claim that atheists are amoral people are essentially claiming that it is impossible to be good without having the threat of hell hanging over you. Do you realize how ludicrous that is? If there are really people out there who are good just because they’re afraid of facing eternal torture after death, I actually find that kind of scary. Atheists are good because they believe in their fellow man, not because they’re afraid of some sort of punishment. In many ways, being good because of the threat of hell is like never growing up – it’s just a continuation of the child who does what his parents tell him to because he is afraid of being spanked.
5. Atheists hate Christians.
No, again, not true. I don’t hate Christians, and I don’t hate Muslims, or Hindus, etc. I don’t hate religion. Rather, I hate injustice. I hate racism. I hate sexism. I hate ignorance. Sometimes religion contributes to these problems, and other times it works against them. I have yet to meet a single atheist who hates Christians. In fact, I have yet to meet a single atheist who hates anything outside of problems like injustice, racism, sexism, and ignorance.
6. Atheists want to take away Christians’ rights.
I completely support Christians’ right to practice their religion. What I am not okay with is a Christian trying to force his or her beliefs and practices on me. And I’ve never met a single atheist who disagrees with me on this. I am a big supporter of religious freedom – after all, if I lived in Puritan New England, I would be hung, burned, or run out of the colony. Religious freedom is naturally incredibly important to me, as it is to every atheist I have ever had contact with.
I think that the problem comes when Christians think that it is their right to force their beliefs on everyone else. You see, I am against officially sanctioned school prayer and I would also like to see the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance and the words “in God we trust” removed from our country’s currency. This is not about removing Christians’ rights. Christians have the right to practice their religion, and I’m not questioning that! This is about having a country that is genuinely neutral toward religion in the name of religious freedom. Because that is what allowing religious freedom means.
Incidentally, did you know that it is still against the law in a half a dozen states for atheists to run for public office? Sure, these laws are not enforced much these days, but they are still on the books and have not been removed. And there was a time when these laws were enforced.
7. Because they don’t have God, atheists are inwardly miserable.
This one is so untrue that it is laughable. I find that having finally found answers to questions that bothered me for years has given me great peace. I understand the world better and I like people better. Because I had been taught this myth, I was scared when I first realized I was edging toward atheism. Wouldn’t believing that there is no life after death make me miserable? Wouldn’t I no longer have any purpose in my life? None of these predictions turned out to be true in any way. I still have purpose, I still have meaning, and I still have joy and happiness and friendship and love. The world is a beautiful and wonderful and rich place. How could I not be happy?
Finally, like number three, this myth aggravates me because the person stating it infers that he or she can know my innermost thoughts. Once again, I’m not pretending to be able to read your mind, so don’t pretend to be able to read mine.
So if they’re wrong, why are myths like these so prevalent? I have a couple of theories. My first theory is that pastors demonize atheists in order to ensure that they keep their flocks on the straight and narrow. In other words, if the pastor can convince his flock that atheists are miserable and evil people, his flock won’t consider leaving the faith, because if they did they would be miserable and evil. If his flock saw that atheists could actually be awesome people, they might question the need for salvation, and thus question the church and the pastor. Hence the pastor demonizes the atheists. The idea of a happy, well adjusted atheist simply does not fit in well with a Christian theology that teaches that people are miserable and evil and need Christ and salvation in order to find joy and peace and goodness. Another theory, and one that is slightly simpler, is that these myths arise out of the fear of the other. Atheists are different from other people, they refuse to conform, and they are therefore threatening.
Regardless of the reasons behind these myths, they are just that – myths.