March 12, 2006

The Truth About Atheists: Correcting Misconceptions, Part 5

Time to continue this series of posts on correcting misconceptions. If you are just joining me now, this series is about responding to misconceptions about atheists that were observed across several Christian forums. If you missed the last part, it can be found here.

Misconception 9: Atheists are gay.

No, I'm not making this one up. Remember, each of these misconceptions was observed by Lya across several Christian forums. When I first saw this one, I thought that I'd just skip it since it really doesn't deserve a response. However, that seemed dishonest, so here we go.

If we assume that these Christians were using "gay" to mean "homosexual," then this one is easy to dismiss because the evidence simply does not support it. The majority of atheists (like the majority of Christians) are heterosexual. There are GLBT atheists just as there are GLBT Christians. I guess it might seem silly to assume that Christians are going to argue from evidence, seeing as how there is none for the bulk of their belief system. Suffice it to say that anyone who takes the time to look at the numbers will see that any variation on the claim that most atheists are homosexual is simply untrue.

As I have been doing in this series, I will try to give Christians the benefit of the doubt by addressing what I think they might have meant in addition to what they actually said. In other words, I try to address both the literal meaning of their statements and the inferred intent behind them. In this case, I suspect their statement is intended not as a claim about the incidence of homosexuality among atheists but as an insult. You see, for these bigoted Christians, "gay" is generally the worst insult they can imagine. This is the same brand of intolerance that led their parents and grandparents to hold sexist and racist views. There is nothing more I can say in response to this generic sort of insult that I have not already addressed in previous posts in this series.

Misconception 10: Atheists want to destroy/limit religion.

If we add the word "some" in front of this statement, it is no longer a misconception (at least for some atheists). Based on my experience interacting with many different kinds of atheists and at the risk of great oversimplification, I think most atheists can be categorized into 3 groups (for the purpose of this issue).

Group A is composed of atheists who would like to see greater separation between politics/government and religion. They have no desire to abolish or even limit religion; they simply want the government to honor the principles on which America was founded. They believe that Bush's faith-based initiatives clearly violate the establishment clause and would like to see this recognized. They are not interested in any new limitations on religion and simply want those with existing precedent to be enforced. This group is generally quite friendly to religion, and many celebrate religious holidays and even attend church periodically; it is the blending of religion and government/politics of which they disapprove and not religion per se. Although they are atheists, they generally do not see anything wrong with moderate religion.

Group B agrees with Group A but would prefer to see a reduction of religious presence in the public sphere. Members of this group are annoyed by public displays of religion and would prefer that they remain in church or in the home. While they do not generally favor increased government intervention to limit religion, some may question the tax exemption provided to churches. They typically believe that religion should be kept out of politics altogether and are easily soured by candidates who flaunt their religiosity. They are quite hostile to religious extremism and typically at least somewhat suspicious of religious moderates. They seek a reduction of the religious influence in America that may go beyond simply enforcing existing precedent, however, they are likely to be ambivalent toward the value of moderate religion.

Group C contains at least some members for whom the original statement is not a misconception. This group of atheists sees religion as a cancer on the human mind and believes that religion should be abolished. The important catch, however, is that they do not support government intervention to dismantle religion. They have no interest in banning the bible or interfering with religious freedom. Rather, their hope is that humanity will outgrow religion, eventually seeing it for the destructive charade that it is. They are willing to speak out in opposition to religion and are quick to highlight the downside of faith. They believe that moderate religion is problematic because it embraces falsehood and opens the door to religious extremism.

As you can see, these groups differ in their desire to "destroy/limit religion." Group A wants nothing more than to see existing limits enforced. Group B may favor some additional limits but is not interested in destroying religion. Group C doesn't exactly favor the destruction of religion but certainly hopes that religion will fade into the background, having less and less influence until it disappears. It is in this latter group which I place myself. I believe religion is harmful and that we would be better off without it.

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