Please Stop Misrepresenting Atheism

Bill Gates

A couple of days ago I was browsing a favourite site of mine: The Conversation and I came across the following article:

Atheism Must Be About More Than Just Not Believing In God

“Atheism needs to be attentive to what it means to live with the consequences of violence, senselessness and suffering. The trouble with atheism in its more conventional guises is a nerdish fetishism for all things that work: what is accurate, the instrumental and the efficient. The trouble is, many aspects of our world are not working. Because of this, the atheist is in danger of being perceived as deluded and aloof from the violent mess of the real. Atheism, if it is to be vital, needs to reconnect itself with the more disturbing, darker aspects of the human condition.”

The title alone was enough to get me all fired up – I’m sick of people trying to explain to atheists, what atheism IS and/or what it should be. I was going to write a separate post about it, but before I knew it I’d gone and left a big long rant in the comments section (wouldn’t be like me) that pretty much sums up everything I’ve got to say on the matter. So I’ll just paste my response here and y’all can go check out the article for yourselves; maybe even leave a comment of your own on there  too!

The title of this article starts off by completely misrepresenting atheism: “Atheism must be about more than just not believing in god”.

Um, no. Sorry, but that’s really all that atheism is. A lack of belief in any god. Not just the Christian god or whatever other flavour of religion that you think is the ‘one true religion’ just because you happen to have been lucky enough to have been raised to believe it, or grew up in a country where said ‘one true religion’ is predominant.

Atheists can and do get involved in many political causes. They discuss issues that go far beyond the topic of existentialism. They also eat breakfast, use public transport, sometimes arrive late for work and even pull the odd sickie. Just like everyone else does.

Declaring oneself an atheist may well be a way in which to find like minded people which with to converse, socialise or organise some kind of activity. But that’s no different to the way in which people get together to do things based on a shared interest in sports, the environment or craft beers from around the world. We seek out tribes in which we feel the most comfortable; where we feel a sense of common interest or purpose.

A lot of atheists like to seek out other atheists, because they want to be able to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t have at their very core, a belief that:

  • The world was created in 6 days
  • The earth is only 6500 years old
  • That a talking snake talked a woman into committing ‘original sin’
  • That a man built a big boat to house two of every species in order to escape a global flood (of which there is no evidence for having happened)
  • That Joseph Smith found gold tablets buried and had their meaning translated using special ‘seer stones’
  • That the punishment for unmarried sex should be lashes and/or exile
  • That women should have to cover their hair or their whole bodies from men
  • That a male infant should have his foreskin removed
  • That a race of giants once roamed the earth, the result of women and demi-gods interbreeding
  • (Insert crazy religious belief of choice here)

Sometimes we just want to know that the other person is on the same page as us, when it comes to having no belief in a deity, because it’s a lot easier than having to try to duck around the issues surrounding religious beliefs further down the line.

And yes, some atheists do try to use atheism as a starting point for other social justice issues – see the Atheism Plus movement for more details. But whilst it often appears that the majority of people who identify as being atheist also tend to be more liberal, concerned with human rights/animal rights and be of a more scientific bent than those who have religious beliefs, it doesn’t mean that atheism should be immediately connected to or expected to represent, any other political position, movement or shared ideology.

The writer of this article has done what countless other people have tried to claim for years and mistakenly tried to equate nothing more than a statement of a lack of any belief, with a multitude of other issues and ideas. Christianity has tried to hold some kind of monopoly on the concept of kindness/goodness/charity/philanthropy for so long, it has become entrenched in the minds of society to equate religious belief with ‘doing good’. The flipside of this is that people then want to try and lump everyone who doesn’t have a belief altogether and ask them what they feel or plan to do for the good of all mankind. Forgetting that people have been doing good and acting altruistically outside of any religious context, for much longer than these religions have even existed.

If people are doing good things because they feel it is their Christian duty, then one really has to ask what these people’s motivations really are. Not wanting to upset the invisible sky-depot in case you don’t get into heaven, isn’t really an act of altruism. And yet society seems to view that as a good way to live. But among those who do not believe, many have done just as many acts of charity or altruism, without expecting any big payoff in the great hereafter. Who is the ‘better’ person in the long run?

Atheists can be as charitable, altruistic or as involved in political causes as anyone claiming to be religious. But atheism doesn’t expect or require atheists to do or be anything. They do so of their own free will. People – believers especially – need to stop thinking that the religious have the monopoly on doing good and realise that atheism is not a counter-religion where one’s beliefs – or lack thereof – hold everyone together in one tidy little sheep-pen, directing or expecting a special set of ideas from us all.

Religion should not be the default position from which one goes on to try to compare any other mindset, ideal, belief or lack thereof. Stop trying to equate a lack of belief with anything other than it is.

I know, it’s kinda lazy for me to just use a comment from online to create a new blog post, but I’ve been meaning to write a new one for so long now, this just seemed like the perfect way to ease myself back into the game. What do you think about the way in which atheists and atheism are constantly being misrepresented by religious people and the media? Check out the link, become part of The Conversation and be sure to have a look through the rest of the site because there are a lot of great articles on there – some just waiting to be commented on!

Have a good weekend folks!


P.S. For a much better and in-depth response to the original article, please go read Joop Beris’ post on his ‘Random musings, rambling opinions’ blog here! He does a much better job of it than me and he’s well worth a follow!