Reducing Anti-Atheist Bigotry One Misconception at a Time

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I realize that some Christians do not believe that atheists exist. They have managed to convince themselves that everyone believes in their preferred god. Some who claim not to believe are lying to deceive them. Others may lack the insight to detect their own god-belief.

Most Christians do acknowledge the existence of atheists. This acknowledgment creates a need for explanations. Why would anyone not believe in gods? Who are these people who don't believe in gods like everyone else does? How did they get that way? Is there any danger that I could become an atheist?

Some Christians seek genuine answers by asking atheists. They recognize that atheists are in the best position to provide these answers. This can be a great opportunity for Christians who are curious about atheism.

Many do not seek answers from atheists. Some are fearful of interacting with atheists. Others don't know any atheists and don't consider why that might be the case. Many turn to their own clergy or books by Christian authors with these questions. And far too often, this is where the misconceptions begin.

Imagine that you are a fundamentalist Christian pastor. You might feel threatened if someone in your congregation seemed curious about atheism. You might worry about losing them. And you might worry even more about this curiosity spreading to others. You'll give them answers, but they will be answers crafted to support your agenda. It is hard to blame anyone in this position for doing this.

The result is that many Christians end up confused about atheism. They believe a variety of falsehoods about atheists. Besides being inaccurate, these misconceptions often maintain anti-atheist bigotry. That's why it is important to address them. We can't make Christians read what we have to say, but we can put it out there in the hope that some might.

How we do this is important. In figuring out how best to approach the task, we would do well to consider our goals. If we aim to equip Christians with accurate information, that's what we should do. If that's the goal, making Christians feel bad about themselves would undermine it. Attacking someone leads them to feel defensive. A state of defensiveness makes us less receptive to new information.

I realize this is often easier said than done. It is challenging for me too. When a Christian I've never met insists that I believe in his preferred god, it is hard to respond kindly. I want to say something like:

Oh, I'm so glad you came along! You've never met me, and you don't know anything about me. That means you are in the perfect position to know me better than I know myself. You've got me curious. What else do I believe without knowing it? Please teach me about myself!

But as tempting as this is, all it is going to do is lead the Christian to shut down. If my goal is nothing more than to end the conversation, I can proceed. If not, I'd be better served by being a bit less snarky.

Think about all the misconceptions about atheists you have heard from Christians. What is your favorite? What is the one that always makes you shake your head and laugh in amusement?