I was out as both an atheist and a bisexual while I worked at the Salvation Army, and had co-workers who were lesbian, heterosexual, Mennonite, Catholic, atheist -- all across the spectrum. We rarely talked religion in our time laughing, working, and hanging out together. Occasionally though, the volunteers I worked with would sheepishly ask me if I'd be willing to answer some questions they had about atheism. These were great conversations. I found that many of them were familiar with the stereotype of an atheist: apathetic; angry and hateful against all forms of religion; selfish; indulgent. I told them that my impression is that this is an incredibly unfair characterization of atheists. Many of us are passionately involved in charity work and make a point to live frugally; in fact, many of the leaders of environmentalism are atheist. Many of us are deeply concerned about morality, and sometimes come up with stricter codes of conduct through self-exploration than those found in religious text (a friend of mine believes eating meat is immoral, for example). Many of us don't hate religion, we just want to be left alone to believe what we choose to believe freely and without direct or societal pressure to convert.


On the other hand, my atheist friends were shocked to find that the Salvation Army was willing not only to hire an atheist bisexual, but never made any formal attempts to convert me. They were further astounded that I befriended many of my Christian co-workers and still consider some of them my very closest friends. I told them how my Christian friends were as respectful of my beliefs as I was of theirs; how they held me in high esteem as a person of great moral character and how I felt the same in return; and how, at the end of the day, we were just both happy that the other had found a belief system that brought them internal peace. Granted, there was always the underlying understanding that if they became interested in becoming atheist, I'd be there for them to talk to, and vise versa. Honestly, my atheist friends were just shocked that I wasn't lynched in the front yard as a fag and an unbeliever. They had a very hard time believing that Christians could be so respectful, accepting, and loving. From the way my Christian friends explained it, this Jesus guy they're so obsessed with was known for dining with some pretty unpopular persons (tax collectors, prostitutes, etc.); spent a lot of time condemning the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees; insisted that judging others is wrong; told everyone to love EVERYONE (their neighbors, their enemies, everyone); and actually had nothing to say about homosexuality at all. My atheist friends were shocked to hear that the stereotype of religious folk might be unfair, much in the same way that the stereotype of atheists is unfair.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Christians getting lots of media attention for doing some very un-Jesus-like things. They're definitely not helping the stereotype of religious folk as judgmental, hateful, self-righteous assholes.

Here's something we, as atheists, might want to consider though: how accurate is our stereotype in regards to our own behavior, particularly the stereotype of atheists as incredibly hateful and resentful of all forms and expressions of religion? If a friend of mine "finds" religion and finds that it brings them inner peace, helps them through trauma and turmoil, and enriches their life, should I respond by trying to convert them to atheism? Insisting that they're being consoled by fairy tales and need to wake up? If their beliefs are helping them and not hurting them, is it really necessary that I push them to give them up?

I've found that atheists occasionally fit our stereotype too. Many of us have some very legitimate reasons to hate and resent religion and religious people (a friend of mine whose parents told him they would've sent him to conversion camp as a child had they known he was gay, comes to mind). Some of us just seem to be unnecessarily overflowing with resentment toward religion though, and seem to be as intent on converting the religious as some of them are on converting us. 

So tell me -- can one be atheist without being antitheist? Do we want the religious to accept our atheism and quit trying to convert us, and, if we do, is that hypocritical in light of our behavior toward their beliefs?

Views: 240

Comment by Stephen Walski on August 4, 2012 at 3:21pm

I dont care if religious people or religions respect or accept me. The individual religious peoples beliefs hold no bearing on my life in general.And i think that is your confusion here. Antitheists are anti religion and what it stands for and does. We are not antireligiouspeople.

What i do care about is that government is respectful of all peoples rights and beliefs by staying the hell out of them. What i do care about is that people in this world are free to believe what they want without trying to restrict everyone else around them to their beliefs. I do care that religious organizations and people that try and manipulate the rest of the world by using their religion as the measuring point to morality are simply looking for control, money, and power.

I would never support a law banning religious people from expressing their beliefs, from marrying each other, from gathering as they tend to do, from knocking on strangers doors and preaching and i consider myself a atheist zealot. I believe they should be free to practice and believe say and do what they please as long as it doesnt take away rights from anyone else or violate human rights in general. Im even perfectly fine with them believing im morally bankrupt and evil.In As long as they are not infringing on my right to say they are nutbags and to view religion and the people that practice it as mentally deficient.

The only thing i support law wise is the separation of church and state which applies universally to us as well as them. So no hypocritical ideals here.

Comment by Brian Daurelle on August 4, 2012 at 4:47pm

I certainly prefer to think of myself as Anti-theist or anti-religious.  The idea of benign tolerance is nice, but you'll find that it's logical conclusion is always less benign and peaceful that you'd like as long as some of the beleif systems we're tolerating involve ideas like infallibility and the moral imperitive of conversion of unbelievers.  It's all well and good for you, as an atheist, to say that you respect people's differences of opinions, and I don't doubt that most religious people who say the same thing really mean it, but the fact that the core of their belief system is a claim to some sort of higher knowledge means that there will always be a form of tension.  Whether the locus of this tension is between you and friends trying to convert you, or centered in the friends themselves, struggling to reconcile their innate drive to tolerance with their religion's demands, it is still a form of the conflict between the ideal of tolerance and belief systems that preclude tolerance.

While it may seem, in proximate terms, an acceptable or desirable state of things to have everyone respecting each other's differences in terms of private religious belief, it is easy to deduce, both from logic and from history, that this condition is not tenable.  No matter how moderate and level-headed a group of believers is, the carte-blanche acceptance of belief in things that no one can possibly know opens the floodgates for more controversial, ill-founded and invasive beliefs.  If we respect or condone any form of religious belief, however moderate, we immeadiately invite more radical deviations from the sane.  As Sam Harris has put it, religious moderates provide the milieau and justification for the beliefs and actions of extremists.

Additionally, it's worth noting that the Dawkins-style 'militant atheism', or 'evangelical atheism' is only hypocritical if you subscribe to a sickeningly strong form of cultural relativism, one that has not surprisingly been embraced by many religions in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Relativists purport that we cannot accurately or objectively know reality, for any number of reasons, and that therefore one person's viewpoint is just as valid as the next's.  Cultural relativism takes this reasoning to a higher (social) plane, and emerges with the mantra 'No culture is objectively better than another, only different'.  This is a dangerously pervasive attitude, especially in light of the present-day barbarism of some cultures, such as traditional Islamic societies.  To say that Western society, with rule of law, impartial justice and evidence-based policy is 'not better than, but different from' a culture in which honor killings, institutionalized rape and suicide bombings are (relatively) common is flagrantly unethical.  And, before anyone says so, I have no special hatred for muslims, simply the same distaste I share equally among all the religious, with a special recognition of the fact that Islam is in a particularly turbulent period of its history, comparable to Christianity during the late middle ages and early Enlightenment.  The point is that we don't have to accept the dogma of cultural relativism-- we can go right ahead and claim that a secular worldview and social system is better, using objective standards which are subject to criticism and change. 

To use an example you brought up; secular society has benefited untold millions of LGBT people who, even if they were born into a world which was less than accepting of them, were able to demand and affect change in that world in order to make it more amenable to them.  Contrast this to the experience of gay people in any number of religious or dogma-based societies; Pre-Stonewall America, Catholic Europe, modern-day Islamic and fundamentalist Christian countries, Nazi Germany etc.  Rather than recognizing the existance of a substantial minority and accomodating socio-cultural schemata to make room for them, a dogma-based society will do anything it can to supress or eliminate such inconsistencies.  The same can be said, across various times and places, of women and ethnic minorities.  Based on the fact that no one knows everything about everything, the only sensible approach to social living is to be flexible and open to change, rather than trying to interpret and respond to new facts about the world through old, outdated lenses.

So; No, it's not hypocritical for an atheist to continue 'preaching' his credo while at the same time asking religious people to stop doing so.  The essential difference is that no religious person has yet supplied an arguement for the validity of religion not based on circular reasoning, appeal to supernatural authority, appeal to personal experience or tenuous logical leaps.  An atheist, on the other hand, is not preaching dogma, but rather skepticism, it's exact opposite.  We're not selling yet another belief system that falls somewhere on the continuum of religions, but rather an attitude that contrasts that of believers of all stripes.  Saying "I don't believe anything for which there is not sufficient or compelling evidence" is qualitatively different from any statement of belief you might hear from a religious person.

Comment by Profound_Raincloud on August 4, 2012 at 10:34pm

Can't I be both?

Comment by Unseen on August 4, 2012 at 11:15pm

Agnostic atheist describes me. Being "anti" just tends to drive the opposition further into their delusions. It's better to just be who you are and answer any questions they may ask out of curiosity. In fact, I'm far rougher on other atheists than I am on theists for this reason. I think/hope theists can deal with reasoned argument. Not so sure about the theists.

Comment by James Cox on August 4, 2012 at 11:34pm

Under general conditions, I am just trying to have a nice day! If some intruding salesperson walks up to me and asks, 'I have a nice religion, my leader's name is 'X', would you like to believe?' I normally say 'not interested'. If they get really pushy, I might just walk away. If they get in my face, condemn me to hell, suggest that my mind would work better if I believe their religion, or denigh me access to supplies, work, etc, I reserve a special place for these people where the ripping and tearing rabid 'atheist' comes out to play, but only for a few seconds, enough to indicate a boundary crossing.

I have seen some rather disturbing behaviors of theists, at times, but I also know that there exists a dear class of religious folks that I can call friends.  

Comment by Shark Bear on August 5, 2012 at 1:13am

I have thought a great deal about where I stand on the continuum of accepting-indifferent-atheist to active-vocal-antitheist. I think the reason for my conclusion, which I will get to later, is as a result of a different continuum. That continuum being skepticism - faith in authorities. Due to where my thinking lies on the second continuum, as far towards skepticism as I can convince my primitive and sometimes non user friendly brain to be, I am also an anti-homeopathicist and an anti-vaccines-cause-autism-ist. I hear claims and observe phenomena and seek evidence and explanations instead of trusting the supposed authorities readily. I seek for all realms of my life evidence and reason to support the ideas I hold and how I spend my time and money. I don't separate debunking false marketing claims of shoddy products marketed on late night TV from debunking the marketing claims of religions in terms of the logical process applied to both scenarios. Important in my lumping of religion with late night TV products is that both can be adressed using evidence based inquiry. There is to me more importance placed on the religious claims because they tend to be more involved in matters of human well being than late night TV scams. So I am across the board anti-bullshit and one flavour of bullshit is religion.

Comment by William Boyd on August 5, 2012 at 1:31am

In my opinion, I think that an atheist does not necessarily have to be an anti-theist.

However I don't think an anti-theist could not be an atheist. Should I understand both terms correctly.

I would consider myself anti-theist for the best part.

Less tolerant as time goes by though.

Comment by archaeopteryx on August 5, 2012 at 11:29am

RE: "On the other hand, there are plenty of Christians getting lots of media attention for doing some very un-Jesus-like things. They're definitely not helping the stereotype of religious folk as judgmental, hateful, self-righteous assholes."

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
-- Mohandas Gandhi --

Comment by M on August 5, 2012 at 5:43pm

being an atheist will make one an anti-theist . sooner or later he will be that's because religions aren't tolerant enough to accept others and accept differences.

I guess why every atheist was shocked and didn't believe it is because ur example is the exception and not the rule.

i don't mind people become religious as long as they don't try to shove their twisted morals into my life and try to force me to live according to their rules..when that happens i become an anti-theist as a defense mechanism and not as a way of life.

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