Let's be honest: calling yourself an atheist (someone who does not believe in any sort of God) comes with a lot of baggage, and it kinda sucks. Hot on the heels of this list about what agnostics are tired of hearing by Amelia Brady, I'm here to tell you the fourteen things that the atheist you're talking to has definitely heard before - and, quite frankly, can't stand to hear.
1. “People wouldn’t have any morals without religion.”
I genuinely can’t grasp why people always say this. The statement implies atheists are all emotionless sybarites who go around kicking kittens for fun or something. Maybe it’s because people grow up following God’s teachings as an absolute moral foundation, and it’s hard to conceive living any other way — but all it takes is swearing by some basic humanistic principles. And having empathy. In fact, more secular societies tend to be less violent. An anecdotal example: Sweden, the third most irreligious country in the EU, has a far lower murder rate than America. This trend can also be seen in US states.
2. "So, you hate religious people?"
Nope, not at all! As long as all parties respect one another, it’s cool. Maybe someone’s belief encourages them to be kind and philanthropic. Maybe it gives them comfort, or a strong community. I'm also not denying that religion has inspired some of the world's most beautiful monuments, architecture and poetry. In any case, I care way more about how you treat fellow humans than I do about your religion. Atheism has been a very fulfilling path for me personally, but I’m not going to force it on others.
3. “Why are you mad at God?”
As demonstrated by Amelia's article, both atheists and agnostics hear this one. I don’t believe God exists. But if you ask me this, I’m probably mad at you. And for the record, my childhood was great and all of the religious people I know personally are swell folks.
4. “All atheists are militant jerks / fedora-clad neckbeards with katanas.”
I’ll admit, stereotypes are occasionally true. During your time on this Earth, and especially on the Internet, you will see atheists that are genuinely pompous, self-aggrandizing and insufferable. They are a vocal minority, however. Believing all atheists are pretentious, intolerant wads is just as ridiculous as believing all religious people are like the mom character in "Carrie." It just isn't right. In fact, you probably know some very kind atheists -- but you might not know they're atheists. Especially if they're afraid you'll judge them for it.
5. “Actually, all atheists are [insert adjective here.]”
Stereotypes are destructive, especially if you’re trying to have a genuine conversation with someone. Don't assume you have everything about me figured out based on the “atheist” label, and I’ll do the same for you.
6. “You can’t prove there’s no God!”
This is true. However, the burden of proof should not lie on atheists. In other words, proving the non-existence of a such a nebulous thing as a deity is practically impossible. This idea is demonstrated most famously in the analogy of Russell’s teapot. (For some sarcastic takes on this idea, check out the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)
7. "You're actually agnostic.”
Whew, this one...okay, so defining your theological beliefs in a word is difficult. It’s up to each individual to choose which label summarizes them best in surveys, questions of faith and the like. Atheism has to do with a lack of belief in God, and agnosticism has to do with a lack of knowledge about God. Technically I would be an "agnostic atheist." To clear up some confusion, though, I’ll explain what being an atheist actually means:
Atheists don’t believe that a deity exists. Belief requires active participation — it means accepting something as true. To self-identified atheists, a lack of active belief (in other words, shrugging your shoulders and saying “it’s literally impossible to know”) is functionally the same as disbelief. Either you actively believe some sort of deity exists (theist), or you don’t (atheist).
In other words, anyone who does not affirm the statement “at least one god exists” qualifies as an atheist.
8. “You’re missing out by not going to church / You should try going to my church.”
This one might just blow your mind: there are actually people who identify as atheists and attend some sort of church. Certain liberal religions are totally open to atheist members. I actually grew up attending a church that followed one such amazing religion: Unitarian Universalism.
Unitarian Universalists believe in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” and have a simple creed that emphasizes respect, justice and compassion. They are also pro-science and pro-evolution. As of now, there are over one thousand UU churches in the United States. Atheists are welcomed into UU (and similar) churches if they wish, and need not miss out on having a caring congregation of their own.
With that said, you can *not* go to church and still have a happy, fulfilling life.
9. “Atheists can’t be spiritual.”
This ties into the church thing. Atheists can totally be spiritual...in our own way. Learning about Earth and the story of life is a way of feeling connected, both to the universe and to the rest of humanity. Many people experience endless wonder in the face of the stars, biology and philosophy.
10. “You'll be in my prayers.”
If you're genuinely trying to make me feel better after a tragic event, saying this is fine. If you're saying this to me BECAUSE I'm an atheist, you're acting like a condescending jerk.
11. “A monkey can’t give birth to a human!”
This statement physically hurts me, and I'm not going to write out several paragraphs trying to explain how evolution works. Moving on.
12. “Atheism is a religion.”
By the way some people worship Richard Dawkins: maybe. By definition: no, not really.
13. “This is just a phase. / You'll come around eventually."
Probably not. But who can really say? I'm not gonna pretend to know everything there is to know about myself and the Universe at the tender age of eighteen. Either way, it's not anyone's place to tell me whether I'll "come around" or not.
14. "Isn't it better to believe? What if you die and Heaven and Hell turn out to be real?"
As long as we're hedging our bets, I'd better spend my time sacrificing chickens to ancient Greek gods and worshiping as many different deities as I can -- you know, just in case there's an afterlife. Oh wait...that'd be dumb.
College environments typically lean liberal, so it's easy to forget that atheism carries an actual (though often small when compared to racism, sexism and the like) stigma in the "real world." Consequently, some people never reveal their lack of faith to acquaintances unless directly asked. To people who read this article, the secret's out, though: I am atheist, hear me roar. Many of us are willing to talk about our faith -- that is to say, our lack of it. The most important thing to remember is that "atheist" and "Christian" and "agnostic" encompass a wide spectrum of beliefs that can never be contained in one little word. If you want to learn more, you have to be willing to view people complexly.
Lead Image Credit: Chelsea Bock via Unsplash