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Misconceptions About Atheism

Common Myths Versus Reality About Atheists

Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.03.09, Updated 2015.07.31


It’s okay to not know or understand something. It’s not okay when that ignorance becomes the foundation for assertions or mistreatment of people. Here, I hope to clear up a few misunderstandings about atheism, and my atheism in particular.



Atheism Is A Religion


Perhaps the most common false assertions about atheism is “atheism is a religion”. It is also said that atheism is “a belief system” or that it “requires faith”. None of these are true, unless the definitions of words have changed.

I deal with these misconceptions on another page.


People Become Atheists Because...


While working on this section of my site, I found many theists making assertions about why people are atheists. They include “you’re mad at God”, “angry with your parents”, “peer pressure”, “an excuse to sin”, “hoodwinked by other atheists”, and even “following Satan”. Because I lived so long under the assumption that God exists, I had heard most of these long ago, though they didn’t make sense to me then either.

I cannot speak for other atheists — because atheism isn’t a group with an agreed-upon list of creeds — but I can assure the reader that none of these are true for me.

The first and last are of course impossible, since I am convinced neither exist. The angriest I’ve ever been at my parents was during my late teen years, at the height of my theism, and was directly related to my age and emotional immaturity. It quickly passed when I grew a little older and began to see things from a more adult perspective. “An excuse to sin” is not needed; plenty of people commit immoral acts repeatedly while still professing belief in gods.

“Peer pressure” makes very little sense, since the great majority of my peers, friends, coworkers, and loved ones have always been believers. As for being taken in, convinced, or tricked by existing atheists, again, I have not known very many of them during my lifetime, and have not been in contact with any of them for decades, except one — with whom I rarely conversed on the topic.

As related on other pages, I became an atheist after fully examining my own beliefs and finding them untrue.


There Are No Atheists In Foxholes


The imagery is military, but “foxholes”, I presume, refers to any serious problem, usually and especially involving the threat of death. It’s a short way of saying: “Sure, you’re an atheist now, living your problem-free life, but you will change your tune when something really bad happens.”

Yet I have it from a first-hand source that there are indeed atheists in foxholes — in actual military combat. It is also known that atheists experience real-life problems like everyone else: death, illness, bankruptcy, homelessness, etc. Neither belief nor atheism is the result or cause of any of these things.


Atheists Are Angry


More accurate would be people sometimes get angry. (And so do gods, according to most religions.) I have never heard of an atheist who is angry because of atheism. They get angry for the same reasons that anyone gets angry: stimuli.


Atheists Are Immoral


This is only true if you define morality as believing in a god. If instead you define morality as adherence to a moral code — as most people do — then atheists are just as moral as anyone else, if not more so. I wrote at length about this.


Atheists Live Sad, Meaningless Lives


I once assumed this, but now I know it isn’t so. In fact, not believing in an afterlife is an amazing impetus to live this life to the fullest, to enjoy every moment, to care deeply about every experience.

And, for many of us who began our lives steeped in religion, post-belief life is much more fulfilling.


Atheists, With No Afterlife Belief, Cannot Cope With Death


Oddly, this often is said by people who believe their God eternally and horribly punishes the majority of humans after death, offering reward for only a select few. How can coping with death be made easier by such a belief?

Like anyone, I hope my death is as painless and quick as possible. And like most people, I hope the day of my death is far away. In the meantime, I hope to accomplish everything I’ve set out to accomplish before that day comes. When I do die, I assume that my consciousness will cease to exist, just like it did not exist before I was conceived.


Atheism Is Responsible For the Greatest Crimes In Human History


I’ll let Sam Harris answer this one:
“People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship.”

(Source)

There is also significant evidence, including in Hitler’s own writings, that he was not an atheist (though almost certainly not a Christian either). I can find nothing in history showing that any of these “atheist regimes” killed in the name of atheism or because of atheism. As best as any historian or biographer can determine, they killed to consolidate political power, to root out perceived opposition, or (in Hitler’s case especially) because of distorted racial views and/or mental illness.

Remember, atheism does not require anything of anyone; it simply means one doesn’t believe in gods.


Atheists Believe The Universe And Life Happened By ‘Random Chance’


It’s possible that some atheists believe this. But nobody knows how the universe began, or even whether it began. Atheism is, by definition, merely the lack of a belief in gods, and therefore the lack of belief that gods caused the universe or life.

When theists assert that “believing in evolution” is believing in chance, it means only that they don’t understand the theory of evolution via natural selection, in which the natural forces drive the development of species — and it’s far from random.


Atheists Are Close-Minded


I’m sure some are; many people are, from all walks of life. However, those of us (like me) who were once religious are a testament to the fact that not all atheists are close-minded. We were open-minded enough to examine our faiths and suppositions, and to change our views.

Many atheists often profess: “If you show me evidence, I’ll consider it.” This is the opposite of close-mindedness. On the other hand, many theists have said: “Regardless of the evidence, I’ll continue believing what I already believe”, which is the epitome of close-mindedness.


Atheists Ignore The Good That Religion Does


First, I don’t know of any who ignore that. Many of us have benefited at one time or another from religion, or have witnessed the benefits first-hand, or know of others who are benefiting. I personally know the good that religion can do, though it’s often tempered by the harm it causes and the harm it ignores. Perhaps even worse is when religion redefines harm as good.

If anything, I wish religions, religious organizations, and individual theists would focus more strongly on the best parts of their religion — giving to the poor, being kind, protecting the helpless — and less on the worst parts, which often manifest as racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on.


Atheists Just Haven’t Experienced God Yet


This one actually isn’t a myth; it’s entirely true. We also haven’t experienced unicorns, leprechauns, fairies, winged horses, alchemy, Santa Claus, the Fountain of Youth, or Mermaids. This does not mean they exist, or that we disbelieve them simply because we haven’t experienced them.


There Is No Such Thing As Atheism


Seriously, people say this. The assertion is that everyone believes in God, no matter how much they try to deny it.

One study used to “prove” this says “self-identified non-believers began to sweat when reading aloud sentences asking God to do terrible things (‘I dare God to make my parents drown’).” Of course, this only proves that atheists have morals — it’s immoral to want your parents to drown — not that they believe in God. To interpret it any other way simply means the persons conducting the “study” had very defined preconceived notions of God. Other assertions in this vein is equally ludicrous.


Atheists Think They’re Smarter Than Everyone Else


In my experience, most people think they’re smarter than everyone else — and studies show that this is the case. I’ve never actually heard an atheist declare that they were smarter than theists, just that they have drawn better conclusions. But it apparently is a common enough myth that someone has done a study to try to disprove it, though each result in the study does show atheists tend to have slightly higher IQs — all within “average” range, which is what you’d expect the average to be.

If an atheist does ever assert that atheists are smarter than theists, gently remind her that most atheists were first believers. I am certain that my IQ did not jump five or ten points the moment I became unconvinced of God’s existence.


Atheism Is The Same As Marxism/Communism/Socialism/Liberalism/Someotherism


Back to the definition please. Atheism means not believing in gods.


Atheists Don’t Believe In Anything At All


Back to the definition please. Atheism means not believing in gods. Many atheists believe in many things. For a list of my beliefs, click here.


Atheists Hate / Want To Abolish Religion


This is true for some atheists, yes. But again, being an atheist just means I don’t believe in gods. It does not automatically imply any other position on any other question. I personally support freedom of religion and always have — perhaps more so now that I don’t have a favorite religion. I just don’t think the freedom of any religion should trump human rights. This is my personal, humanist view, and is not mandated by atheism.

A much higher percentage of atheists are in favor of removing tax breaks for churches and religious organizations, unless they can be shown to accomplish tangible deeds — helping the needy, housing the homeless, counseling, etc. Personally, I am undecided on this issue.


Atheists Are Too Militant


Define “militant” before making this assertion. And first, what’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think “militant Christian” or “militant Muslim”? Now, try again to say atheists are militant. Are we argumentative? Yes, at least many of us are. But you’ll find few that go beyond that. (One source.)


This is the updated version of this page. To view the original, click here.


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