By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet
Posted on September 13, 2011
In a regular poll conducted by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell on American political attitudes, atheists recently lost their spot as as the most disliked group in America to the Tea Party. Still, number two is simply way too high in the unpopularity rankings for a group of people who just happen to spend Sunday mornings in bed instead of in church. Polling data shows that nearly half of Americans would disapprove if their child married an atheist and nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t see atheists as sharing their vision of American society, numbers that outstripped similar prejudices toward Muslims and African Americans.
Of course, the real reason atheists are so hated has little to do with jealousy for all their free time, but largely because most Americans are better acquainted with myths than with the realities of atheists’ lives. Unfortunately, atheists often have these myths tossed in their faces, usually by believers who would rather talk about what they heard atheists are like rather than uncomfortable subjects such as the lack of proof for any gods.
These myths do more than hurt atheists. They also harm the basic religious freedoms of all Americans, regardless of their beliefs. Religious freedom and tolerance don’t mean much if they can’t be expanded to include those without religion. With that in mind, here’s 10 of the ugliest myths about atheists, debunked:
1) There are no atheists in foxholes.
“Of course there aren’t any atheists in foxholes. They’re on the battlefield fighting, instead of cowering and praying in their foxholes.”
2) Atheists are just angry with God.
I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He did not.
— Jules Renard
3) Atheists are aggressive and rude.
A religious person is a dangerous person. He may not become a thief or a murderer, but he is liable to become a nuisance. He carries with him many foolish and harmful superstitions, and he is possessed with the notion that it is his duty to give these superstitions to others. That is what makes trouble. Nothing is so worthless as superstition. . . .²
— Marilla M. Ricker, “Science Against Creeds,” I Am Not Afraid Are You? (1917).
4) Atheism is a white dude thing.
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the bible and they had the land.
— Desomond Tutu
5) Atheism is just a faith like any other.
“Atheism is a belief system the way “Off” is a TV channel.”
— George Carlin
6) Atheists don’t have a moral code.
But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe
that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is
better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better
to know than be ignorant.
— H. L. Mencken’s Creed, cited by George Seldes in Great Thoughts
7) Atheist lives are bleak and lack meaning.
“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent
people and the affection of children,to earn the appreciation of
honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to
appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world
a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a
redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
8) Atheists are hedonists who don’t understand the true meaning of love.
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it,” he said. “Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
— Stephen Hawking, advice to his children
9) Atheists have no way to cope after losing loved ones without the belief in an afterlife.
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
— Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Garden Of Proserpine
10) Atheists are out to destroy Christmas.
“I stop believing in Santa Klaus and Jesus the same day in my early childhood. I was astonished that my cousins stop to believe in Santa Klaus but kept their belief in Jesus.”
— Bruno Marchal
Debunking these myths about atheists in print can only do so much to quell believer fears about the supposed atheist menace. Even better would be for believers to find themselves an atheist, and instead of simply attacking them with these myths in an effort to frustrate them into submission, instead get to know them better. You might find they’re basically like everyone else, except more rested on Sundays and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating.
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.