by Dave Silverman
As I have said many times before, the purpose of this column is not to promote the "us vs. them" mentality against the theists, rather to promote understanding and tolerance.
However, we all know that many theists are so closed-minded about us that they won't even talk to us, let alone try to understand us. This is usually not their fault, as they are told terrible things about us by people they trust, their preachers, whose whole livelihood depends on their parishioners staying in the flock.
It is this prejudice and conflict which is one of the main factors keeping atheists in the closet and theists in ignorance. With dialogue, not prejudice, both sides will benefit and the country will become a freer place. In this article I will therefore mention many of the myths about atheists that are popular among theists, as well as my usual responses. With any luck, this will prepare atheists for future confrontations and therefore make them more confident to announce themselves, as well as allow theist readers to better understand the atheist mentality.
======================================================Myth 1 : "Atheists are all the same"
You can understand why theists believe this, after being told this over and over by their preachers. This belief is reinforced by the fact that believers must be bound by
much more than a simple belief in God. For example, Catholics must also have the same stances on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality in order to be called a "good Catholic." It only goes to follow that atheism must be similar.
However, atheism is not a religion, rather the absence of religion. As such, we are bound only by our atheism. We are republicans and democrats, men and women, gays and straights, blacks and whites. We accept every person as they are as equals, and delight in our diversity (not many religions can say that). We disagree with each
other on many issues, and discussion is encouraged and common. Above all, atheists demand the right to disagree, even if it means with each other. Myth 2 : "Atheists have no morals, since they don't believe in God"
What a sad world it is when people can seriously say that humans need to fear eternal damnation in order to do good. It is the one statement which at the same time stirs both anger and pity in most atheists; anger because it is a bigoted, prejudicial statement which serves no purpose except to promote intolerance, and pity because it highlights the speaker's ignorance and willingness to accept such crap without question.
At the risk of validating the question, a reply needs to be made in order to expose the speaker to the idea that what they've heard is wrong on so many dimensions. It must not be answered with anger, but with compassion.
Humans have the idea of right and wrong imbedded in them by their own brains, as well as their upbringing and society. Atheists do good, not out of fear of reprisal, but because it's the right thing to do. We value family, society, culture, and, of course, freedom. Many of us will - and have - defend these values with our lives. Examples:
1) Many Catholics make judgement calls on moral decisions against their church. For example, some use birth control or have abortions, despite what their church preaches. If these people can make moral decisions despite what their church preaches, then atheists can make similar choices without a church altogether.
2) Slavery was not only acceptable 200 years ago, it was considered a good deed by many, and defended using the bible. The bible was also used to justify the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition.
Why is this relevant? Because it shows that the bible can be used to defend even the most immoral and unethical ideals, and is therefore not an adequate yardstick to
measure moral or ethical behavior.
3) Finally, mention bad religious people. Remember that Hitler was a religious Catholic, and that Jeffrey Dahmer said grace before he ate his victims. Mention also that one need only open a newspaper to find yet another story about allegations against priests for sexual misconduct, often with children. Don't forget our good friends Jim Baker (who swindled millions from his flock) and Jimmy Swaggart (asked for forgiveness only after being caught using prostitutes).
4) Always couple these statements with the fact that, while atheists make up 8-10% of the population at large, we only make up 1% of the population in prison. I mean, think of it, what if 8-10% of the population (on top of all the religious criminals) decided it was OK to steal, rape, and murder? We'd have chaos! These will serve to prove
that religion and ethical behavior are not even slightly related.
Expect these statements to piss off the theists, and this is where you must mention that what you said is verifiable and that their statement is openly prejudicial against 25
million people. This is the opportunity to open their eyes to the fact that just because we're different from them doesn't make us inherently bad. Myth 3 : "Atheists believe in evolution, but that doesn't answer as many
questions as creationism"
Atheism is not a scientific theory, rather a lack of religion. We do believe in science, and that all questions will eventually be answered with science if they are not answered today. It's gone well so far, giving theories regarding evolution, geological
movement, and the Big Bang, all supported by evidence, but not necessarily endorsed by all atheists.
Creationism does not give all the answers, either. Furthermore, it goes so far as to choose which questions to answer, and discourages the asking of the rest. Believers are loath to discuss where God came from, or what he was doing before the creation. They refuse to give good answers for the many biblical inconsistencies or for the terrible injustices in the world, because they know that no such answers exist. They merely answer with "there are things which we mere humans cannot fully understand" or "the Lord works in mysterious ways". In the end, religion doesn't answer as many questions as it raises. Myth 4 : "Atheists cannot know there is no God, since you cannot prove he doesn't exist"
Again, this is a two sided coin, but the theists are loathe to admit the other side. Atheists don't need to prove the non-existence of God, any more we need to prove the nonexistence of Zeus or Jupiter. Can theists prove God over any alternatives? Of course not. Nobody can prove God exists, yet they will stand on their heads saying they're sure. Well, if they can be sure despite evidence to the contrary, we can be sure in light of evidence in support of atheism. Myth 5 : "Atheists seek to remove religion from society, and to force all
people to be atheists"
Absolutely wrong. We seek only the freedom for people to make their choice on their own, free of intervention from the government or public school system. We seek the freedom not to support religion through taxes, forced participation, or special privileges of any kind.
That being said, your thoughts are your rights, and none of our business. Wear your jewelry, celebrate your holidays, and pray in your house, church, or in public if you like. Just don't force your religion on other people. That's what we're all about.
This is in direct contrast to many of the world's religions, including Christianity, which include worldwide expansion as one of their central objectives. Isn't it amazing that they falsely accuse us of doing what they do openly, only with atheism it's evil?
To try to force atheism would by hypocritical, since we would be placing pressure from the state on people to believe a certain way. But let me give a good analogy to our objectives and at the same time answer this charge using the money we use every day.
"In God We Trust," is the government actively promoting religion.
"In God We Do Not Trust," would be the government promoting atheism.
We advocate the complete omission of the statement thereby rendering the money neutral.
We feel the same way about the rest of the government. It should be the "Switzerland of the religious debate," while at the same time being the protectorate of the individual. Myth 6 : "Atheists are so closed-minded, they can't see that miracles
happen every day!"
Some people look for miracles where none exist (they never do). Allow me to put things in perspective: Someone's cancer going into remission is no miracle, but we can talk when disease suddenly disappears from the face of the earth overnight without help from medical science. Food getting through to a hungry village: human perseverance. Starvation vanishing from earth without a reason overnight: Miracle. One more time: A child is born - science; The spontaneous end of birth defects - Miracle. Got it?
Note: only good things are miracles, so volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes don't count. Myth 7 : "Atheists are pushing a negative sentiment, and have a dreary
Wrong. We are "pushing" a very positive statement: that living without dependence on a false deity is easy, fulfilling, and positive. We strive to be a positive influence in the world, and think each person can - and must - find their own meaning of life. We are thinkers, philosophers, and we thrive on discussion and diversity. We are proud, happy, and most of all, free. Compare that to original sin and Hell. Myth 8 : " If atheists are right, then religious people are wasting their time, but at least they're happy. No harm in that! If religious people are right, then atheists are going to hell. It seems logical that atheists should become religious just to be safe."
I like getting this question. I sense another list coming :
1) Drug addicts go through life happy, so would theists suggest we all use drugs and stay home? We would be happy, and not hurting anybody, so where's the harm?
The harm is the same for believers. They go through life happy, but it's a false, wasteful happiness. Atheists get happiness from family, contribution to society, charity, and truth.
2) Religious people should not be lumped into one category for this question. Remember, religions are also biased against each other (Jews vs. Catholics Vs.
Protestants, etc), so no matter what religion the speaker follows, most of the world thinks they're going to hell (or other punishment), just like atheists. Ask them which religion has the worst punishment, and whether they would convert to that religion on that one factor, just in case they're right. When they tell you how absurd that question is, remind them that they asked it first.
3) To convert and practice a specific religion just to ingratiate yourself with God and avoid going to hell is pure, self-serving greed, which is one of the seven deadly
sins. Therefore, by their own thinking, even if they are right and I do convert, I'd go to hell anyway, along with everyone else in the flock whose actions are so motivated (possibly including the speaker). Myth 9 : "There are no such things as atheists" a.k.a. "There are no
atheists in foxholes"
More fantasy from the believers, that there could never exist a single human whose reason and logical abilities surpass the pressure from society to believe in a deity. This is especially true in a situation of imminent death, where they believe all atheists would drop to our knees and beg God for forgiveness.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could somehow be sure that those who currently disagree with us would come around in the end and know we were right? Just like most other parts of religion, this is blatant fantasy.
There are 25 Million atheists in the country, more that Jews and Blacks combined. Many atheists became atheists not because they were born into it (like most theists), rather because we contemplated god in its many forms and decided it just doesn't make an ounce of sense. This isn't a choice, it's fact - a logical proof. We are simply too logical to believe God is anything more than fantasy.
As far as foxholes go, when I face death, as we all do sooner or later, I will use the last few remaining seconds of my life to remember my favorite moments, and evaluate my contribution to my family and society. I would definitely not waste precious time praying to a deity "just in case I'm wrong" I'm not.
Myth 10 : "This country was founded by Christians, on Christian values,
and should therefore be a Christian country".
True, some of the founding fathers were Christian, but some were Deists (generally believed in God), and some were outright atheists. But a more important point needs to be made: the founding fathers went out of their way to specify that church and state be separate. They believed that their religion was just that: theirs and theirs alone.
They also remembered that they were their trying to be free of the state church of England, and recognized from their first-hand experience that true religious freedom can only come when belief is left to the individual. It is this ideal, among others, for which our forefathers fought and died.
Individual religious choice - including the right not to practice - is still under assault in this country. Those who would prefer to make the choice for you have labeled us criminal, evil ne'er-do-wells and launched a massive campaign to keep freethinkers subdued. They have been successful, mainly because atheism is fragmented and
They continue to be successful, but we can reverse the trend. Atheists must make themselves known. If you are reading this, and you are a closet atheist, you owe it to your country, your fellow atheists, and yourself to let people know how you feel. Start by coming to our convention in June, and meeting other people like yourself.
You'll be amazed at how good it feels to speak, listen, and party with people who openly agree with you. Bring a friend.
(In addition to his work as a State Director for American Atheists, "NJ Dave" is a professional inventor. He welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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