Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Here we go again.

A friend on facebook posted a link to a new study showing just how much everyone hates us atheists, arguing that this hatred stems mostly from distrust.  I wouldn't have felt the need to comment on this originally; it's a sad but true fact that people distrust atheists, that we're one of the most hated groups in the world, yadda yadda yadda.  Then I saw this part of the study:

 this description — of an individual who commits insurance fraud and steals money when the chances of detection are minimal — was only seen as representative of atheists and rapists, and people did not significantly differentiate atheists from rapists.
Read the link presented by the Friendly Atheist to see the whole scenario, but I promise you it doesn't paint a good picture.  It doesn't say "oh, all people think atheists are awful," but it does say when people make logical fallacies of inference, they view us as just as awful, immoral, and corrupt as a rapist.

This is unacceptable.

Why is it that we live in a world where belief in an unproven and to some degree unprovable phenomenon is the mark of good morality?  Why are we constantly viewed as cesspools of greed and villainy, time and time again?  I've been spared the bulk of this treatment on most cases.  I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and people who either are also atheists or, at the very least, are areligious.  Yet even still it happens.  I've been told before that my atheism is just a phase, and I made my own mother ask her friends if she was a failure when I "came out of the atheist closet."  She came to respect my decision over time, and I respect her for that, but then there are other, more recent examples.

When my girlfriend and I "went public" with our relationship, linking our profiles on facebook, one of her coworkers came to her and said, "Oh my god, Erin, did you know that your boyfriend is an atheist?"  It's funny, but also more than a little sad.

Ok, I'll admit, this is probably coming across as a little more angry than it ought, but I hate this.  Still, The Friendly Atheist offers good advice, advice to enact change.

Let’s say all of this is accurate. How do we counteract the negative perceptions about us?
Two ways.
First, we have to continue doing community service — serving at food banks, donating to charity, giving blood, etc. Show people that we can be good without god.
Second, we have to let people we trust know that we’re atheists. People think poorly of atheists because they don’t think they know any. It’s a shock to their system when they find out someone close to them doesn’t believe in a god… so shock them! Let them know that someone they already trust is an atheist.
Those two things would do more to reverse the results the researchers found in these studies than anything else I can think of.
So yes.  Friends, I am an atheist.  And yes, we do good deeds not because people are watching, but because it is fundamentally the right thing to do.  The reward is in the success and goodwill of our entire species, because I do have faith.  I have faith in the heart of humanity, in our dedication to others, and I have faith that most people do good deeds not because they are afraid of eternal punishment or hope that they'll "get their reward in heaven," but because it's the right way to act.

And if you think that fear of hell will persuade anyone any more than fear of prison will, I've got a plot of land on the moon I'd like to sell you.


  1. That whole let someone you trust know you're atheist thing makes it sound like you've become the gay of the religious world. Atheism isn't like coming out of the closet in most urban areas, is it? They're a dime a dozen in my world. I think the poll is skewed or my experience is. I know I might be on the weird end of things since I am friends with more atheists than people of spiritual or religious paths, but it still doesn't seem like something that would cause that big of an issue. Am I just missing something?

  2. Cam, in your world gays are also a dime a dozen. You don't exactly live in mainstream society. Your friends tend to be social deviants, and you take classes in the sciences (which tends, as you have complained to me, to be a haven for atheists). I'm fairly certain that your experiences are fairly heavily skewed on account. Remember that most people don't understand science, and a terrifyingly large portion of Americans when polled say they don't accept evolution. Since this isn't the first piece of literature talking about how hated we atheists are, and since my experience is somewhat similar, it seems to be fairly accurate. Hell, the drama in my family over me becoming an atheist was worse than when I told my mom I thought I might be gay in grade school. She understood me being gay, even though I wasn't really. It took her months to understand me being an atheist.