Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. Because atheism can be construed as antithetical to religion, numerous misconceptions have risen about atheists that simply aren’t factual. Here are ten examples of the most common misconceptions people have about atheists and atheism as a whole.
10 Atheism Is A Religion
The term “religion” is difficult to define. In the United States, a religion is defined as an institution that has a recognized creed, form and place of worship, congregation, and ordained ministers. This definition has nothing to do with a god, but most religions that do worship a god fit this definition. Because atheism is a lack of belief in something, there are no places to worship (or anything to worship), no creed, no congregation, and no ministers.
Many people point to atheists on the Internet speaking of the persecution of atheists and other aspects of society they consider to conflict with whatever constitution might govern them as a religion, but that doesn’t work either. Because there is no set of rules or creed tying atheists together, they don’t congregate beyond a simple agreement on something not existing.
9 Atheists Worship The Devil
The belief that atheists worship the Devil stems from the Christian belief that anyone against God is a follower of the Devil. This interpretation is not held by the majority of Christians, but it is prevalent in some communities. Because the Devil falls under the auspices of a god, atheists do not believe it exists. Simply put: One cannot worship a Devil they don’t believe in.
The Church of Satan has helped to perpetuate this misconception. The name itself implies that members of the organization worship Satan, but that is not the case. Satanists are atheists and agnostics who don’t worship anything but have instead created an association that follows the belief that, “Man—using his brain—invented all the Gods. [ . . . ] We Satanists are thus our own ‘Gods.’ ” The decision to model the iconography after a devilish form was chosen to mock Christianity and its adherents.
8 Atheists Are Unhappy, Angry People
It is difficult to quantify whether an entire group of nonbelievers is happy or not, but this misconception comes from the Christian belief that a person cannot be happy without God in their lives. There are atheists all over the planet who are unhappy for a plethora of reasons, but the same is true of theists as well.
Atheists who voice their opinions can do so with vitriol and seem unhappy. Authors and scientists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins appear to be angry during interviews, but in a lot of ways, they were simply frustrated with the nature of the discussion. Atheists who understand the basics of evolution and cosmology do not want to discuss theology as an opposing viewpoint because it is not applicable to the discussion. When someone tries to bring up the idea of a Crocoduck in a discussion about evolution, an atheist often reacts with frustration and even anger, but that doesn’t mean that they’re generally unhappy people.
7 Atheists Worship At The Altar Of Science
Online discussions with atheists tend to involve topics related to evolution and cosmology. The names of scientists and authors such as Darwin, Hawking, Hitchens, and Dawkins are tossed around as “prophets” of the “religion of atheism,” but not every atheist is scientifically literate. Many are apathetic to the conversation and are not included in the discussion, but the ones who are vocal online tend to be literate of various scientific theories brought up by Creationists and other theists who attempt to use science to justify their theistic world view.
Ironically, this has led more people to become scientifically literate so that they can engage in these online discussions. While no atheist would claim to “worship at the altar of science,” many do learn what they can so that they are better informed about the world around them.
6 Atheists Have No Morals
How could anyone have morality without God? That is a question asked by theists who believe that morality is derived from religion. This may be true for them, but there are many people who don’t share religious beliefs but do share the same moral beliefs.
Many theists believe that atheists lack a moral compass due to their disbelief in any god and conclude that “there is no such thing as a good atheist,” but this is a broad generalization with no merit whatsoever. Morality is difficult to define because there are countless theories explaining it as a sociobiological evolution or even a logical conclusion. A person’s morality tends to express itself in how they treat other people, and many atheists appear to live according to the policy of treating others as they would like to be treated, also known as the Golden Rule.
5 There Are No Atheists In Foxholes
As an Active Duty Soldier who is also an atheist, I take this misconception personally. Having deployed to combat zones multiple times without suddenly realizing a need for God even while under fire, I can honestly say that I am an atheist in a foxhole.
This misconception comes from the belief that a person who is facing imminent danger or death will turn to God. A similar theory is Pascal’s Wager, which is an argument in Christian apologetics which stipulates that a rational person should either seek to believe in God or live as if God exists because if they are wrong, they could suffer eternal damnation, while accepting the wager allows for acceptance into Heaven.
It may be true that some have found religion on their deathbeds or even in combat, but there are many who say otherwise, including the author of this list.
4 Atheists Are Intolerant Of Theists
Many believe that there is a general intolerance of theists among all atheists, but this is simply untrue. Online conversations may indicate a specific person whom someone may be intolerant of, but a general dislike of believers is not held throughout the “atheist community.”
Conversely, atheists are the least tolerated and trusted group of people in the United States. Many politicians have called for religious tests and the firing of nonbelievers, which is illegal (but still tolerated) “hate speech.” Polls and scientific studies show that religious communities distrust atheists due to their lack of belief and would prefer that they stay out of politics and other public areas.
3 Atheists Are Ignorant When It Comes To Religion(s)
This misconception stems from the belief that someone who doesn’t believe in God is ignorant to His teachings. Because of this, people often proselytize atheists, hoping to educate and convert them. The truth is that most atheists are well-informed when it comes to religions and are usually familiar with several, while most theists are only familiar with their own and may often know less than the atheist they are hoping to convert.
A recent study on religious knowledge in the United States found that atheists and agnostics know more about religions than any other group. Many people who now call themselves atheist or agnostic were once active members in a church of some type. Further study of their own religion may have pushed them to look elsewhere and find that they either desired another faith or didn’t believe at all. This thirst for knowledge tends to lead people out of the church and into an atheistic world view.
2 Atheists Are Angry Rebels Who Hate/Oppose God(s)
Many see atheists as rebels who either hate or oppose God, but this misconception fails the logic test. For someone to turn away from their god and religion, they usually come to the conclusion that they simply do not believe. Without belief, there can be no hatred or opposition. This is similar to the misconception that atheists worship Satan. In the same way that a person cannot worship something they don’t believe in, they cannot hate or oppose it, either.
This misconception stems from the belief that atheists truly do believe in God and want to rebel against Him. Even if an atheist says otherwise, many believe that because God is in everyone, it is not possible to disbelieve in Him, so an atheist must be rebelling, like Satan, against God.
1 Atheism Is Responsible For The Worst Genocides In History
This misconception attempts to place the blame of inhuman acts like the Holocaust on atheism because many dictators of the age were atheists. This is known as the Atheist Atrocities Fallacy and is most often used by theists to prove the evil of atheism with statements like, “Well, what about Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler? They were atheists, and they killed millions!”
Those dictators were responsible for the deaths of millions of people, but that’s not because they were atheists. In fact, Hitler wasn’t an atheist; he was a devout Christian by his own testament. Stalin was an atheist, but he never killed anyone “in the name of atheism” but rather solely to achieve political or nationalistic goals.
+ Further Reading
For more great lists on the topic of atheism, check out these articles from the Listverse archives: