June 14, 2013

Why Do You Hate My God? Oversimplification and Irrationality

Error (EP)
Error (EP) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Uninformed Christians are fond of accusing atheists of hating their preferred god. We know this is nonsensical because it assumes that we can somehow hate something in which we do not believe. When some Christians deny our nonbelief in order to keep pushing the myth about how we hate their god, one cannot help wondering if they are trying to protect their faith by convincing themselves that nobody could possibly disagree with them on the god question. If you have spent any time on Twitter, you have almost certainly seen Christians claiming that "atheists do not exist."

I suspect that what we are seeing here is a primitive form of dichotomous thinking where some Christians have divided their world into good people (i.e, those who believe as I do) and bad people (i.e., those who do not believe as I do). The existence of people like us who do not accept the theistic claim in the first place is too troubling for some Christians to acknowledge. It is far easier to cling to the simplistic worldview where everyone is good or bad and where those who are bad hate their god.

Fortunately, not all Christians make this sort of error. Many of those who have spent any time thinking about their beliefs have far more nuanced views. They recognize that the world is far more complex than good and bad. Some are even able to recognize that a person could share their beliefs and still be a bad person, while someone else could not share their beliefs and be a good person.

The presence of Christians who hold more realistic, nuanced views like this is something I find encouraging. Whenever I encounter a Christian engaging in dichotomous thinking and making absurd claims about how there are no atheists because everyone really believes in his or her god, I try to remember that this is not representative of all Christians. I remind myself that I have known many Christians who would be embarrassed to hear such drivel, and I cannot help thinking that there might just be hope for the person spouting nonsense. Perhaps he or she can still learn and grow. After all, other Christians manage to hold more nuanced views.

Lately, there is something else I am finding helpful to remember when faced with the dichotomous thinking Christian: there is far too much of this same cognitive error being committed right here in the atheist community. It would be hypocritical not to acknowledge this, and once I have acknowledged it, I find myself far less likely to write the Christian off as irredeemable. As long as some of my atheist colleagues continue to divide their world into good people (i.e., those who share my political values) and bad people (e.g., misogynists, "sister punishers," etc.), it is difficult to get too worked-up about the irrationality I see from some Christians. As long as prominent atheist bloggers actually label those who disagree with them as "evil," it is harder to denounce the Christian for being irrational.

The good news is that just like the presence of Christians who are willing and able to think in more realistic, nuanced ways about the world they inhabit reduces my ire, the same can be said for atheists who have rejected the notion that there are only two sides in "the great rift" and that one must belong to one of them. There are atheists all over our community who want nothing to do with Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ and who have no connection to the Slymepit. There are atheists all over our community who are engaged in the work of social justice and would prefer not to try to fold these efforts into the atheist movement. And there are atheists who have tried both the Slymepit and Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+, found both lacking, and are now seeking a community void of both photoshopped images mocking one's opponents and constant discussions of "rape culture."

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