A friend of mine recently shared a meme about atheists (above) that I found a) mildly humorous, and then b) irritating. (The 2-3 other atheists I know don’t get offended, just irritated.) I didn’t like the joke because it’s so far from the truth, and it’s mocking a group of people that mainly just want to be left alone. Of course, that’s not how atheists have been portrayed in the press lately, as hellbent on trying to disprove God. The truth is, the atheists who don’t live in New York are much meeker. So the real life me said nothing about the crude meme, but cartoon me can bitch about it on my blog. And for good reason. This chart from The Huffington Post shows only a slice of the discrimination we encounter or actively avoid all our lives, keeping our true beliefs well hidden. It’s bad enough in the U.S., but several countries even punish atheism as a form of “apostasy,” with death.
Jokes about arrogant atheists might characterize someone like Richard Dawkins (someone I highly respect), but not me. I’ve spent most of my life hiding my atheism from everyone–parents, teachers, friends, and now colleagues and students. In fact, I’m extremely lucky I can hide. Many minority groups can’t distance themselves from what makes them different, and it’s caused them the kind of pain and suffering I’ve managed to avoid.
The Pew Research Center provides plenty of helpful stats about atheists, including the fact that we’re regarded as rather cold and uncaring people. Some have even said that atheists are “scared” by religion’s flourishing. In all honesty, the only thing I’m scared of is being portrayed as a soulless vampire, or people thinking that I don’t even deserve to be a citizen.
So with that, I’ve generated a handy list to use if your friend ever comes out as an atheist. Obviously, I can’t speak for all atheists, just like you couldn’t speak for all Christians or Muslims, Jews, or Buddhists. So when I say “we” I’m just trying to break the monotony of saying I and me over and over again.
- Atheists are caring, giving people. Declining to believe in a deity doesn’t mean we reject the tenants of civilization or embrace anarchy. It means that we do all of the good things because they benefit people here and now, and because acting ethically creates a positive cycle that benefits everyone in the end, not because a book told us to.
- Atheists don’t wake up every morning cursing God, or thinking atheism is a way to strike back against society. My atheism feels as natural to me as your religion does to you.
- Some atheists are Goths, but not all of us. I don’t have a rock band. If I had more time and motivation, I’d probably do the whole full-scale Goth thing more often. But I don’t.
- Most atheists, such as me, have no idea how to draw a pentagram. I do listen to Rob Zombie, though.
- Most of us don’t feel the need to mock other religions. We aren’t all militant atheists like Dawkins. We don’t think atheism is the cure to anything.
- Your atheist friend just might be the most genuine and open-minded person you know. If not, then it’s not because of the atheism.
- Our atheism is not about you. It’s not meant to offend anyone, or prove anything. If we mention our atheism casually, it’s because we want you to know more about us, and that’s it.
- We don’t care if you talk about God or church or temple or mosque. Just don’t cram it down our throats. You wouldn’t try to convert a Jew or a Muslim. So leave us alone.
- Atheism isn’t a fashion statement. A 100 percent atheist like me feels the same way about paganism or worshiping non-Western Gods as the Western ones–unnecessary.
- We don’t worship Satan, or a flying spaghetti monster. (In fact, I get irritated at the spaghetti monster camp sometimes.) We believe that all good and evil in the world comes from people.