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Some Facts About Atheism
In my time as an atheist, I’ve run into a number of misconceptions that have persisted no matter how many times I have attempted to correct them. I’ve written a few hubs in the past about it (one concerning my life as an atheist and another about literature atheism and god) but I still feel that more clarification is needed. So, if you’ve ever had questions about atheism, let this serve as a foundation from which you can understand us.
Atheism is not a unified religion.
I’ve seen atheism referred to as a ‘godless religion’ or something akin to the antithesis of religion. If this were true, the phrase ‘atheist religion’ would be an oxymoron. However, atheist religions exist; one is called Buddhism. Contrary to popular belief, Buddha is not a deity, nor do Buddhists pray to him. The actual antithesis of atheism is theism, which is the belief in god (one cannot be an atheist theist). You could belong to a religion and still be an atheist, just like you can belong to no religion and still be a theist. Here is a handy chart for some of the different deity-based beliefs:
- Theism – The belief that one or more deities created the universe and continue to govern it.
- Deism – The belief that one or more deities created the universe but are no longer around to govern it.
- Pantheism – The belief that god, or some other deity, is part of (or inside of) everything. We are all god.
- Atheism – The belief that no deities exist, or ever have existed.
- Agnosticism – The belief that there is an equal chance of a deity existing versus not existing.
- Anti-theism – The belief that no deities exist and that theism is detrimental to society.
I highly recommend Richard Dawkins's book on atheism and religion.
Atheists have morals.
Another question I often see is; where do atheists get their sense of morals from, if not religion. In this, they’re referring to things like ‘thou shalt not kill’ or ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife’. These are rules or morals passed down through religion that most people would agree are beneficial. Disregarding some of the bibles more questionable lessons, let’s think about the other places morals come from. The first, and most influential, is our parents. Don’t push your brother onto the ground because then you’ll have to spend ten minutes in the corner. Before we learn anything about religion or science, we learn these simple lessons of consequence. These lessons are then reinforced in adulthood by an active system of laws and police. But, you might be asking where the original morals came from; who learned them first in order to pass them down? For me, this boils down to pure survival instincts. Primitive humans in a pack were far more likely to survive threats than primitive humans on their own. But, as soon as a pack is established, you are then confronted with clashing ideals. Something must then be put in place to ensure the survival of the pack. Something as simple as ‘don’t hit Frank with a rock because it will weaken the pack’ is one of the most basic forms of morality, ingrained in our evolved minds. And, it is completely disconnected from association with any deity.
The last point to be made about morality is actually a question for the religious. It was posed by Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” though I can’t remember if he was quoting someone else. The gist of it is this “If you suddenly discovered there was no god, would you still be a moral person?” It’s a trick question because if you say yes, then you prove one doesn’t need god to be moral. If you say no then you admit you are not a moral person, you’re just doing it for the heavenly reward.
Evolution is not random.
There is a meme floating around the internet somewhere that likens atheism to a whole bunch of random nothing building up to dinosaurs (I’ll post it on the right). It’s funny, but it also grossly misinterprets evolution. The idea of evolution being random has been compared to a bunch of apes on typewriters trying to write a famous novel. I can’t remember which novel, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s the Grapes of Wrath. No matter how many days, weeks or years you give those monkeys, the likelihood of them producing the Grapes of Wrath, in its entirety, is so miniscule that you might as well say that it’s impossible. However, evolution doesn’t function that way. When evolution gets something right; that thing sticks and is passed down because it’s useful. If the monkey essays got a few words right from the Grapes of Wrath, and those words were remembered and passed down to the next manuscript, the monkeys will eventually produce the Grapes of Wrath, one word at a time. It will still take a long time, but the probability isn’t as mind boggling as the one that is entirely random. The point is that evolution is all about building blocks. Nothing appeared fully formed on the earth. It’s also important to remember that nothing is perfect. We’re still evolving.
Why are atheists so mean?
This is a common misconception that is quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine. It’s one of those scenarios where someone punches you and, when you retaliate, they point the finger at you, saying you’re the violent one. That might be a bit of an extreme comparison, but that’s definitely the feeling I get when someone asks why atheists are so mean. We have to keep in mind that the theists are in the majority, to the point that many atheists don’t feel comfortable stating their beliefs, even to friends and family, because of the negative reaction. Similar questions ask atheists why they hate christians or why they reject god, as if we’re villains eager to tear down the innocent believers. In my experience, atheists don’t hate anyone as a group. What atheists do hate is when religion over steps its bounds. For example, the United States government states that religion and politics are to remain separate, and yet we have god on our money and in our pledge of allegiance. Similarly, an atheist politician has virtually no chance of winning public office because of a lack of funding and because people seem to think atheists are inherently untrustworthy (more on that below). So, when religion is a prerequisite for politics, then there is something very wrong with our country. And that is why atheists, for the most part, would prefer that theists back off. Religion is only a problem when it starts imposing itself on others.
Atheists can be trusted.
Branching off of the above topic, another pet peeve I have is the idea that atheists are untrustworthy. This was highlighted when a poll was taken of various groups in the United States. It found that atheists were the least trusted group out there. This ties in very closely with the argument about morality. People tend to assume that atheists have no morals because they don’t believe in god. And, if they have no morals, surely they couldn’t hold public office, or be trusted to babysit my children. This belief is particularly painful for me because of how hard I’ve tried to be a good person throughout my life. I tend to recall one story in particular from when I was in elementary school. Various school projects were taped up in the hallways with all kinds of nick nacks glued to them. One in particular had a tiny wooden milk carton attached to it. I always loved miniature toys as a child, so I mentioned to a friend of mine that I wanted the carton. My friend, being more impulsive than me, reached over and plucked the toy off of the project, then handed it to me. I pocketed the toy in fear we would be caught. Realistically, no one would have ever known. Stuff fell off of those projects all the time and this particular project was already looking pretty bad. So, I was free to keep my ill-gotten prize. However, that tiny little milk jug proved to be my tell-tale heart; picking away at my conscience that night until I couldn’t take it anymore. The next day I got to school early and taped the carton back on the project and walked away. I have no idea if someone else stole it after that; I just knew that I couldn’t live with myself if I kept it. This moment of morality, for something so simple and unimportant, came from a child who was raised with no formal religion and who became an atheist later in life. So, the idea that I could be labeled untrustworthy, just because I’m an atheist, is not only inaccurate, it’s downright insulting.
After all of this; I know that I don’t speak for all atheists. As I said in the beginning; we’re not unified in anything other than our lack of belief in deities. We do tend to have things in common, like a respect for, and appreciation of, science, but as a whole, atheists are very hard to nail down. For this reason, I like to take as many opportunities as possible to spread knowledge about atheism; through my personal example. This is why you’ll see me hanging around the religious Q & A section of HubPages. But my biggest fear is that atheists will soon be used as a scapegoat for certain religious institutions, and the only way I can think to combat that is by spreading knowledge and understanding. Hopefully, after reading this article, you now have a better understanding of atheists as well.