5 Things I Wish Christians Understood About Atheists
How would I describe my friendship with Courtney (a.k.a. Godless Mom)? Well . . . she’s a funny, whip-smart humanitarian who’s trying to protect the world from the dumb things I believe.
I guess that should bother me, but it doesn’t. It’s not personal, and I’ve found her to be a warm, sincere, hilarious, and thoughtful person.
I pitched her the idea of a blog trade. She could write this piece and I would write the sister piece, 5 Things I Wish Atheists Understood about Christians, on her blog. She was game, and here we are. If you want to talk to her, leave a comment in the comments. I’m sure she’ll respond.
Without further adieu, here’s what she wishes Christians knew understood about atheists.
Hi! I’m Godless Mom, or Courtney (I think I know which you might prefer). I’ve been an atheist blogger for the last year and a half. For the most part, it’s been an incredibly fun ride. I’ve learned so much and met so many wonderful people, atheists and theists alike.
I spend a lot of time online talking about religion though, and the same misconceptions about what it means to be an atheist keep popping up. I feel like I have to explain them over and over and over. Let’s try and clear a few of these up, today.
1. We do not claim to know there is no god.
It sounds like semantics, but when you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that it’s an important distinction to most agnostic atheists.
Yes, I said agnostic atheists. An agnostic atheist is one who does not believe in god, but who also recognizes that claiming to know with certainty that there is no god is impossible based on the knowledge our species has accumulated thus far.
There is sufficient evidence to discount certain accounts of a creator god, but to say that you know beyond any doubt that there are zero gods is just arrogant. Most atheists, not all, would never claim to know such a thing. We simply live our lives as though there is no god, until sufficient evidence for one surfaces.
2. Atheism is often conflated with ideas that do not fall under its title.
Someone who is skeptical of spirits and psychics, is a skeptic. Someone who believes in the good of the human race, is a humanist. A person who uses the scientific method to discover new information, or who studies the new information discovered via the scientific method is a scientist, or a scientifically-minded person.
An atheist can believe in ghosts and magic and reincarnation. An atheist can loathe science and believe everything they read. An atheist can believe in the afterlife. The sole requirement to being an atheist, is a lack of belief in any gods. Every other personality trait in an atheist, is something else.
3. The vast majority of atheists are quiet about it.
There are only a handful of us who are vocal about our atheism. I’d be willing to bet that even if you live in the Bible Belt or the Middle East, you know some atheists who have not told you yet. You probably know and love several atheists who are still in the closet about their disbelief. For the most part, atheists keep it quiet because being open about our non-belief comes with consequences. We lose friends; we lose touch with family; we lose community.
To a large number of atheists, these consequences are far worse than faking it. That’s why it’s so important for our voices to be heard. The louder atheists get, the more normal and common it becomes and the shock value diminishes. Following the gay pride movement’s model, atheists hope to make “atheist” a word that elicits little to no response one day.
4. Discrimination against atheists is very real.
While you, yourself, may have never witnessed any, it happens on a daily basis. If we set aside the horrific murders of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, and ignore the incarceration and corporal punishment of atheist bloggers in Saudi Arabia; if we forget about the violence against atheists (including my friend) in Nigeria and places like Egypt, and we focus only on North America, you will see a long list of instances of mistreatment against atheists. Atheists in the USA have lost custodial rights to their children because taking a child to church is considered a parental duty.
Atheists are forced to sing about god, pray to god or swear to god in federal institutions. Atheists have been fired for non-belief. In Canada, a college student was beaten for hanging a poster advertising his freethought group on campus. Just a few weeks ago, one of my Twitter friends told me her family had disowned her.
In Pennsylvania. In 2015. I hear stories on a daily basis from my readers and followers talking about stuff like this. They’ve lost friends, they’ve been cut out of their family, they’ve been kicked out of their homes and denied access to their children. They get hit, sworn at and abused. Atheist veterans, who risked their lives fighting for you, have even told me stories of being booed at rallies once their godlessness was revealed. This why the atheists who are so vocal just get louder. This is why we speak up. What sort of a person wouldn’t with discrimination like this going on?
5. Atheists have morals.
We get our morality from the same place you do. While a lot of theists have told me that they get their morality from the Bible, I know that’s not true. Sure, you probably use it as a loose guide, but there are lots of things in the Bible that are no longer considered morally sound and we base that – you and me – on our own innate morality. Morality, for all humans, is based on consequences. Natural consequences being the most influential. While there are legal and seemingly spiritual consequences to our actions, it is the natural ones that truly dictate behaviour in most people.
There aren’t a lot of people who say that the sole reason they do not kill another, is because they might go to Hell or because they might go to jail. Most people don’t kill because it’s something we know we can’t handle. The crippling guilt we would feel after ending a life and ruining the lives of our victim’s loved ones is enough for us to refrain from murder. We – atheists and theists alike – do not need the threat of Hell or the threat of incarceration, to stop ourselves from killing. I know you don’t follow the Bible word for word. The very same intelligence that allows you to decide what is worth following and what is not, is how atheists determine what is moral and what is not.
I know, from talking to theists and ex-theists, that pastors and religious leaders have been known to speak fallaciously about atheists. I’ve heard about sermons devoted to linking atheism with Satanism. I’ve heard pastors explain that atheists are only atheists because we are angry at god or we just want to sin. I know we’ve been called evil and nihilist and free from joy. None of these things are true, though.
Most of us live quiet, happy, morally sound lives. We experience joy and awe and wonder. In short, we are just like you. We do almost everything just like you: we love like you; we have fun like you; we cherish life like you. The only difference between you and us, is that we do that all with no god.
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