Hello again from Home!
Those Nutters who have been around for awhile probably know I am a non-believer. Hopefully, they also know that I’m perfectly fine with believers, no matter what the belief. As long as you don’t use your religion to discriminate against others based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or what have you, I say rock on with your bad self!
But here’s the thing, I’m an atheist by definition but I call myself a “non-believer”. Mine is not an absence of belief in deities, it is an active disbelief in their existence. So why don’t I call myself an atheist? Because of public opinion, because I’m a coward. Atheists are mean, atheists are the kids who tell the other kids there’s no Santa and ruin Xmas, atheists are obnoxious, atheists think people who believe in gods are idiots. Since I’m none of those things, I don’t want to be lumped in with those people.
Except I am. An atheist, that is. And the idea of hiding behind another, less accurate, title in order to make myself more palatable and likeable has been bothering me more and more as time passes. Even so, I haven’t been able to make the leap and reclaim the title as mine.
Until I saw this…
To those who believe, you might not see why the sentiment is offensive to me and other atheists. Read between the lines. The idea expressed is that without religion, humans cannot be ethical or moral. In other words, because I do not believe in god, I am the sort of person who would gun down innocent children. See it now?
I think it’s time to talk about this…
Common Myths and Misconceptions About Atheism
1. Atheists are emotionless robots
I am sure a small percentage of atheists match that description. I am sure a small percentage of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and all other folks match that description, too. Logic has it’s place, and humans would be wise to use it more generously, but emotions play a vital role in my life, my behaviour, and my decisions. Atheists experience just as much awe and wonder as believers, just not for a deity. Bruce Lee was an atheist – does he strike you as an emotionless robot? How about Helen Keller? Do you honestly think her passion and dedication sprang from logic?
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
2. Atheists want to take away my religion
Wrong. What you believe is your business and atheists have no desire to change that. Where this misconception originates from, I believe, is a real and sensible desire to remove religion from public institutions and organizations that make policy for the general public. A perfect example of this would be the gay marriage debate. As a hetersoexual atheist, I am free to sign into the legal contract of marriage but in many places a gay couple, regardless of their belief, does not have that same right. Why not? Take religion out of the equation, and marriage is simply a legal contract, one that gives each partner the rights hetero couples take for granted. If your church does not want to perform gay marriages, fine, but that’s where the authority should end. Freedom of religion? Hell yes! (Pardon the pun). But freedom of religion should not mean that religion then also gets to make the rules and take away freedom from the rest of us.
You still don’t like the idea of gay marriage? Then, as my friend the economist Julianne Malveaux says: Don’t marry a gay person. Case closed, problem solved. ~ Barbara Ehrenreich
3. Atheists are pushy
This one always cracks me up. In my 43 years, I have not once had perfect strangers show up at my door, uninvited, and ask me if they can talk to me about the wonders of not believing in god. I have never checked into a hotel room and found a book in the night table drawer explaining why I should not believe in god. I have never sat down to a meal and been asked to join hands and give thanks that no god provided this meal, it was all the work of humans. Once a year, radio stations do not play an endless stream of atheist carols joyfully pronouncing the non-existence of a deity.
For 43 years, living in a fairly tolerant and religiously conservative part of the world, I have been bombarded by belief at every turn and expected to just go along with it. Yet, when an atheist speaks up about their ideology, you would think that we all started burning churches or something. If believers want us to be quiet, then they must play by the same rules. Or how about we each get to talk? Sound fair?
Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ~ Thomas Jefferson
4. Atheists are the work of Satan
Yeah. Not even going to touch that one.
Why is saying there is no God considered disrespectful to believers, but saying there is a God not considered disrespectful to atheists? ~ Ricky Gervais
5. Atheists want to make me feel stupid for believing in god.
Look, some religions seem downright silly to me, I’ll admit that, (Scientology springs to mind). But I’ll save the condescension for someone else. When atheists point out what we consider flaws in religious arguments, it is simply a means of explaining the “why” of our disbelief. Unfortunately, it is diffcult to say, “this system of belief is fundamentally flawed” without insinuating that its believers must also be flawed. If we don’t do that tactfully, at times, I’m sorry.
6. Atheists do not have morals
At last we come back to that message on the t-shirt, the one that raised my hackles. If morals and ethics are based on the degree of a person’s belief in a chosen deity or religion, by that logic priests should be the most ethical and moral people on the planet. You need only look at the Catholic church to see that’s not true. And if threat of punishment (hell) was sufficient to make people behave, then prisons would not be full. (Over 75% of the US prison population considers themselves Christian, 0.2% are atheists).
Ethics and morals come from empathy. What is empathy? It’s the ability to identify with or vicariously experience the thoughts, feelings, or attitudes of another. Empathy can be learned in a number of ways, religion often teaches it, sure, but that’s hardly the only way, or the most important way, humans develop the trait. Think about a subject on which you have changed your opinion drastically in your life time. What sparked that change? I’m willing to bet it was some kind of personal experience. I used to be very vocal about “welfare bums” in my youth, but as I grew older and came into contact with a more diverse array of people I began to see that the subject is far more complex than a bunch of bums who are just too lazy to work. That’s empathy at work. No god required.
When you say that society’s ills are a result of a lack of god, a lack of religion, what you are saying is that non-believers or atheists are bad people who cannot tell right from wrong. You are telling us that we are no different than the madman who murdered children and their teachers in cold blood at Sandy Hook.
One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. ~ Arthur C. Clarke
Should we teach morals and ethics in schools? Absolutely. Do we need religion in order to teach them? Absolutely not. Love, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, atheists understand and live these virtues as well as anyone else.
I’m an atheist and I’m not going to hide behind another label anymore. I encourage all other closet atheists to do the same. We need to take back that name from the few wingnuts out there who make us look intolerant and mean. It’s time for us to show the world that lack of belief in deities does not mean lack of compassion, lack of ethics, or lack of heart.
Until next time, I hope this finds you healthy, happy and lovin’ life…no matter what you do or don’t believe!