What Christians think of “atheists”

December 1, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

From the Vancouver Sun, we learn what Christians allegedly think about “atheists”:

Religious believers distrust atheists more than members of other religious groups, gays and feminists, according to a new study by University of B.C. researchers.

The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists, said doctoral student Will Gervais, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That prejudice had a significant impact on what kinds of jobs people said they would hire atheists to do.

The study is titled, “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust Is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice.”

I don’t believe in any god, but I tend to avoid use of the term “atheist.”  I do this because when Christians use the word “atheist,” they tend to mean something much different than when non-believers use the term “atheist.”   If the subject of religiosity comes up, I describe myself by saying  “I don’t believe in god.”  If I’m asked whether I’m an “atheist,” I say yes, but then further explain that I’m not out to tell other people what to believe in their hearts, and I’m not out to ridicule them for having a personal private belief in a sentient non-physical being.    I explain that in my view it is impossible for there to be a thinking being who who lacks some sort of physical neural network.   If I’m pressed to ask what I think of Jesus, I typically say that I have some doubts that he ever existed, but if he did, I believe he was a human being, nothing more.

Based on these sorts of answers, I have almost always been able to have civil conversations and, often friendships, with those who claim to believe in God.   I doubt that many people have ever despised like they would a rapist based on my way of seeing the world.

I wonder what the above study would have shown had the it used “non-believer” or “non-religious” or “persons who don’t believe in God.”   For many Christians, “atheist” has become a word referring to a person who not only doesn’t believe in God but who is also hostile to those who do.  That is unfortunate, because many atheists are of the live-and-let-live attitude.  For many Christians, “atheist” has come to represent people who have no set of moral values and for whom “anything goes.”  This is especially unfortunate, because that is not how any atheists use the term “atheist.” Further, there are many degrees of non-belief and there are many other terms that more precisely describe the type of non-belief.   To lump all of these folks in with the cartoon version of the angry and intolerant atheist (which is the image that many Christians have of “atheists”) gives a false view (I believe) of what most Christians think of those who don’t believe in god.

Notwithstanding anything I’ve written above, I’m also convinced that American society treats atheists unfairly, oftentimes abyssmally. One especially egregious example is that those who identify themselves as “atheists” are excluded from public office.  I see this as a form of bigotry, especially given (this is my personal guess) that at least 50% of Americans who claim to believe in god don’t actually believe in god.  Rather, they believe in the importance of claiming to believe in god, and their actions speak much more loudly than their words.

I’ll end this post with a wish that someone would re-do the above study using a less inflammatory word to represent those who don’t believe in god.  If this were done, I would bet my house that those who “Don’t believe in God” would not be seen as less trustworthy than rapists.

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Category: Psychology Cognition, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Karl says:

    Its unfortunate that people like Richard Dawkins and serial rapists are nearly put in the same category by those who either are or who claim to be theists.

    This is probably because one is seen as an habitual perpetrator of spiritual abuse – actually attacking theists for what they believe, while the other is an habitual perpetrator of physical abuse.

    Both of these types of abuse can also lead to a loss of one’s ability to connect in anyway with others in any other than a physical way. People that do not know how to (or simply cannot) form onging healthy relationships with other people have been scared deeply in their spirits by being betrayed by someone they once trusted.

    Erich, It does seem you have mellowed quite a bit in your ridicule of those who believe in some kinds of theism.

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