- Religion and Philosophy
Misconceptions About Atheism Debunked
Few isms attract more controversy than atheism. Of course that comes with the territory when dissenting from religious belief in a world filled with people who still cling to it. Religion hasn't come very far when it comes to combating atheism. The reason for this is simple, apologists cannot offer answers to the questions posed by those of us who doubt the veracity of religious claims. This leads to misconceptions and half-truths about atheism being used to smear atheists. I'm going to deal with a few of these in this hub.
Please note that atheism has no dogma so my answers may not be the same to those you'd get from another atheist.
Atheism is a Religion
The most common rebuttal to atheism offered by theists is that atheism is just as much a religion as Christianity or Islam is. The idea here, I suppose, is that if atheism is a religion we cannot honestly discuss issues of belief. We must, instead, cling to dogma and blind faith the way religious folks do. Well this is just nonsense. Atheism is not a religion.
In order for atheism to be a religion THEISM must be a religion. I'm gonna sit back and let that sink in for you...
Theism is not a religion, it has no dogma or ideology. Theism is simply a belief in God. Tell a theist this and they will be forced to agree, it is the definition of theism. Theists can be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and even NON-RELIGIOUS. One doesn't need religion to believe in God. So how can not believing in something be a religion? Christian theists who don't believe in Allah are not in a religion called aislamism, they simply don't believe in Allah. Atheists simply don't have a belief in gods, that's it.
One common tactic amongst people claiming atheism is a religion is to claim that because atheism is an ISM it is a religion. But Communism, Socialism and Conservatism are all isms and they aren't religions they're political ideologies.
Lastly on this subject theists who use this tactic are making it seem that IF atheism WERE a religion that would be a bad thing. But they themselves are likely religious. So how can they bad mouth religion while being part of one?
Atheism Requires Faith
This may sound insulting but atheism requires just as much faith as when you stopped believing in Santa Claus as a child. Seriously. When you grow up and realize the boogeyman was never in your closet to begin with it requires no faith to get a peaceful night's sleep.
I realize that comparing God and Santa and the boogeyman may trigger a knee-jerk reaction in any theists who come across this hub but I feel the analogy fits. To me the Christian God is no more real than any fictional character in a story book or myth. In fact for most people God is just a myth their parents told them to believe. It requires no faith to disbelieve in fairies, mermaids, Zeus, aliens or bigfoot and thus no faith to disbelieve in gods.
Also, if a theist is making this claim than they are once again making something they possess seem bad. Is Faith a bad thing to religious theists? No, it's necessary for maintaining their beliefs, so what are they complaining about?
Atheism means ABSOLUTE Disbelief
Fundamentalists are most likely the perpetrators of this misconception. The idea that atheists leave absolutely no room for the possibility of god's existing. While it differs from atheist to atheist the majority of atheists are equal parts agnostic. This means that while I may currently view your deity as fictional I am also open to the idea it exists if you can provide evidence. I cannot pretend to have absolute knowledge that a given god does or does not exist.
There are atheists who profess absolute disbelief, but they are hard to find. I've spoken to dozens of people in my life who profess absolute belief and indeed absolute KNOWLEDGE of God but never spoken to any who profess absolute disbelief or KNOWLEDGE that there is NO GOD.
Some middle-of-the-road Agnostics refuse to adopt the atheist label because they to don't know that most atheists are also agnostic. It doesn't bother me that they want to retain the middle ground but when they stoop to claiming intellectual superiority over atheists by way of this misconception about absolute disbelief it really does get on my nerves.
Another point worth making is that every god claim is different. I make no claim about GODS on the whole. There might be gods out there and I have little reason to debate deistic god claims. But if you come to me with Yahweh, Zeus, Jesus, or Allah chances are I will be more strong in my rejection of them. Why? Because I've researched and learned about those gods and understand the logical and factual holes in the idea that they exist.
The Definition of Atheism and Theism -
Just so there can be no confusion -
Theism - Belief in god(s).
Atheism - No belief in god(s).
Belief is a Nuanced Thing...
Atheist = Evolutionist
This is a category error I've run into a handful of times in my journeys on the interweb. Some theists, usually Creationists, have seen fit to confuse the term atheist with the term evolutionist. I'm still not sure why they use the term Evolutionist to begin with. It seems to me that inventing a derogatory term for someone who accepts well documented scientific fact is exceedingly stupid. It's like making fun of someone who accepts that the Earth really does go around the sun, perhaps terming us Helioists. Or Neanderthals insulting their tribesman for believing in the theory of fire.
Not all atheists accept evolution. This may seem far out but, as I document regularly in my Into the Weird hub-series the world is FULL of varied and NUANCED beliefs. Some atheists are actually part of the ancient astronaut crowd, they think that aliens came down and helped life on Earth develop.
Not all who accept evolution are atheists. This goes without saying, there are plenty of people who have adapted their theistic or religious beliefs to include the theory of Evolution. Instead of a literal six day creation some believe Genesis is more metaphor and allegory and that evolution is how God created.
Atheists are angry at God
How can you be angry at something or someone that you don't believe is real?
If I'm angry it's because I see intelligent people forgoing critical thinking and sound logic in order to believe a fairy-tale. It is also especially aggravating when fundamentalists defend the atrocities of the Biblical God when such a character, by almost any moral standard, would be considered indescribably evil. In other words I'm angry that characters which, as far as we can tell, are fictional are being believed in by otherwise intelligent people. I'm angry that religion is damaging the minds and in some cases the physical well-being of people on this planet.
Let me put this in terms a nerd such as myself can truly appreciate. If someone out there believed in Darth Vader and believed that Darth Vader was holy and righteous because some space-tome said so. Let's say that despite the book depicting Vader committing genocide of innocent children they still defended Vader's actions and claimed he was not only a good guy but was wholly devoid of sin and evil. That's the sort of absurdity that would piss me, as a Star Wars fan, off and its the exact sort of nonsense I hear from fundamentalists all the time (only about their deity of course).
Angry at stupid beliefs and the people that espouse them, sure. Angry at a fictional God, no.
Atheists are Satanists
This one makes no sense to me. While it is true that there is a branch of Satanism that PERMITS atheists that branch is the one that doesn't believe Satan actually exists. As for the actual Satanists - atheists don't do that, mainly because we don't believe in Satan. You see a devil depends on a god to exist, without God the devil just becomes another character in a mythology. Believing in Satan while disbelieving in God is like believing in titans while disbelieving in the gods of Olympus.
At any rate there is some conflation within Christianity of Satan, Lucifer and the Devil, who are all SEPARATE characters if you read the Bible. Satanism sometimes perpetuates this equivocation.
Of course when believers say this it is likely a defense mechanism. Rather than accept the idea that someone could actually reject their claims some zealous believers will just lump anyone who disagrees in with the competition. I'm sure theists who happen to be of other faiths also get accused of this too and hell some fundamentalists might go so far as to turn on members of their own religion.
All Atheists are Nihilists
The assertion that all atheists are nihilists typically comes in the form of "Oh you're an atheist, that means you believe in NOTHING." or endless assertions about how love, morality and life itself have no meaning without God. Poppycock.
First off we have a false presupposition that WITH God life has meaning. Sorry but your life has very little meaning if it lasts forever and its only purpose is to be bow and worship. And it's not just you who is living forever, it's everyone. Whether you're a sinner in the ever-lasting fires of Hell or a saint walking through the pearly gates your life ceases to have meaning once it becomes eternal.
Some will say that Paradise is itself the meaning of life. Making it into Heaven is the meaning of life? What are you planning on doing for eternity? Worshiping God? Walking down the same golden paved street every single night for ten billion years, than doing it again for the rest of ETERNITY? Just plain being HAPPY forever. Sorry but that doesn't sound very meaningful.
To me the value of life comes from its brevity. When we hug a loved one, tell a joke with our friends or celebrate a Holiday the meaning in those events comes from the fact that we may never get a chance to do it again because life is finite.
An eternal life in a perfect paradise immediately cheapens everything you do here in your actual life on Earth. Watching a sunset with your significant other is meaningless if it doesn't help you store up treasure in Heaven. Speaking of which saving up money here on Earth is against Jesus's teachings. You're supposed to give away all you own and follow Christ.
As I said above the true meaning of life is in it's brevity and ability to change on a dime. The fact that you can actually change the world, change people's lives, change your own life and that ALL counts for something in the here and now. Maybe it isn't eternal, but in the present and for the foreseeable future your actions can have serious consequences - actual meaning! Bowing down to Allah or Jesus forever on the other hand won't change a damn thing.
Atheists Worship Science
No. Just no. Why would I, or anyone for that matter, worship the scientific method? Does science work? Yes. Is it responsible for a lot of knowledge we wouldn't otherwise have, such as medical knowledge that extends our lifespan? Yes. Is it atheistic in nature? No. There are scientists who believe in God. While science itself focuses on evidence and repeatability as opposed to superstition that doesn't mean it's inherently atheistic and it also doesn't mean I get down on my knees and do animal sacrifices on a Bunsen burner whilst praying to Carl Sagan.
The other form of this argument is claiming that atheists have "FAITH" in science. This isn't the same as FAITH in the existence of God. For one thing we know science exists, it's a methodology that we invented. We also know from centuries of past experience that science works reliably. When something is reliable and well-known we can trust it. If you want to call that trust FAITH that's fine but don't pretend it's the same faith that causes people to believe in God.
Atheists Worship Humanity or Themselves
Some might but then there are self-absorbed people in ANY group. But the most insulting part of this idea is that it sometimes comes from theists who believe the entire Universe was created just for our species. So let me get this straight, we were specially created and LOVED by an ALL POWERFUL deity beyond our comprehension but atheists, who believe we're just a product of natural processes, are the ones worshiping humanity... Give me a break please.
Do I like humans and value human life? Yes. Do I worship humans and think they're sacred or the best thing to ever happen to the Universe? Not in the slightest. I guess to some the idea that there's a group of people who doesn't worship SOMETHING is frightening. I see no reason to worship ANY being, let alone my own reflection or the giants upon whose shoulders we stand.
To me the Universe isn't top down, it's bottom up, that means no one is in charge and so no one has to be worshiped.
There are probably more but this hub has already gone on far longer than my hubs usually do. Hopefully this has cleared up some of the false claims about atheists. If you have any other misconceptions about atheists, or if you're religious and you'd like to argue on any of the points I've made, feel free to leave your comments below. Thanks for reading everyone!