Challenging Inaccurate Stereotypes About Atheists Without Making Things Worse

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Image by dendoktoor from Pixabay

Does it ever annoy you when religious believers express inaccurate stereotypes about atheists? "Atheists have daddy issues." "Atheists think they're better than everybody else." "Atheists want to ban the bible." It sometimes bugs me when I run across this stuff. And you know what? I bet religious believers feel the same way when atheists express inaccurate stereotypes about them. "Religious people are scientifically illiterate." "All Muslims want to criminalize blasphemy." "Christians want to end reproductive rights for women."

My guess is that many religious believers feel the same way I do when they hear these things. They are tempted to chime in with, "I am a Christian, and I don't think that way at all." I often find myself saying something similar. This is one reason I try to avoid spreading inaccurate stereotypes about religious believers. I recognize that religious believers are diverse, much like atheists.

What do I see on more liberal social media platforms? I see people expressing inaccurate stereotypes about conservatives and Christians. What do I see on more conservative social media platforms? I encounter people expressing inaccurate stereotypes about liberals, atheists, and Muslims. Most of the time, I ignore it and move on. Sometimes, I attempt to provide a corrective response.

I say something like, "I know several conservatives who would disagree with that." I have directed people to blogs written by conservative atheists. Some people are unaware they exist. I have explained, "I am a liberal and an atheist, and I agree with you about the dangers of Islamic extremism." Some people didn't know liberals might not be on board with some aspects of Islam.

As you'd expect, some of the responses I receive are negative. I have not noticed a big difference between how liberals and conservatives respond. Both groups can be hostile. Still, many of the responses I receive are positive. The person making the inaccurate statements may even apologize and correct them. Most people don't want to spew inaccurate stereotypes if they can help it.

To be clear, I do not feel some sort of moral obligation to respond to inaccurate stereotypes. That would be a full-time job and not one I'd want. When I respond, I do so in the hope that it may provoke thought on the part of the other party or those who see the interaction. I recognize that it will not always succeed, but that is my intent when I do speak up. I find that preferable to public shaming or vigilantism.

Does this approach reflect my privileged status? It might. At the least, it suggests that I can afford to be patient. If I couldn't, my response might be different. If I felt the stereotypes were endangering my life, my response would be different. So yes, I may have a greater luxury than some in deciding if and how to respond.

The person who receives your corrective online feedback may not change their mind. If they do, it may not happen right away. And if they do, you might never know about it. Your words may also impact others who weren't part of the interaction. Again, this might not be immediate and you might never know about it. Words have power even though it is not always evident.