Debunking Atheist Stereotypes

By Hsing Tseng on December 27, 2012

Image via Flickr user makelessnoise

As an atheist myself, I was shocked to realize that my expression of a lack of faith caused many once friends to turn their backs to me. I’ve heard many accusations against atheists that stereotype and undermine our opinions simply because of our lack of belief in a deity–I hope to debunk a few of these stereotypes here.

Atheists hate God.

“You just hate God, don’t you?” is something I’ve heard quite often. To an atheist, this really is about as damning as telling a Christian, “You just hate Zeus, don’t you?” To both, those deities are fictional. Atheists can’t hate something that doesn’t exist, in their eyes. However, atheists can be upset with injustices and widespread effects of religion, or the way that religion gets mixed in with politics. This still doesn’t mean that they hate the Christian god, Allah, or any other deity, because atheists by definition don’t believe in their existence.

Another argument I’ve heard is “Atheists are Satan worshippers.” See above, we can’t worship something we don’t believe in.

Atheists are evil/immoral.

Amusingly enough, Merriam-Webster states the archaic meaning of “atheism” to mean “wickedness.” Thusly, the notion that atheists are immoral is firmly rooted in archaic norms. A lack of belief in a god does not make a person immoral, just like a belief in a god does not make a person moral. There are immoral religious folk and immoral atheists, but their beliefs or lack of them didn’t determine their morality.

“But how can you know right from wrong without reading the Bible/Koran/(insert religious text here)?” Atheists don’t rely on one single book to teach them right from wrong; they learn virtue based upon their socialization, what they have learned from others, their own personal moral compass. In fact, many atheists read many religious texts in order to glean the nontheistic advice held in these books.

Atheists are angry.

This stereotype is partially true. However, the way in which this has been slung at me and many other atheists is “You’re just picking a fight because you’re an angry atheist!”, implying that all atheists are just angry and trying to attack religion, and also implying that because I am angry, my argument is invalid. Being angry isn’t a bad thing. It’s a natural human emotion that occurs in all people. Perhaps we should address why atheists are angry.

For one, a 2006 University of Minnesota study found that atheists are the most distrusted minority group in the United States, even though atheists constitute a mere 6% of the US population. We are seen as evil and immoral by many, and have to deal with the criticism that accompanies our lack of belief or hide it from our family and friends. As a minority group, atheists don’t have the widespread support and privilege of the religious majority.

In the United States, Christian ideals are embedded into almost every aspect of politics and culture – from the Pledge of Allegiance to the Boy Scouts of America to Creationism in our schools to protests against abortion, LGBT rights and stem-cell research based in Christian values. For non-theists and even theists of non-Christian religions, these things, among others, are slaps in the face to our belief systems. Many atheists are indeed angry, because this country is supposed to be free from influences of any one religion.

Yes, many atheists are angry because they are constantly under criticism and pressure and their beliefs are crushed under the weight of a dominating religious culture, among other reasons. But does this anger make their opinions invalid? Does the anger that People of Color feel towards racism make their experiences invalid? Does the anger felt by Jews towards Nazism make their opinions invalid? No, so the accusation that we are angry and therefore, able to be disregarded, is a completely unsound argument.

Many atheists are calm people who don’t have any qualms with religion. But those who do aren’t to be taken lightly just because of their emotions. There are angry Christians, angry Muslims, and yes, angry atheists, but anger does not inherently invalidate opinions.

Have you experienced discrimination towards atheists? Are you guilty of believing in or portraying these stereotypes? Leave your comments and thoughts below.

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