November 17, 2019

Do Atheists Hate Your God?

inquisitive starling

Many Christians seem to be genuinely confused about whether atheists hate their preferred god. I thought I'd see if I can help them out by clearing up this misconception. And from what I have observed on social media, it does seem to be a popular misconception. Almost every day that I use Twitter, I can count on seeing Christians claiming that we atheists hate their god. It looks like some Christians are trying to convince other Christians that this is the case. Are they right? Do atheists hate their god?

Of course not! It is not that I think I can speak for all atheists (I can't), but this is one of those unusual cases where I would not expect to encounter disagreement from atheists or anyone else who understands what atheism means. That's because atheists, by definition, do not believe gods. Hating one particular god out of all the gods in which one does not believe wouldn't make any sense. There's nothing there to hate. Perhaps some atheists hate the idea of your god, but that's something very different.

We Don't Hate What We Don't Think is Real

Hate is one of those intense emotional constellations that requires some real investment. Most of us have had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and disliking them for reasons we can't fully explain. Something about them just rubbed us the wrong way. But we don't typically hate them until we get to know them a bit better and become invested in them to some degree. This is why love and hate go together and why we tend to reserve much of our hate for those who wronged us in the context of a relationship where we were invested. Hate requires energy, and we don't usually hate things about which we don't care.

Nobody is going to be invested enough in things they don't think are real to hate them. This would be like hating a fictional character from a book or movie. We can all think of characters we didn't like, but we don't hate them. As fictional characters, we are not sufficiently invested in them for hate to apply. Back before I got burned out on The Walking Dead and quit watching it, I disliked the Negan character. He was that sort of villain, written in such a way to draw a negative reaction from the audience. And while it was an effective character, hate never applied because I never failed to realize that he was fictional. I didn't have anywhere close to enough emotional investment to hate him.

You Don't Hate the Many "False Gods"

Christians, can you think of any gods besides your own that you have heard about humans worshiping throughout history? If you answered "no," it seems like you have somehow managed to remain dangerously ignorant about human history because there have been thousands of such gods. Do names like Zeus or Odin not ring any bells? How about Baal, one of the many gods referenced in your bible? I'm sure you have heard of at least one of these, so I will assume that you answered "yes." You can think of at least one god you have heard about people worshiping besides your own. Do you believe in these other gods? Nope. They are "false gods," right? None of them (other than your own) is real. Now, how many of these gods do you hate? That's right! You don't hate any of them because you do not think they are real. You recognize that it doesn't make any sense to hate something you don't think exists.

Atheists are just like you in the sense that we do not hate any of these gods either. Like you, we don't think they exist. And like you, we recognize that it does not make sense to hate something we don't think is real. The only difference is that we do not see your god as being any more real than these other gods. We don't hate it for the same reason you don't hate these other gods. Hating something in which we do not believe would be nonsensical.

But Don't Atheists Hate Something Close to Your God?

Even if you are with me so far and are beginning to understand that atheists do not hate your preferred god any more than you hate Zeus or the other "false gods" that have been worshiped throughout time, there is likely something that still doesn't sit right with you. Doesn't it often seem like atheists are very angry at your god? If they weren't, why else would some of them devote their time to talking about it? Even if they don't really hate your god, don't they hate something very close to it?

I think it would be fair to say that some atheists do hate something close to your god. Specifically, some atheists hate (or at least have some negative feelings about) some of what you and your fellow Christians do and say in the name of your god. For example, we don't hate your god because its "holy" book condemns homosexuality; however, some of us do hate how some of you spread bigotry against LGBTQ+ persons on the basis of what your book says. We don't hate your god because it appears to instruct you to kill us, but some of us hate the idea that anyone might regard a book as "sacred" or "holy" that instructs them to kill people like me merely because we do not believe in their god. None of this means that we hate your god, but I can see how it might sometimes seem that way when we are expressing our strong opposition to some of what some of you believe and some of what you do because of what you believe.

Let me to pause for a minute to acknowledge that you personally aren't going around murdering LGBTQ+ people or atheists in the name of your god. We appreciate that. But even a brief tour through the history of Western civilization will reveal that Christians used to do this sort of thing. And some religions are still doing it today (i.e., Islam)! It shouldn't be too hard for you to understand why this makes us nervous and how it feels when we hear someone claiming that your bible is inerrant or holy. Many of the words attributed to your god are horrible.

Why Does This Misconception Persist?

I think the misconception that atheists hate your god persists, at least in part, because some Christians want you to believe it. They want you to believe it because doing so justifies bigotry and hostile attitudes toward atheists. If you, as a Christian, can be convinced that atheists hate your god, you are going to oppose them. You'd probably also feel far less guilty about mistreating them than you might otherwise. If they are the enemies of your god, they are likely to be your enemies as well. If, on the other hand, you were to recognize that atheists do not hate your god, then you'd have to acknowledge that the animosity you feel toward us is due to little more than the fact that we do not share your god-belief. That's a much harder pill to swallow than clinging to the misconceived notion that we hate your god.

Some Christians want to keep you riled up and angry toward atheists. Convincing you that we hate your god has been an effective way to do that. Unfortunately, that does not mean that it is true. Atheists do not hate your god because we do not believe in gods. Some atheists might say that they hate the idea of your god, but this almost always comes down to them hating what some of you do in the name of your god, the atrocities committed in its name, and some of the more objectionable statements and actions attributed to your god.