Why Are Atheists Disliked, Distrusted, and Discriminated Against?

Atheists are More Free than Ever, More Attacked than Ever:

Atheists in modern America have more freedom and can be more open about their atheism than at any time in history. Paradoxically, this openness has led to more direct and public bigotry towards atheists than at just about any other time in history as well. Thus while there are more open atheists than ever before, there are also significant pressures on atheists to stay in the closet.

Why is there so much bigotry and hatred directed at them, and why is most of it based upon misconceptions?

Atheists Have No Moral Values:

A popular justification for anti-atheist bigotry is the claim that atheists have no reason to be moral. If you can't rely on a person to be moral, then it's unwise to trust them at all. This is based upon generalizations and misunderstandings about atheists, and it's no better than thinking of Jews as all greedy or all blacks as criminals. It's an excuse to dismiss atheists, feel superior to them, and to not have to take seriously what they say about religion, theism, or politics.

Atheists are Selfish:

It's often assumed that atheists not only can't be moral without god, but in fact do not want to be moral. This attitude can be summarized by the oft-quoted Psalm 14:1: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good." Those who quote this rarely include the second sentence, but it is always there, hanging unspoken but nevertheless assumed in the background.

This accusation is as false as it is offensive. Read More...

Atheists Can't Understand Compassion, Love, Beauty:

It's common to hear theists dispute whether atheists are capable of really understanding love, compassion, or beauty because it is assumed that such concepts are necessarily based upon one's relationship with God.

Purely naturalistic understandings of such concepts are dismissed and it's even asserted that if humans evolved naturally, then such concepts would never have appeared. No support is offered for such claims, they are just asserted in a way designed to demean the humanity of atheists.

Atheists Worship Satan:

There is a common Christian assumption that only their god is relevant to the atheist. Therefore, if an atheist does not believe in their god, then they must worship the antithesis of their god: Satan. The truth is, though, that atheists who don't believe in a god also aren't going to believe in the god's supernatural competitor. There are atheists who worship a "Satan" which is just a metaphor, not a real being, but aside from those few exceptions there is no atheist "Satanism." Read More...

Atheists Are Communists:

A common complaint made by theists, typically conservative Christians, is that atheism and/or humanism are essentially socialist or communist in nature. Communism is not, however, inherently atheistic. It is possible to hold communistic or socialistic economic views while being a theist and it isn't at all uncommon to be an atheist while staunchly defending capitalism.

Linking atheism and communism is simply an attempted political smear, not a serious engagement with atheism. Read More...

Atheism is Responsible for Mass Murder:

Because atheists often criticize religion by pointing out how many people have died in the name of religion, some believers try to respond in kind. Millions of people died in Russia and China under communist governments - and those governments were atheistic, right? So weren't all of those people killed because of atheism - indeed, in the name of atheism? No, that conclusion does not follow. People were killed for a lot of different reasons. Read More...

Atheists are Anti-Religious:

It's not uncommon for atheists to criticize or even bash religion, thus giving rise to the perception that atheism itself is anti-religion - or at least the absence of religion - rather than simply the absence of theism.

This is not, however, an accurate perception because such criticisms are not a necessary aspect of atheism. Just because many atheists criticize or attack religion, that doesn't mean that there is a necessary or inherent correlation between atheism and irreligion. Read More...

Atheists Represent Doubt, Skepticism:

Atheists are often attacked because they represent the specter of doubt - doubt in and skepticism of traditional beliefs in a benign deity who made everything for a purpose and will make sure that everything turns out OK. This may be a reason why atheism is claimed to be a faith: if faith is less threatening than doubt, then "atheism as a faith" can be dismissed more readily than "atheism as a challenge, a question, and a doubt." Few Christians probably think consciously in these terms, though.

Godless Americans Should be Respected:

Although godless Americans are a minority, they can be found all over the nation and in all walks of life. If you don't personally know of any, it's likely because they don't want to take the risk of revealing their true feelings publicly - not even to their closest friends. In some places, being known as an atheist can result in serious personal or professional consequences, not unlike how it has been for gays coming out of the closet. Atheists risk discrimination, harassment, and even sometimes violence.

The above aren't the only reasons which people offer for their bigotry against atheists, but they are among the most popular reasons. One thing they all have in common is the fact that they simply aren't true: they all represent serious misunderstandings and misconceptions about atheism generally and atheists in particular.

Ironically, atheists' unwillingness to come out of the closet helps these misconceptions survive because theists simply never have a chance to learn any better; the presence of these misconceptions, however, ensures that atheists have more reason to stay quiet than to speak out.

Religious theists need to realize that their godless friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family are no less moral, no less loving, and no less American than they are. Godless Americans do not deserve any less respect than religious theists; on the contrary, religious theists should probably take advantage of the presence of atheists and learn from their questions about and challenges to traditional religious beliefs. The presence of skeptical atheists can help others better exercise skepticism themselves - and not just about religious dogmas. We could all do with being better at thinking critically about what goes on around us.

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Your Citation
Cline, Austin. "Why Are Atheists Disliked, Distrusted, and Discriminated Against?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 1, 2016, thoughtco.com/atheists-disliked-distrusted-discriminated-against-248571. Cline, Austin. (2016, January 1). Why Are Atheists Disliked, Distrusted, and Discriminated Against? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/atheists-disliked-distrusted-discriminated-against-248571 Cline, Austin. "Why Are Atheists Disliked, Distrusted, and Discriminated Against?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/atheists-disliked-distrusted-discriminated-against-248571 (accessed December 13, 2017).