Why do so many people have misperceptions about atheism and agnosticism?
Doesn't it mean they are secular? What are we missing if this isn't so?
If there are misconceptions about atheists and agnostics, it's probably because there isn't much that unifies them. Unlike religion, which comes with a long list of beliefs and rituals, atheism is just a single belief about the non existence of deities. Everything else about the individual could be completely different from the next. So, it's very hard to nail down atheists and agnostics as a whole, which results in a lot of generalizations. It's also very easy for theists to think that atheists and agnostics choose not to believe in god because of selfish or antagonistic reasons. But, like with people who find god, it's a deeply personal decision based on experience and intuition. I feel that the sooner atheism and agnosticism can be taken seriously as a legitimate way of thinking, the less misconceptions and conflict there will be.
MT, I love your quote: "But, like with people who find god, it's a deeply personal decision based on experience and intuition." And I might add also based on a very spiritual journey and often an extrensive strong foundation in traditional religion.
in my experience, I think that it's uncomfortable for theists to accept that atheists and agnostics exist. They're taught that they're evil or that they worship the devil ( no really, I have run across a few theists that have told me that to my face). They are taught that only foolish people don't believe in god (cause the good book told them so) and when an atheist or agnostic person goes on to demonstrate their knowledge of their own belief (often better than they understand it), they are unable to wrap their mind around the cognitive dissonance. It's hard for them to accept that people that were once "saved" are now atheists, because it seems to shake the foundation of their faith - therefore they go on to say that they were never "saved" to begin with, or that they never understood the religion at all - even when the opposite is true.
I think that misconceptions come from a lot of failed stereotypes, and these stereotypes are only made worse by the fact that atheism and agnosticism only address two issues. a lack of a belief in a god, and a lack of knowledge in a god. They don't have a doctrine, or list of beliefs. They don't address anything else, and they're not a worldview. This is difficult for believers to reconcile with because they're used to seeing things in purely black and white.
This may not be true of all believers, but it's certainly true of the large majority of the ones I've encountered - especially recently.
I honestly believe it has to do with ignorance. People who worship their own religion, for the most part, only care about knowing about their own. They "know" their religion is the only way to go, so why look into other people's beliefs? They sound similar, and believe similarly, and that's all they care to know.
In my opinion, there are two reasons : the first one is fear, fear of the unknown actually. If someone is a self proclaimed good god fearing christian, they can relate and identify themselves safely to other believers. So these people will view an atheist or an agnostic as some sort of a loose cannon, a person with no boundaries and low morals, not to be trusted. Someone they won't allow to marry their daughter...Never mind that different groups of believers don't get along so well and compete with each other!
And then, it's a form of denial caused by narrow-mindedness and intolerance. By refusing to acknowlege that someone could simply think differently, it allows believers to deny others even the right to exist and consider them as morally, spiritually and intellectually inferiors. Believers often have this attitude : "you don't know what you're missing", they consider themselves the exclusive keepers of "the truth" when actually, most often an agnostic or atheist becomes such as the result of a very educated decision and extensive research for some, the rest being plainly not interested in religion at all. Even though religion is on the decline, it is fair to say that religiously inclined people are still a majority, at least in the US, so the numbers play in their favor. That too comforts them in their self-righteousness : "so many people can't be wrong". Nobody wants to live next door to a formerly convicted felon, by essence considered an inferior person. By asociation, a number of christians will not even tolerate the idea of atheism. If one takes a moment to reflect on the number of people slaughtered in the name of religious beliefs over the centuries, the numbers will show that nobody is superior to anybody and that applies to christians and other religious goups as well. Thou shall not kill applies to everybody.
I also think there is a bigger misperception about atheism over agnosticism. As I've heard, atheism is just as much a strong belief as in a religion. I think the problem lies in people not going the extra step to understanding others who don't share the same belief. Not only theists, but also apathetic citizens in general will not take the time to understand something that does not matter to them.
Atheists do not believe in God or any proof thereof. Agnostics are waiting for proof. Slight difference. Basically an agnostic does not say there is no God and would believe if they had proof. Atheists say there is no God, period. So maybe people don't use these definitions so there are misconceptions.
I'm an atheist, and I have never once said "there is no god". Atheists lack a belief in a god due to insufficient evidence. Provide the evidence, and I'd be happy to change my mind.
Actually atheists have a more "show me the evidence or I'll believe nothing" kind of thing going on. Agnostics are different. They half-cling to faith and half-cling to science. Which means they're on the fence of both and the path of neither.
Fear, ignorance, because their pastor/priest tells them otherwise? You'd be surprised how many humans in this world lack free will and look to others for guidance.
The funny thing is that it works both ways, so when you meet someone who's had it done to them you can twist what they've been taught around.
I think the main reason is fear. If atheism and agnosticism is a reasonable concept, it puts one's own beliefs into question. I don't tell very many people of my secular humanistic beliefs because, in truth, I'm afraid of crushing what holds them together. I, myself, feel very comfortable (and to be honest, almost proud) of my skepticism. I would, in fact, would feel inauthentic to be "a believer." If there ever came a time when I could understand quarks and quasars and black holes, or even how my a signal is transmitted to my TV through fiber optics, I might be less humbled by it all. As it is, I would feel terribly arrogant to say I have figured it all out.
The misperception about atheism and agnosticism primarily comes more from Organized religion than anything. As someone that used to subscribe to that same mentality (I am still Christian, but lean more toward agnostic in a lot of my views because I can accept the possibility that my views may be incorrect). This primarily comes from ignorance (as in a lack of knowledge) of the bible in it's original forms. A lot of churches refer to the King James Version of the bible (which was written under the King's orders as a scare tactic to force people to convert or die). Unfortunately, this version has been passed down through the years and accepted as the True bible because it is the oldest Version (versus translations Of which there are three, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic). The king James (and other versions) are actually translations of translations with some of them colored to push a certain principle.
But in my experience, I have yet to personally meet an atheist that I would consider bad or evil
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