Sometimes, religious/ spiritual people want to “save” their atheist friend. And while most do it with good intentions, you should probably take a moment to try to understand your atheists friend perspective before you come for their belief system. Being empathetic to others is important, and since you are approaching your friend with good intentions, it is important for you to be compassionate and accepting of who they are and what their beliefs may be before you try to challenge them. Challenging beliefs can be a great thing, but we have to be respectful and understanding of others as we do it, or it can go from an opportunity of growth to a power dynamic struggle really quickly.
These are some common misconceptions about atheists that you should know about. 🙂
1. NOT ALL ATHEISTS HAD SOMETHING BAD HAPPEN TO THEM
I feel like a lot of the time, the common misconception is that atheists have had some sort of traumatic life event that has turned them away from God. When a former religious person starts to identify as atheist, others of that faith sometimes, and with good intention, try to encourage the atheist to return to faith and restore their belief in a higher power and a greater good. While this might be true for some people, this is not true for ALL atheists. Some of us just stopped believing and that’s okay. It doesn’t necessarily mean something bad happened to us that tainted our world view, it just means that we came to the realization through our own life experiences that a belief in a higher power seems implausible to us. Just as ridiculous as it may seem for you to believe there are people out there who don’t believe in a higher power, atheists feel just as strongly about their beliefs.
2. BEING ATHEIST DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE CLOSE-MINDED
In fact, it can sometimes mean the opposite. Some atheists were born and raised in a spiritual community. For myself I was raised Catholic, but after examining my beliefs I have come to realize I do not believe in a higher power or an afterlife. This does not mean I would not be interested in discussing religion with you, and since I was raised Catholic, I might actually understand your side of things a little more than you may think, but just because we disagree, it does not mean I am close-minded to your ideology. I may not change my opinion just as you may not change yours, and that’s okay.
3. ATHEISTS ARE NOT NECESSARILY SATANISTS
Just because we do not believe in a higher power or after-life it does not mean we shun your faith. In fact, I am not super familiar with Satanism, I do know that is a community all on its own that I do not subscribe to. Someone once told me they are more focused on praising knowledge and science, it isn’t so much about believing you should go out and hurt other people. But I know very little about this community, all I am trying to say that atheists are not Satanists by default. It’s a different title for a different reason.
I call myself atheist because I do not believe in a higher power or afterlife. I am choosing not to identify with religion for this reason. As an atheist, I personally have no intention of spiting the church (though I do find structured religion problematic at times, and I do have an issue with religion and law overlapping) but this does not necessarily mean I think all people who subscribe to religion are “bad”. In fact, it’s the opposite. I know most religious people have good intentions and deeply value forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and charity. I support those beliefs as well, I just personally do not need a structured institution to express those beliefs.
4. NOT ALL ATHEISTS CAN BE CONVERTED TO “SPIRITUAL”
This is another common misconception. People who have criticism with structured religion tend to think that atheists do as well, and that if only they could just express their spirituality outside of a structured institution then all will be well. This is not always the case. I am atheist because I believe that higher power and an afterlife are stories that make the concept of death easier to grasp. I have come to terms with this understanding of life and death on my own and I will continue to re-evaluate it throughout the rest of my life, but this does not necessarily mean I am secretly spiritual but that I just disagree with structured religion. While I am open to learning more about your opinion and I will definitely read the articles you suggest (as I know most people jump at the chance of ‘educating’ an atheist) this does not necessarily mean I am going to change my mind.
5. WE WOULD RATHER BE WRONG
I personally don’t want to be right. The idea of a higher power, a life purpose, an after-life, all of these are appealing concepts to me. And if when I die I am directed up to the gates of (hopefully) heaven, I will not complain. If I am reincarnated as a Queen, or a toad, or a supermodel, I will definitely be pretty happy about that. And if I knew for certain karma was real and was going to bite my enemies in the ass, then great! I wouldn’t mind knowing child molesters and murders were going to be sent to an eternal punishment of some kind (although, I don’t think I would wish your definition of hell on anyone if I’m being perfectly honest), but I don’t. I just don’t believe these things. I’m sorry. I know it hurts you to see I don’t because you have a good heart and you want me to believe in something greater, and I thank you for that! When people pray for me, or tell me that God loves me, I take it as a compliment, because that means that YOU love me. And I am eternally grateful for that! But it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to you. And that’s okay.
Would I like to believe that soulmates exist? Of course I would! I would love to have a soulmate 🙂 I hate being alone and I would love the idea of finding someone perfectly crafted for me by a higher power, but I believe you can fall in love with anyone. And while some people may be more compatible for you than others, that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with soulmates.
6. WE MIGHT BE LYING TO YOU ABOUT OUR REASONS FOR BEING ATHEIST
These misconceptions are common for a reason. And in my opinion, it’s because these are the lies that atheists tell spiritual people. As a for instance, if I see someone spiritual, I do not want to change them. I had an atheist convert me to atheism before I was ready, I just started to realize I agreed more with the things they were saying than what my church was saying. And it put me into a state of sadness for a really long time. Until I accepted it, and now I am okay, but I still would never want to do that to another person. So when someone asks me why I am atheist, I usually just tell them, “Well, I can’t believe in a God who puts people through suffering.” And I know full well your answer to that statement is that God put us here for a reason and before we get to earth we sign a contract with God and then we have to be tested throughout our lives and everything happens for a reason. First off, I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I think we can grow from trauma but that does not mean the trauma was necessary for us to grow. But aside from this, this isn’t the real reason I identify as atheist. I am atheist because I just don’t believe! I think that it’s stories and fiction. But I’m not going to upfront say that to you and try to convince you otherwise because I don’t want you to agree with me! I don’t want a 5 year old agreeing with me that Santa Claus isn’t real, and that’s how I view religion. Of course I understand religion is much more complicated than a story we tell children, and I am not trying to talk religion down, I am simply trying to give an analogy about how I feel on the subject. When you force your beliefs on someon and then they start to believe you, for a moment you feel accomplished and intelligent, because you convinced someone and you’ve “won” the debate. But then, you start to feel bad. Guilty. You feel as if you just controlled another person and forced yourself and your beliefs onto them. It’s not a good feeling, and I don’t want to experience that. I want you to believe in what makes you happy, as long as your belief is not hurting anyone (but if it is I WILL NOT tolerate that). But at the end of the day, our differences do not make one person right or better, and the other wrong and lesser. It just means that I want you to have your opinion and I want to have my own. If I am your friend I like you for a reason, I like and accept you the way you are and I hope you can say the same about me. True friendship is about accepting differences, and not forcing yourself on others. It is okay that you disagree with me. I am not trying to change you, but understand that this is my perception of the world, this is my reality, and I am happy with it, even if at first it was difficult to accept.
7. IT DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE A**HOLES
Yes, I get it, an atheist who does not actively work through the church to give back to the community or who doesn’t practice your religious values to a tee might be considered a bad person in your eyes. Though this is not the case. We still want to be good people, but we aren’t doing it to serve God. We are doing it because it is what is RIGHT. I want strangers to be happy and healthy, I want my enemies to live good lives. I am not a spiteful person, and I want everyone to live long, happy, and healthy lives, even the people I do not like. I don’t want people to suffer, and I would like to make the lives of others better if I can. But I don’t need to do this through an organized religion or from the fear of disappointing a higher power. I just want to do what is right because it is right. I stopped believing in karma too because I don’t want to act a certain way to get certain things back, and I don’t necessarily want the people who have hurt me to suffer in return. I may feel that way in a moment of anger for a split second, but in reality, I want everyone to be happy. And if I had the decision about whether or not I would make my enemies suffer, I wouldn’t. I am not a bad person, I just have a different set of beliefs than you do.