By Rachel Popa
Managing Editor of Social Media and Web Content
Much like “abortion” and “feminism,” “atheism” can be a dirty word. Just like the latter two words, “atheism” carries with it many misconceptions that are just not true. So, as someone who used to be a believer and now is not, allow me to break some of the common misconceptions down.
One of the most common misconceptions about atheism and atheists in general is that they’re lost, amoral people who hate religion. In reality, the exact opposite is true. Many atheists used to believe in religion, and have since chosen to not follow any particular set of beliefs. Whether atheists choose not believe because their former religion was the religion of their parents that they were forced into, or if they choose to believe scientific theories instead, the main point is that atheism is a choice. Hating religion doesn’t make someone an atheist, and it’s not a requirement of being an atheist.
One of the main criticisms I have of many mainstream atheists is that they can be dismissive and condescending to people who do believe in a religion. For example, one of the most prominent atheists in America, Bill Maher, tends to insult people for believing in religion. In his 2008 documentary, “Religulous,” Maher blames religion for much of the violence in the world. While people all over the world have committed acts of violence in the name of religion, that does not mean that any religion is inherently violent. Many more people have done good things in the name of religion, although I would argue that one does not need religion to be a good person.
According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, many values that religious texts say are good are secular values that predate religious texts, such as the Golden Rule. Regardless of where shared human values come from, hating religion is not the reason why atheists choose not to believe in religion, and it is also the mark of an atheist who, in my opinion, needs to grow up and learn how to criticize ideas without insulting people who do believe.
One other misconception about atheism is that since atheists do not have beliefs, then they think life is meaningless. Once again, the exact opposite is true. Many atheists see life as a precious thing since, scientifically, life is rare in the universe. For me, just the fact that we get to live on a planet like Earth gives life plenty of meaning. One of my personal heroes, Neil deGrasse Tyson, said in his show “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” that is is incredibly spiritual to realize that, according to science, everything around us (including ourselves) are made up of the same material as stars.
Additionally, life does not have just one meaning because “meaning” is a human invention. Objectively, things in the world have meaning because humans gave it to them. Regardless of what a person chooses to believe, we have a secular government in America that protects its citizens’ rights to have beliefs, or lack thereof.
The last misconception I’ll talk about is that atheists are arrogant because they try to explain everything about the world. While I can agree that some atheists can act arrogant and rude (BIll Maher) when talking about religion, many atheists just like to question why people believe what they believe, and why things are the way that they are. After all, the more we know about the world around us, the more equipped we are as a society to deal with challenges the world presents to us.
I can understand why some people would see atheists as cold people because they’re not believers, but that is probably because they have never met an atheist. Chances are, someone you know is an atheist. According to the Pew Research Center, there are more atheists in America than Jewish people. Just like anyone else, atheists work, go to school and live lives as normal as anyone else. The best way to understand why someone believes what they believe is to ask them. As Neil deGrasse Tyson said in an interview with CNN in 2011: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”