My goal here is not to challenge the accuracy of this stereotype but merely to uncover it so that we all know what each other means when we refer to the atheist stereotype.
While perhaps this is a noble goal, it is important to understand how others view you, I think it should be a goal to change those stereotypes when they are wrong, if not eliminate stereotypes all together.
Personally I think that stereotypes are ridiculous, even if a few of these actually do describe me (which is not at all surprising). But my point here is not to go over which items from this list describe me, or to “uncover” them, but to start a discussion on why these stereotypes do not describe atheists as a whole (or if they do describe atheists, to look at why that is).
Keep in mind, I am not speaking for all atheists here. I am speaking for myself, and how I view atheists as a group, but individuals within that group in many cases may disagree with me.
So without further ado, Atheists …
- are politically liberal (e.g., support gay rights and abortion)
While I am not aware of the stats on this, I would agree that this may be true the majority (more than 50%) of atheists, but it’s certainly not true across the board. There is a large group of Libertarians within the atheist community, most notably Penn Jillett and Teller. Personally I have also met at least one self described Conservative, who is an atheist. There is nothing in atheism that would push one towards any particular political ideology, so I’d guess that if there is any general correlation between the two groups, there is certainly no direct causation.
- hate Christianity and/or the Christian god
How can one hate a fictional character? Do christians hate Ra or Thor? Do Jews hate the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Do scientologissts hate Bugs Bunny? Actually on that last one, do they? They have some really fucked up beliefs, maybe Hubbard had something against cross-dressing cartoon rabbits? I just don’t know.
While in the US at least there may be conflicts between atheists and christians on many topics, and while atheists obviously view christianty as based on lies and fictions, and chrstians as deluded (or ignorant), there is certainly no hatred towards their delusions. Just as we have no hatred towards Santa Claus, we have none towards the christain god (or any other gods).
- trample people’s rights of free religious expression
While christians in the US may love to attempt to play the martyr, it’s an absolute joke when you look at it. No atheist (at least none I’ve ever heard of) want to stop anybody from believing in their god, and following their religion. If it helps you somehow, go for it. While I, and other atheists, may see it as pointless, we have no desire to stop you from having your religious beliefs.We do however have two issues with many christians, and these are the two issues we wish to remove from your faith.The first is when religious people use their beliefs to justify their actions. If you allow your child to die because you’re unwilling to allow doctors to treat them due to your interpretation of some holy book, you should go to jail. If you bomb an abortion clinic because god tells you to, you should go to jail. If you attack a person because they are homosexual and you believe god hates fags, you should go to jail.
The other issue we have is when you attempt to push your religious beliefs on others. When you attempt to push ideas with no scientific validity into science classrooms because your holy book was written by ignorant bronze age mankind, we will fight back. When you attempt to push your faith into the government, by pushing your holy book’s archaic morality onto others, we will fight back. When you push your religion into the government or areas that are government funded, we will fight back.
We could care less what you believe, or how you worship in your home, your church, etc. We just want you to keep it to yourself, not push it on the rest of us, and not use it to excuse the stupid or illegal things that you do.
- are always depressed, sad, or grumpylack hope
I’m not sure really why this is a stereotype of atheists. The only thing I can think of is that some of the more famous atheists are older guys who have been around forever (think James Randi), having essentially the same arguments with people for decades. And now after spending so much of their lives having these same arguments over and over they can tend to be short tempered with people bringing up the same crap they have “debunked” repeatedly throughout their careers.
- are immoral
I would argue, as Daniel Dennet and many others have done, that we all get our morality from society. The topic of morality is one I have covered previously in the comments on: An open question to all believers. Essentially it boils down to the fact that morality changing over time (slavery is now considered immoral, etc) shows that morality is not fixed. If it is not fixed, then we do not get our morality from any holy book, or from some supernatural deity, we get our morality from society, and that morality changes over time as society changes.
- are moral relativists
I see this as closely related to the previous stereotype, but also a distortion of the answer to that claim. On one hand the claim exists that atheists are immoral, and on the other claiming that our morality is changing. Most people who use this claim follow up by saying that therefor atheists have no ability to judge Hitler as immoral. By getting our morality from society we can condemn the actions of Hitler because society at the time of Hitler condemned Hitler.
We can not however go back retroactively and condemn individuals who fell with societal norms. But this does not mean we can not judge society negatively. A simple example to show this is we can look at Washington and Jefferson and say they were not perfect people, but they fell within the norms of society at their times. Yes they could have done more to help push towards the abolition of slavery, but we can not condemn them for not going beyond societal norms of the day. We can however look at any society past or present that accepted slavery and look upon that society as ignorant of basic human rights.As the moral ideal of a society change, we can expect the morality of those within that society to move with it. Some will move faster than society, and some will move slower, but over time the members of society in general do follow the moral guidelines that society creates.
- are uncivil and do not respect others
I’m not quite certain what the “uncivil” thing is supposed to mean. Perhaps somebody can clue me in because honestly I am at a loss.
The second part I can respond to, because I have actually heard this one personally. There is a drastic difference between not respecting somebodies ideas or beliefs, and not respecting a person. I do not respect a christian’s belief that the bible is the word of god and, more importantly, I have no obligation to respect this. I do respect your right to have those beliefs, but the beliefs themselves are not worthy of respect. If you want to believe that Santa stops by once a year and drops off gifts, as long as that belief does not harm others, then fine go ahead and believe it, but don’t expect me to not view you as delusional.Basically it boils down to: Respect the person and respect their right to believe; but the belief itself does not deserve respect.
- are prideful and lack humility
This may be true for some atheists, perhaps even most atheists I’m not sure, and it is certainly true for me. However I’d like to respond to this using the quote, from Tim Minchin, currently at the top of my blog:
“I think the trouble with being a critical thinker or an atheist, or a humanist is that you’re right. And it’s quite hard being right in the face of people who are wrong without sounding like a fuckwit. People go “do you think the vast majority of the world is wrong”, well yes, i don’t know how to say that nicely, but yes.”
- are angry
I’m not quite sure where this stereotype comes from, so it’s hard for me to discuss it in depth. I know some things anger me, but unlike some christians, I’ve never been tempted to beat somebody to death because they have a different sexuality than me, I’ve never been tempted to bomb a building because they do something I disagree with, etc. Perhaps one of my readers can clue me in a bit more on this concept, and I can give a more detailed response.
- are militant
If by militant you mean that we demand we have the same rights, and are respected to the same degree as theists without suffering from discrimination, then yes, you can call the atheist community militant.
If by militant you mean that we reject the claims and religion of theists, then yes we are militant.
If by militant you mean that we push back when religious beliefs are pushed upon us, then yes we are militant.However, if you mean, as has been said to me before, that we reject your right to believe what you wish in your life, then are are gravely mistaken.
- are evil
I don’t have the stats in front of me at current, so I am going to do the best I can with the stats. Hopefully if my stats are off, somebody will correct me, or if somebody really wants I can try to search google (since google does know EVERYTHING) for the stats, since I know I have seen them on-line previously.Percentage of US population who identify themselves as non-theist: 15%
Percentage of US jail population who identify themselves as non-theist: 0.2%
- are arrogant
My wife and my brother both tell me on occasion that I am an ass, and at times I talk down to people. So I do suppose that this one at least applies to me.
Also, when a person believes they know the truth about a subject, and they are talking to somebody who is unable or unwilling to see that truth, it can be frustrating sometimes. Some people react to this frustration by talking down to the person they are having the conversation/debate with.
And I can also understand how some of the more prominent atheists in the public eye (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc) can come across as arrogant.With that said, I also know many atheists who are at entirely the other end of the spectrum, who are actually in awe of their (and humanity’s) ignorance of the universe. Once one realizes how insignificant humanity is in relation to the universe, it becomes quite easy to understand our own ignorance.And while admittedly it is a tu quoque logical fallacy, I could also point out the arrogance of theists who claim to know the desires of their particular god on subjects ranging from abortion to stem cell research to homosexuality, etc…
- are mean, stingy, unforgiving, and generally horrible people
There are 4 things listed here, which to me seem quite unrelated, but I’ll do my best to tackle them.Mean: Dear theists,
We do not accept your religious belief. In fact we think that when it comes to these beliefs, you are deluded. We do not want your beliefs in government, in the law, in schools, or pushed into our lives. If you believe this makes us mean, then please try to think about how you would feel if you lived in a mostly islamic (or if you are muslim, how you’d feel in a mostly christian or jewish society) that tried to force their religious beliefs on you and your children. If after this, you still think we are being mean, then so be it, obviously we view this from very different perspectives, and I am not hopefully that I will ever be able to see eye to eye with you on this subject.Stingy: This one it seems I must grudgingly agree with. At least according to the data I have seen, it does appear that religious people do give more money to charitable organizations than do atheists. I’m not totally sure why this is, I do have a few ideas but who’s to say for sure without more information. Unforgiving: Wait, let me get this straight, people who believe in a god that is condemning all mankind to hell because Adam and Eve ate a fucking piece of fruit, are claiming that atheists are unforgiving? On a serious note, I have never heard this one, so I’m unsure exactly what this is supposed to mean.Generally Horrible People: I have heard many time from christians that the only way to be moral or good is “through jebus” or by “accepting jebus as your lord and saviour”. If this is in fact true, then sure, we are not “good” people. If goodness has to do with worshiping your particular sky-daddy fantasy, then of course atheists will always fail that test. As will all people of different religions or of your religion, but different denominations, or in some cases in the same denomination, but a different interpretation of that denomination’s teachings.
However if goodness has to do with caring for one’s friends and family or has to do with striving to make the world a better place, or has to do with anything that I would consider to be “virtuous”, then this is flat out wrong.
- are sexually promiscuous
Studies have shown that in places abstinence only education has been in place, and children have been signing abstinence pledges that girls are more likely to engage in unprotected sex, oral sex, anal sex, and spread venereal disease that those taught about safe sex. These abstinence only education states are in statistically more religious states. And while it is harder to point at direct link in this case, there is certainly a correlation between the two in this example. I can go into a number of other examples of religious people “being freaky”, but instead I’d like to put the onus on those making the claim, to show examples of sexual promiscuity in atheists, since I am personally unaware of any such links.
- are more interested in science than the average person
This one I would have to agree is generally true. While there are many theists who have a great love of science, the typical atheist (at least in my experience) does show much more interest in science than the typical theist. I suppose there are much worse things to have as a stereotype, especially since this one seemingly is true.
- are ignorant of scripture
In my experience typical atheists seem to have read the bible more than typical christians. Most christians I have come across know the passages repeated in their church service, and little else. This is not to say all christians are ignorant of their religion’s teachings, but it does describe a large percentage of the ones I have come into contact with in my life.Where I believe this stereotype comes from is that christians tend to quote the feel good passages “love your neighbor as yourself” and ignore the rest, while atheist tend to highlight the more violent passages (such as stoning your children if they disobey you). And in some cases even when we talk about the same passage, such as the story of Abraham and Issac, we see it as quite different (where a christian might take from it how noble Abraham was for being willing to follow god’s orders on faith, atheists migth loo kat it as the sottry of a sadistic diety who would ask their follower to slaughter their own child).
I think the issue here is not one of ignorance of your particular holy book, but in the atheist’s views on that book differing from the believer’s views.
- have faith in evolution and worship Darwin
- This is one most commonly used by creationists who lack an understanding of the difference between the Scientific and layman’s definition of the word Theory. I have “faith” in the Theory of evolution, just as I have faith in the Theory of Gravity. Both are scientific theories which have withstood much scientific debate, testing, etc… We trust the Theory of Evolution because it makes testable claims. We trust Theory of Evolution because it has stood up to scientific inquiry. And most importantly, we trust the Theory of Evolution because it is the best explanation we have for the diversity of live, the fossil record, and the development of species over time.The next problem I have with this statement is it seems to imply that only atheists accept the
Theory of Evolution, which is flat out wrong and misleading. Even if you only look at the United States, which has one of the worst acceptance levels of the Theory of Evolution in the world, most survey’s show around 35-45% of people believe in the Theory of Evolution. Most survey’s seem to show that roughly 15% of the US population are atheists. It doesn’t take a scientist to do the math and say that more people believe in evolution in the US than are atheists, and therefor it is clear that a significant number of believers accept that Theory of Evolution (in fact more believers accept the Theory of Evolution than atheists).
The other point made in this stereotype is that we worship Darwin. This is often implied by creationists using the term “Darwinists” as a way to denigrate theTheory of Evolution. While there is great admiration for Darwin, just as there is for many great scientists such as Einstein (who is my person “hero”), to say that we “worship” him is an obvious and intentional lie. I tend to look at Darwin in a similar manner as Thomas Huxley, who famously said: something to the effect (unfortunatly I can’t seem to find the quote right now) of: How simple is the Theory of Evolution, that I am stupid that I did not think of it myself.
- are determined to convert everyone else to their religion of materialism and negativity (i.e., secular humanism)
As I have mentioned previously a number of times, I could care less what you choose to believe in your own private life, as long as you do not use it to justify your actions, or attempt to force those beliefs on others. If you wish to believe a virgin gave birth to a god-man or you wish to believe that lord zenu dropped off souls here on earth after a multi trillion year federation of alien civilization, or you wish to believe in flying invisible pink unicorns makes no difference to me. I may think your beleifs are childish or show an ignorance of the world and the universe around you, but you have the right to hold those beliefs.
I do believe the world would be a better place if everybody followed the evidence, wherever that evidence may lead, but I am much more concerned about the negative aspects of many belief systems, than I am about the beliefs themselves. Too many wars are conflicts have arisen throughout human history over belief in god and religion that I think we need to focus on how to remove that divisiveness, not necessarily remove the belief altogether.
- worship the devil or are agents of Satan
The point I made regarding #2 (hate Christianity and/or the Christian god) applies here equally. Just as we do not hate your fictional characters, we also do not worship them either. When an atheist speaks of not believing in god and your holy books, it also mean they reject the other fictional aspects of your religion, such as heaven, hell, the devil, virgin births, etc… Just as you don’t believe in apollo, zeus, and lord zenu, we do not believe in your god or your devil, and we certainly do not worship either of them.As for your belief that we are agents of the devil, I’m not quite sure how to respond, since the type of person who would believe such utter nonsense if most likely incapable of a rational discussion on any topic. If you’d like to give it a shot, I’m, game, but I really have little to say on the subject, as I find it quite ludicrous and infantile.
A few final comments before I close. If you found some of what I said to be offensive, get over it. I have every right to offend, just as you do.
If you disagree with some of my thoughts here, please let me know. I’m sure that I make mistakes at times, and although I don’t like admitting I’m wrong, I will do it, when I come to realize it.
If you’re interested in more detail on these issues, please feel free to post any comments, and I will do my best to reply. Also, I previously covered a few of these ideas on other posts, particularly Is Atheism a (Religion/Faith/Belief System/etc)? if you’re interested in a bit more background on some of my thoughts on the subject.