February 13, 2013

No, Atheists Do Not Sacrifice Goats

Midwinter Sacrifice
Midwinter Sacrifice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Austin Cline (About.com Agnosticism/Atheism) recently responded to a question from a reader about atheists and animal sacrifice. Here was the first part of the question:
I just want to know if atheists practice anything like sacrificing animals or anything sort of devilish? I don't know much about the subject, so sorry to be ignorant to it. But I was told once that they do sacrifice goats.
Austin provided a great answer, and I hope anybody with the same question will read it. My reason for posting this is not to elaborate on his response but to suggest that the question serves as a potent reminder that there are many misconceptions about atheism out there. Anticipating them, correcting them, and informing the public about atheism is one of the things those of us who identify as atheists should be doing. In this post, I'd like to offer two brief pieces of information for those interested in understanding atheism.

Most Atheists Are Not Satanists

I have known some Christians over the years who have told me that they learned in their churches that atheists were "of the devil" and that atheists are essentially Satanists. While many Satanists are indeed atheists (especially those who align themselves with the Church of Satan), most atheists are not Satanists. So why would some Christians hear otherwise at their churches?

Some pastors likely make the atheism-Satanism connection out of ignorance. They do not understand atheism or Satanism, and so they equate them in a primitive way (e.g., those who are different from us are bad). Others probably make the connection because they are truly convinced that anyone who does not share their particular set of beliefs is evil. For them, all non-Christians (and some Christians who belong to other denominations) are Satanic in some manner. Still others make the link as a matter of strategy. They know it is incorrect but do it anyway because it is an effective way to inflame the passions of their flock.

A Quick Way to Understand Atheism

Are you familiar with Thor, the hero depicted in comic books and the recent films Thor and The Avengers? According to Norse mythology, Thor was once worshipped as a god. Do you worship Thor as a god? Of course not! We could say that you are atheistic with regard to Thor. Does that lead you to sacrifice animals? No. And the same can be said for those of us who are atheists with regard to all "gods," including yours. Just as your lack of belief in Thor does not result in animal sacrifice, our lack of belief in your god does not lead us to it either.

Why does it seem like atheists are so different from Christians? Unfortunately, you have been misled about the differences between us by people who do not have your best interests in mind. We atheists are actually very much like you. We just regard your god in much the same way you regard Thor.
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