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Misconceptions about atheists

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Sam Harris talks about common misconceptions about atheists, and whether atheism is more conducive to future growth for our society and culture.


Common Misconceptions Theists Have About Atheism

Here are presented 20 common misconceptions that theists tend to have about atheists and atheism. While this article tends to be targeted toward Christians, it also is good reading for people of all religions who don't fully understand atheism and may have some of these erroneous beliefs about what atheism is or is not.

Atheism is a religion

Atheism is simply being without belief in a god or gods. Atheism is not a religion any more than not playing golf is a sport. There are no atheist churches or services to attend (unless you count the Freethought churches that agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers attend).

Atheists worship science & logic

Atheists use science & logic to make determinations about the world & universe around them, but they do not "worship" science. The scientific process is simply a way to determine what's most likely true and what's not.

Atheists worship themselves/atheists see themselves as gods

Atheists do not think of themselves as gods. Atheists do tend to put a higher priority on quality of life than theists do, since atheists view this life as the only one they get. So they tend to enjoy the pursuit of happiness. However, they do not believe that they are gods themselves or worship themselves. There are many meek and non-egoist atheists.

Atheists worship material possessions instead of God

While there may be many atheists who are materialists, this is not a requirement of being an atheist. There are many secular humanist charities. If this were a valid argument, one could easily make the case that since there are so many rich preachers like Pat Robertson, Orel Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart & the like, that all Christians worship money.

The idea that atheists have to worship something is a misconception of theists who can't seem to understand that it is possible to get through life without doing so. The idea that atheists have simply replaced something else for God is silly, but it continually persists.

Atheists are unhappy people

Not true. Atheists are just as happy as theists, and some atheists who used to be religious are far happier as atheists. If an atheist is unhappy, it's usually because a theist is trying to force their religious views upon them.

Atheists just want to remove God from society

While there are a number of hard core atheists who believe we would be far better without religion than with it, most atheists simply want to live their lives without being persecuted or denigrated because of not having religious beliefs. Atheists will fight for the right to be free from religion whenever theists try to instill religion into government. Unfortunately in the US, most Christians see this as an attack on Christianity.

Atheists never tried to find God. If atheists only read & studied the bible, they'd be Christians

Not so. Many atheists have read & studied the bible, but what they see is a book of superstition which is filled with factual errors and contradictions. In fact, many atheists used to be religious at one time, but after seriously taking a look at their religious beliefs and studying the bible, they decided that religion was made up by man. In fact, there are many atheists who are more familiar with the bible than many Christians. It seems that many fervent Christians have never actually read through the bible.

If we didn't have religion, there would be no morality. People would just run around killing & stealing

Atheists are decent people just like theists are. They want the same things out of life (except for an afterlife) and understand that to make life better they have to live by the same set of moral rules and laws of the land that theists do. A basic tenet of Secular Humanism is to treat your fellow man well, the way you want to be treated. Atheists gain nothing by lying, cheating, stealing, or murdering. Religion does not have a monopoly on moral values, and in fact the vast majority of people in prison in the US believe in and practice some form of religion or another. Only about 1% or less of the prison population is agnostic or atheist, compared to about 10-15% in the general population.

Atheists are just angry at or rebelling against God

Atheists do not believe in any gods, so there's nothing there for them to be angry at. This tends to be a Christian misconception that everyone really does believe in god, but some people called atheists pretend not to. But this is like saying that anyone who does not believe in Bigfoot is angry at Bigfoot.

It's better to believe in God just in case he is real rather than risk going to Hell

This is known as Pascal's Wager, and is a false argument. If this were a valid argument, then you'd have to follow every different religion that ever existed and worship every different god that was ever worshipped, just to make sure you're worshipping the right one. Since many religions have conflicting beliefs, this is impossible. One would have had to commit suicide with the Jim Jones cult, the Branch Davidians, and the Heaven's Gate cult to make sure they were the right religion to follow.

Furthermore, if God is all-knowing, he would know when someone was believing in him just to be on the safe side, and probably would be angrier at that person than if they were honest and said they didn't believe. Believing just in case is kind of like believing in aliens from other planets in case they are coming to take all the good people back to their planet to live in paradise forever. It's silly and absurd. And believing just in case does not make God any more real.

Atheists are trying to use science to disprove God's existence

Science is a series of questions and answers to investigate the world & universe around us. Scientists are simply trying to learn about our world, and the fact that scientific discoveries reveal facts that contradict what's written in the bible are incidental. It's a silly notion that scientists are conducting experiments to try to disprove God exists. It's just that in all our scientific discovery, no trace of any gods has been found.

Atheists claim that God doesn't exist, but they can't prove it

First of all, not all atheists make the outright claim that God doesn't exist. Some, known as agnostic atheists, claim not to know whether or not a god exists, but don't believe in any. Most atheists look at the lack of evidence for his existence and the evidence that stories about God were made by man, they simply don't find reason to believe in him. There are a vocal few who do make the claim that there are no gods, and it is correct that they cannot prove it. However, it's not their place to disprove the existence of any gods, it's up to the believers in the gods to prove that they do exist before requiring others to believe in them.

Atheists always turn to God on their deathbed

This is false because there have been many atheists who have died who did not suddenly ask to be baptized & become Christian because they were scared of death.

There are no atheists in foxholes

This claim states that when someone is faced with immediate or possible termination of their life, they will become religious to avoid dying. There have been many atheist soldiers who have gone through wars without becoming Christians. The underlying theme of this argument, however, is that the best use of religion is as a crutch to get through rough times, which people do tend to do. This is why prison ministries are so successful, because they take someone who is at a low point in their life and preach to them.

Atheists can't be patriotic Americans. America is a Christian nation

America was never founded as a Christian nation. Some of the founding fathers were Deists, that is, they believed in a higher power such as a god but didn't believe that this god meddled in human affairs. The US Constitution, the document which gives us our freedoms and our national identity, does not make any mention of God or Jesus. Regarding religion, the First Amendment states that "Congress shall pass no law... respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This means that there will not be any established religion, including Christianity, nor can the government prohibit anyone from practicing any particular religion. If the United States were set up as a Christian nation, this passage would not be in the First Amendment. The United States is not a theocracy, and was never designed to be. The only statement in any founding US document possibly referencing a god is in the Declaration of Independence, which makes reference to a "creator," not calling God by name and certainly not making reference to Jesus.

American atheists are just as patriotic as American theists. Many atheists have served honorably in the armed forces. To say that they are second-class citizens is to go against all the freedoms that this country was founded upon. As an aside, the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, not by the founding fathers. And the motto "In God We Trust" did not become an official national motto until 1956.

Without religion, atheists must think that life has no meaning

Atheists may think that there is no cosmic meaning to life, as in a purpose for humankind's existence on Earth. However, to say that life has no meaning without religion is just absurd, since atheists give their own lives meaning. They are not sitting around waiting for a god-man to return from a mystical place called heaven, nor are they structuring their lives in order to spend all eternity with this god-man. Atheists tend to believe that meaning in life is what you make out of it. But most don't believe there is any divine purpose or meaning to our existence, but rather we are either an accident of nature or a result of natural evolutionary forces.

Atheists worship the devil

Atheists no more believe in a devil figure any more than they believe in a god. If atheists don't believe in an invisible sky fairy, why would they believe in an invisible boogeyman?

Atheism is based on faith that God doesn't exist

Not really. This is a theist argument which tries to turn the burden of proof around and put it upon the atheist. Atheism is based on any lack of evidence that a god exists, so one doesn't have to have faith, just an ability to think for themselves. If any solid, factual evidence for God's existence was found, then they would not be atheists any longer. However, no evidence has ever been found. This is why religions are based on faith, because they believe even though there's no proof that God exists. But an atheist doesn't have to prove that God doesn't exist, he just has to see that there is no evidence which shows otherwise.

It tends to be a Christian belief that everyone has to have faith in something, just like they tend to believe that everyone worships something. However this is not true, and is evident that Christians who tend to think this way have not yet understood how to see things from others' points of view.

Atheists pretend to not believe in God because they're afraid of going to Hell

Atheists tend to not believe in any afterlife, neither Heaven nor Hell, so this argument is false. There may be some Christians who fit this description, but if they're afraid of Hell they are not really atheists. Most atheists believe that the moment a person dies, that is the end of their conscious existence. No afterlife is waiting for them, neither good nor bad.

Atheists are communists

This is a silly holdover from the cold war when people erroneously thought that all communist Russians were atheists, so everyone in the US who is atheist must also be communist. Atheists hold a wide variety of political beliefs, from conservative to liberal. Painting everyone who doesn't believe in a god with the brush of communism shows a lack of understanding.

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