May 4, 2017

Teaching Others About Atheism

teaching others
Atheism isn't about hating gods. Atheists don't believe in gods, and it is not at all clear how we could meaningfully hate entities in which we don't believe. Assuming you do not believe in fairies, it would be a safe bet to assume that you do not hate them.

Atheism is not about having "daddy issues." Some atheists undoubtedly had conflicted relationships with their fathers while they were growing up. Of course, the same could be said for some religious believers. Having a strained relationship with one's father has little to do with why someone ends up an atheist, though.

Atheism is not about making the choice to reject gods in order to free oneself from the confines of morality and break all the rules with impunity. Not only is it unclear that atheism is a choice at all, but there is little evidence to suggest that atheists are any less moral or law-abiding than religious believers. Moreover, one may have noticed that our criminal justice system does not give someone a pass to run wild in the streets simply because he or she is an atheist.

Atheism is not about worshiping the other fictional entity over which some Christians seem to obsess (i.e., Satan). While many Satanists are atheists who regard Satan as a useful symbol but not a literal being, most atheists are not Satanists. Satan is largely a Christian thing, a boogeyman used by Christians to keep one another in line. It is not something about which most atheists are overly concerned.

The good news is that atheism is far simpler than many religious believers suggest. An atheist is someone who does not believe in gods, and that's about it. Atheists vary as to why they do not believe in gods and the path they traveled before coming to terms with this lack of belief; however, there is at least one reason one can expect to hear from many atheists: The evidence offered by religious believers to support belief in their particular god is not sufficient. I cannot claim that this is why all atheists are atheists, but it has been my experience that the vast majority of atheists point to something like this when asked to explain why they do not believe in gods.

There are several misconceptions about atheists out there in addition to those referenced above. Do not be fooled by them. The question you should be asking yourself is why there are so many misconceptions and who benefits from pushing them.

I have heard from a number of religious believers over the decades, mostly Christians, who tell me that they hear these misconceptions about atheism and atheists from their clergy and their religious family members and friends. Some of these people pushing falsehoods do not have their best interests in mind and are likely deceiving them in order to maintain their own authority (e.g., Christian pastors). Others may be convinced that pushing these myths is justified in order to maintain your religious belief (i.e., lying for the greater good). And yes, others may actually believe these things themselves.

Why should atheists take on the task of teaching others about atheism? Without belaboring a point most readers have already accepted in other contexts, ignorance facilitates bigotry. Gaining accurate information about others and recognizing that much of what we have been taught is not only wrong but hateful can be an effective antidote. Thus, those of us who would like to see less anti-atheist bigotry might want to utilize whatever platforms we have to disseminate accurate information about atheism. This is just one of the ways we can make the world a better place for those who may follow in our footsteps.