Debunking Some Myths About Atheists September 14, 2011

Debunking Some Myths About Atheists

Amanda Marcotte has an article up at AlterNet called “10 Myths Many Religious People Hold About Atheists, Debunked” — none of it should be news to people who visit atheist blogs regularly… or know an atheist or two personally… or listen to anyone other than their pastors. Unfortunately, I suspect some people will actually learn something from this.

You can see more elaboration on the site, but here’s the list:

  1. There are no atheists in foxholes.
  2. Atheists are just angry with God.
  3. Atheists are aggressive and rude.
  4. Atheism is a white dude thing.
  5. Atheism is just a faith like any other.
  6. Atheists don’t have a moral code.
  7. Atheist lives are bleak and lack meaning.
  8. Atheists are hedonists who don’t understand the true meaning of love.
  9. Atheists have no way to cope after losing loved ones without the belief in an afterlife.
  10. Atheists are out to destroy Christmas.

Why is this list so important? Marcotte explains:

Debunking these myths about atheists in print can only do so much to quell believer fears about the supposed atheist menace. Even better would be for believers to find themselves an atheist, and instead of simply attacking them with these myths in an effort to frustrate them into submission, instead get to know them better. You might find they’re basically like everyone else, except more rested on Sundays and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating.

Are there any she left off the list that you think should be on there?

(Thanks to Garrison for the link!)

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  •      Actually, atheism is a facet of Christianity. Jesus Christ never told anyone they should go to church. The most explicitly stated instruction of Jesus Christ is adjoined to the Lord’s Prayer and can be paraphrased as follows: don’t go to church to pray, those people are hypocrites! Jesus Christ hated the Pharisees, i.e. the religious right. In emotional terms, the atheist message is fully consistent with the pov of Jesus Christ for a simple reason: He was a homosexual. To learn more,visit my web site http://www.www.darkknowledgebykennethlow

  • I don’t follow the logic in your last sentence – what is the connection between atheism and homosexuality, such that one “simply” follows the other?

    Edited to add: Never mind, you are concerned with “emotion.” What is the emotional connection between atheism and homosexuality? Isn’t a man’s relationship with a male god nominally a homosocial one?

  • Anonymous

    On a related note, Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk are writing a book, 50 Great Myths About Atheism.

  • Phaceplant

    Nor the logic of the first…  

  • Good article.  The myth that annoys me the most is “atheists are angry with God.”  This phrase generally feels like an attempt by Christians to boil atheism down to an illogical, emotional stance rather than a reasoned and logical position.  It’s used to imply that we’re only atheists because we are angry, and thus have sinned deliberately by turning against God– as if atheism is just a childish temper tantrum.

  • Good article.  The myth that annoys me the most is “atheists are angry with God.”  This phrase generally feels like an attempt by Christians to boil atheism down to an illogical, emotional stance rather than a reasoned and logical position.  It’s used to imply that we’re only atheists because we are angry, and thus have sinned deliberately by turning against God– as if atheism is just a childish temper tantrum.

  • Austin

    I love Christmas, it’s one of only 2 days of the year where I get free stuff.

  • ’10.Atheists are out to destroy Christmas.’

     I am the crazy mother who puts up his Christmas tree in mid November. I love the music, the lights, the warmth. I like the idea of a time of year when many people around the world collectively engender kindness, and childlike wonder. Peace on earth, and good will toward humans. Its a beautiful notion, and a wonderful way to get through winter. I even enjoy the consumerism, because it makes the having a coffee, and watching the multitudes in the decorated malls entertaining. Despite the stress, it is comforting to know that most people are thinking of others. I’ve been told by my family, that as a non-believer, perhaps I don’t have the right to celebrate Christmas. I think THEY are missing the point. Easter, on the other hand…… Blah!

  • Michael

    Not a bad list, though I think believers will simple not-believe it’s true… Ironic, huh?

  • #9 is so strange to me, I guess because I have never believed in an afterlife. If a little kid can deal with death without believing in heaven, why are grown adults presumed to be incapable of it? If children aren’t taught that they’re immortal to begin with, it seems to me that the general attitude towards death would be much healthier.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding #7, as I posted on AlterNet, this assertion makes me laugh. Do people become atheists because we just perversely decide one day to have meaningless lives?

    I turn it around and tell christians that I don’t fear the prospect of going to their hell, because according to their own beliefs that would show my earthly life had meaning after all.

    And regarding #8, Vox Day claims that atheism attracts socially retarded guys who have trouble finding girlfriends. Theists can’t agree on their stereotype: Do they want to characterize male atheists as swingers, or as adult virgins (who apparently can’t even pick up atheists chicks at conferences)?

  • Lyall

    Fantastic list to be reminded of. (And, if I may, “more rested on Sundays and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating” is now my official lead argument for atheism baahahaha)

  • Maverick

    I think they’re going for attempted swingers who don’t succeed at it. Maybe the only atheist they’ve heard of is Elevator Guy.

    Regarding your first point, theists tell me believe they can get meaning in their lives because of heaven (and I can’t have any meaning, because I don’t believe in an afterlife). My response is: “Let’s say you spend an eternity in Heaven getting reward. So? How does that give meaning to life?” Haven’t gotten a good response yet.

  • Kamaka

    Actually, atheism is a facet of Christianity.

    Actually, most, if not all, atheists consider christianity a bunch of made-up stuff.

    So “The most explicitly stated instruction of Jesus Christ”  doesn’t carry much weight with atheist types.

    Jesus was a homosexual?  I do believe you are making stuff up, too.

  • Anonymous

    What if you go to heaven, and find that your existence there doesn’t have meaning or purpose?

  • Michael Appleman

    Not to mention logical trip-and-fall-down-the-stairs of us being angry with something we don’t believe even exists.

  • Michael Appleman

    Christmas is a stolen holiday anyways. Christians don’t really have any right to call it their own either.

  • Someone went to the conspiracy mart, and came back with two loaves of crazy, and a fruit basket. Side-note: I wonder if Jesus would enjoy the A-list?

  • ohioobserver

    I have another one I hear frequently:  “atheists shouldn’t be allowed to teach or be near childen.”  I guess that means we’re Satanic child-molesters.  (Or is this a corollary of one of the other 10?)

  • dauntless

    Hail Saturnalia!

  • Anonymous

    While these stereotypes show confusion about atheism, at least they pick up on the fact that atheism as people really use the term refers to something more than a mysterious void in the universe called “the absence of belief in gods.” The understood definition of atheism means something like “the criticism of theism and related beliefs.”

    This means that in practice atheists have alternative opinions about the things theists normally connect with religious doctrines and the belief in god. We don’t all have the same opinions in contrast to what theists believe, of course; but we do tend to have a cluster of beliefs which distinguishes us from theists. I doubt you’d find an atheist who lives in fear of defying Jewish superstitions about the sabbath, for example. The void definition promoted by some atheists strikes me as dishonest and in violation of how theists see real atheists behave.

  • Anonymous

    “Atheists refuse to believe in God, because, they don’t want to have to give up sinning.”

    I never got this one, as I never believed in sin in the first place. Besides the fact that I can’t choose what to believe. I need data to change my beliefs, and convincing data is non-existent when dealing with gods (and ghosts and psychics and homeopathy…).

  • Renshia

    or anything in between.

  • Anonymous

    You’re missing the point.  It’s supposed to say that we know God exists, but we’re being petulant about it anyway.  It’s a way to accuse us of dishonesty without saying it.

  • Renshia

    Ah, I see the nutters are loose.

  • Grisha

    Easter is stolen too.  Chris enjoy nice spring day as well.

  • Dan W

    Great article. I suppose it could be argued that one can dislike some fictional characters (whether they’re gods or not), but disliking some fictional characters doesn’t make them real. A better reply to #2 is that I’m not so much angry at the god(s) theists believe in, but at the actions some theists do “in the name of” their god(s).

  • Grisha


    You post confused me.  Could you, please, clearly explain what you are trying to say?

  • I remember back in high school as soon as November 12th hit I would start wearing a Santa hat. 

  • Lamont

    Since I was born on Dec 25th, I am _actually_ out to destroy Christmas because Jesus screwed up my birthday…

  • Coyotenose

    11. Atheists prefer a nice red wine with their babies.

    I’m a brandy-at-all-times sort myself.

  • M Vanroy

    “Atheists fornicate in the street.” I was kinda hoping that myth was true.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    If “sin” is a transgression against divine law then an atheist is no longer under divine law (doesn’t believe in the divine) and therefore is incapable of transgressing against it.  We are therefore free of “sin”.  The exact opposite of not wanting to give up sinning.

  • Greg

    That just isn’t true. I’ll be surprised if you can find twenty people who consider atheism to be the definition you gave. I also don’t know anyone who refers to a ‘mysterious void in the universe’ that you claim people refer to as atheism. No-one says atheism is a physical thing: it is the description of a position. That is, not believing in a theistic god.

    The ironic thing is, that as your example of one of a ‘cluster of beliefs’ that atheists have to distinguish us from theists, you give an example of a non-belief. I’d agree with you – atheists don’t have that belief. And you know why? Because we don’t have a belief in a theistic god (more specifically the Jewish one)! Your example backs up the definition you (for whatever reason) rail against, and if it is the best you have, it demolishes your claim.

  • TychaBrahe

    I’m a volunteer with Soldiers’ Angels.  I just posted a link to the article on my Facebook wall with the comment, “My favorite one is how we atheists are trying to destroy Christmas. I don’t have time to debate it with you, as I have to go e-mail another 1000 schools to get them to send Christmas cards to the troops.”

    Speaking of which, if any of you would like to send secular cards to the troops, please visit

  • Smeg

    I’ve been told repeatedly by a theist friend that I’ doomed because I don’t believe in God, apparently I’m an amazing person and ‘behave’ better than most christians he knows, but my lack of belief will lead me to hell.  I’m agnostic/athiest and don’t follow the logic, if I see proof I will believe, until then I will live the best life I can without harming others, or allowing harm to come to others, but apparently a murderous, or thieving or adulterous  christian (or muslim or jew) is a better person than me, hhhhmmm very bad logic. 

    BTW my grandmother was a pious roman catholic woman in the republic of Ireland who couldn’t divorce so had numerous affairs.  Seems I obey the commandments better than she did but I’m still worse off simply for asking too many questions, go figure lol 

  • This looks like a really great cause! What a thoughtful way to make soldiers feel cared for and appreciated during the holiday season. A great big ‘You are not alone, be safe, Thank-You for your sacrifice.’ I will be posting the link on Facebook.

  • Poolio

    This is the one that drives me nuts as well.  People do not _choose_ to be atheists to get away with stuff!

    I became an atheist after 40 years of Christianity because there was no other rational position to take.  I actually spent a year or two trying to save my faith in spite of the evidence, once I educated myself on evolution, geology, and archaeology.  Then I turned my attention from science to the Bible itself and the whole house of cards came down.  It was the Bible itself that finally convinced me that the whole thing was nonsense.

    At no point did it occur to me that I can sin without consequence.  In fact, having my knowledge and beliefs finally cohere has made me a more positive person.

  • Anonymous

    Saturnalia mixed with countless winter solstice celebrations and the Nordic Yule festival. The latter is where Christmas trees and other tree-like decorations come from.

    Astronomically, the winter solstice is around December 21st (+/- 1 day). Calendar reforms pushed that back four days. For thousands of years it has been a time when the harvest and preparation for the winter was done, so the families could get together, have a feast – lots of meat was available – and do rituals in hope for a mild winter

  • Goodgollyollie

    3, 5, and 10 are debatable. I don’t believe atheists are rude in the general sense but a great many have a difficult time discussing God and maintaining civility. A lot of them feel since believe is silly anyway they should mock and ridicule to make their point. Richard Dawkins atheism. 
    As to 5, Most things are taken as faith and atheism is no different. It is a held belief not a certainty.
    And finally, number 10. Many atheists have expressed wanting to remove Christmas and replace it with it’s original meaning which they claim Christians have Hijacked which is Solstice.

  • OK, since I can’t speak for all people who don’t believe in the supernatural, I will only respond to “most things are taken as faith, and atheism is no different”. Yes it is. We don’t have ‘faith’ that there is no God (an ultimate creator), anymore than we have faith that Zeus was fictional. Not believing in something, is not the same as belief. I don’t believe in ‘no gods’, I have no belief IN god(s). It may sound like semantics, but the distinction is incredibly important. I could create a fictitious concept, and then claim you had ‘faith’ in your disbelief of my assertions. How, exactly would it require faith? Atheism is the default position, not belief in the myriad god constructs, both past and present.  Faith has nothing to do with atheism.

  • Cincinatheist

    Can a fictitious person be gay?  I suppose so. I mean, the guys in Brokeback Mountain were, and they’re fictitious.  

  • I completely agree! I grew up celebrating Christmas (not in an atheist household, but a very non-religious one), and absolutely love the holiday. If you want to get really technical about it, we celebrate X-mas EVE 🙂 lol. To me, it’s more of a cultural thing rather than a religious one. A day for receiving loads of presents and spending time with the ones you love, all to the soundtrack of cheesy music. Also, everyone in general treats everyone a lot nicer during those weeks leading up to it. Even if the “Christ” is taken out of the holiday, I still vote on keeping it!

  • Greg

    Re: 3 –

    The point isn’t that there can’t be rude atheists: of course there can; it’s that being an atheist doesn’t make one rude. Also, part of the point is that atheists are considered rude for doing things that if they were religious people speaking to atheists, not only would they not be considered rude, but religious people doing them ten times over would also not be considered rude.

    Richard Dawkins is actually a fantastic example of a wrongly considered rude atheist. All I knew about him for years was just how rude and obnoxious Dawkins was – I then read one of his books and was bemused. After that I watched some of his documentaries, speeches, and debates, and ended up being even more flummoxed. I couldn’t understand how on earth people could claim he was being rude. He was remarkably soft spoken, showed incredible patience (if you want to see that in action, search on YouTube for a documentary he did involving Wendy Wright. In it he showed the patience – if I may say it – of a saint!), and his only crime seemed to be to not automatically treat religion as being somehow privileged. If he said the things he says about religion about any other subject, no-one would bat an eyelid.

    Re: 5 –

    I don’t think you understand what atheism is. Atheism is simply not believing in theism. It takes about as much faith to not believe in theism, as it does to not believe in Palathakaryn*. Is your disbelief in Palathakaryn a position of faith?

    Re: 10 –

    Citation needed. One example of any effort made by some atheists to do this (not even many) would help here – I’ve never seen it. Careless asides in conversation don’t count – I myself have made careless asides about wanting to kill someone. Needless to say, I’m not a murderer, and nor have I attempted homicide.

    * The Palathakaryn are fictional creatures I made up some time ago. As far as atheists are concerned, gods are fictional creatures other people made up a far longer time ago.

  • Smeg, that’s my main beef with Christianity. If people who do nothing but good things in their lives go to Hell for the sheer fact that they don’t believe in God, I would refuse to follow God even if she/she WERE real.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be surprised if you can find twenty people who consider atheism to be the definition you gave.

    Which definition? Plenty of atheists have invoked the void definition lately. I’ve just pointed out that the void definition doesn’t correspond to how people on the street understand and use the term.

    And it turns out empirically that atheist tend to have moral and ethical beliefs which distinguish them from theists, even in areas where you would think that belief in a god wouldn’t make much of a difference, like, say, capital punishment. The atheists who want to compare atheism to “non-stamp collecting” can’t make the case that stamp collecting or its absence has those kinds of practical consequences in human life:

    Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings
    of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and

  • Elizabeth

    A great many people have a difficult time discussing what to have for dinner and maintaining civility.
    But ‘many’ does not mean ‘most’ or even ‘half’.
    Atheism does not make someone rude. Being deliberatly incivil makes you rude. But what constitutes incivility is a case of YMMV.

    I’ve never heard of any Atheists wanting to suppress Christmas. I have heard of Christians actually doing so, though.

  • mysciencecanbeatupyourgod

    CHRISTIANS screwed up your birthday. Jesus was born in the spring, if he ever existed at all.

  • Greg

    When I said the definition you gave, I meant the one you gave. 

    That is:

    “The criticism of theism and related beliefs.” (which is closer to anti-theism than atheism)

    As for the void definition – just as an aside – this just comes across as you trying to find a way to distort it to make it sound ridiculous. Of course it sounds ridiculous – no-one believes there is a mysterious void in the universe referred to as ‘the absence of belief in gods’, and to claim people think there is, is quite frankly dishonest. It would be utterly incoherent as a definition, as (a)theism doesn’t refer to a place, or even a thing. It refers to a position on a question.

    I would be unsurprised, however, if the definition people give is a simple: ‘not subscribing to theism’ or similar derivations, because that’s… er… what it actually is.

    As for the idea that atheists tend to (note, not ‘must’) have moral and ethical beliefs which distinguish them from theists, and that you don’t find that with non-stamp collectors and stamp collectors, and that that somehow means something…

    The two groups tend to differ, not because of beliefs atheists hold, but rather because of beliefs theists hold that they don’t. Or, if you rather, the reason atheists hold positions different to theists isn’t that they are atheists, but rather that they are not theists. If this sounds condescending, I don’t mean it to be, but I don’t know how else to explain it:

    If someone makes a positive claim, then automatically, someone who doesn’t agree with that positive claim is going to have different opinions on things. That doesn’t mean that the latter person makes any positive claim of their own.

    The fact that stamp collecting doesn’t address big questions and theism does is utterly irrelevant. So what? It’s meaningless to the conversation. No-one ever claimed otherwise. The claim that atheism deals with any big question other than the existence of god is what we’re debating, however, so you can hardly expect me to agree with you.

    You’ve essentially backed up your assertion… by repeating the assertion.

    The only point being made is that all non-stamp collecting means is that you don’t collect stamps, and all atheism means is that you don’t partake of theism. That’s the only comparison made between the two, nothing else.

    Oh yeah, and you’ve also essentially made a correlation = causation argument – which I hopefully shouldn’t have to point out is a fallacy.

    But all this is rather irrelevant, anyway, because you used the words ‘tends to’. By doing so you have defeated your own argument. If atheism meant what you said it does, then all atheists would have to subscribe to it – the very fact they don’t disproves your claim.

    Incidentally, of course there is a correlation between capital punishment and theism. Look at pretty much any theistic holy book you care to mention, and notice just how often killing isn’t only endorsed, but mandated! The mind boggles that you don’t think there’d be a link there!

  • Greg

    Crap, clearly messed up my html tags – sorry. the bold was meant to end after the ‘not’.

  • This myth also presumes that atheists are into some sort of wanton hedonism. What kind of “sinning” do they think we’re doing? I’ve always been an atheist, but socially speaking, I have a lot more in common with religious conservatives. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I haven’t got any “vices” to give up. If I were to convert, my behavior wouldn’t change at all. I’m one of those extremely boring people who would make a really good fundamentalist, LOL.

  • Nordog

    That’s some funny crap right there.

    Very disturbed, but funny.

  • David Kopp

    That’s why I go in for Festivus

  • Goodgollyollie

    This is where I disagree. Just about anything we cannot know with certainty requires faith from the love of our spouse to waking up in the morning. You can argue that you are holding a default position or that you lack a belief but this is, as you say, semantics.
    See, the default position is nothing. It’s not a lack of belief it is a lack of knowledge. You are aware of the concept of God and you have chosen a position after being made aware of said concept.
    You are no longer at the default position and you cannot lack a belief. I can lack money, I can lack hair, etc. And both indicate something I do not or even can’t have. Lacking a belief would indicate you are devoid of some capability within yourself.
    Ultimately the question isn’t whether or not really which God at this point. The question is whether or not the concept is possible. Could something very different from human beings be responsible for either life or the initial appearance of matter?
    Both theists and atheist disagreement starts at the beginning. Is our existence a natural occurrence alone or was some intellect involved? At this point all any of us can do is form an opinion which makes both of us have a belief, not a lack or a default.

  • Goodgollyollie

    Greg my comment did not speak to the amount of faith required only that both the theist and atheist position are a belief. Not believing in god is ultimately a belief because chances are this position is filled by an alternate explanation. Generally atheists hold a naturalist opinion that god is not required or there is a lack of evidence.
    Since you made up the palathakaran you hold special knowledge that this is a made up thing.
    However if you introduced the concept without divulging the origin, the listener would have to form an opinion based on that information.
    Since you told me you made it up there is no reason to believe it is a factual thing.

  • Goodgollyollie

    By saying it is stolen you are saying without words that Christians don’t have a right to celebrate it at all.
    First of all, define stolen. If I create a holiday that takes place on saint Patrick’s day to lure people away from celebrating that and my holiday, is it really “stolen”? Using these terms is an atheist trick to remove Christmas from Christians and claim it’s true origins are solstice so that atheists have a true claim to it since they do not have an issue as it being an astronomical event.
    Those at the time were being lured from the church and tempted by the celebrations that revolved around solstice which were considered pagan. Ironically a pagan holiday was created in the process. That said, it was simply a new holiday. Nothing was “stolen”.
    If anything, the only reason we currently celebrate Christmas is thanks to big business.

  • Goodgollyollie

    If you dont believe 10 simply scroll up and read the post by an atheist that claims Christians stole Christmas.

  • Goodgollyollie

    Non stamp collecting has no action and no tangible link to stamp collecting. It does not correspond to belief.
    Belief is a position you hold. As an atheist you hold a belief about our place in the universe. The focus here is on belief itself.
    How much time to you spend stamp collecting? How much time do you spend believing something?
    Atheism is a position. Stamp collecting is a hobby. The two aren’t comparable.

  • Goodgollyollie

    Being a vegan is a facet of a followed nutritional system observed. What you are saying is that vegetarians are a facet of meat eaters. It makes no sense.

  • Anonymous

    No, you’d make a lousy fundamentalist.  Good fundamentalists always have to be fighting against vice, otherwise what is there to constantly feel guilty about?  Without the self-loathing, the whole thing falls apart and loses nearly all of its control over you.

  • Anonymous

    It is more accurate to say that Christmas was superimposed on a previous winter solstice celebration and that the modern day Christmas contains elements of several non-Christian, seasonal events.

  • Anonymous

    But, isn’t it a sin that we don’t acknowledge the sin?

  • Anonymous

    Well, I can’t say I live a “vice” free life, but, I often finding myself more willing to do the honest thing or more willing to forgive than my christian friends. I end up acting more like Ned Flanders than the religious people around me.

  • Anonymous

    No.  Sin is religious invention.  I’m not religious.

  • Goodgollyollie

    I can live with that, hoverfrog

  • JamesB


    I tried to hold onto this same idea for a long time as a Christian. It brought me comfort in a way. I completely understand that faith, as defined in a particular way, is required in every aspect of life: faith in the designer of a traffic light that it won’t fail as you go through the intersection; faith that the elevator is well-maintained and a cable won’t just snap, etc.

    I won’t attempt to speak for all atheists here, but for me it all changed when I realized I had no good reason to keep believing in a god other than emotional or psychological ones (that was a slow process taking several years). That doesn’t mean I’m choosing not believe: it’s simply a non-issue now that I no longer have a presupposition to defend.

  • Kimber Starek Heitert

    I think you are “spot-on” with the whole love and caring and sharing thing! I was raised in an atheist household and we have always celebrated Christmas… Not because of any belief system, but instead about being together, loving, giving, and seeing each person’s reaction to their gift! I wait to open mine so I can see everyone else’s!

  • Kimber Starek Heitert

    Who cares who calls it theirs! Let it go and just do what you want! Life is too short to make everything a fight.

  • Kimber Starek Heitert

    I believe if any Christians read this, they will stop at the list of “their” beliefs and not read further! They are THAT closed-minded!

  • I’m a Christian who’s met plenty of atheists online who are aggressive and rude, but I don’t think people need nonbelief for that.

  • Goldstein’s Nephew

    Oh, I don’t think atheists per se are out to destroy Christmas.

    After all, there is a lot of money in it.

    They are out to destroy Christianity, however.

    And whenever they have actually had full political control of country, they have tried to do exactly that.

  • Goldstein’s Nephew

    That’s a key point.

    Even if they were to admit that it had been shown to be true, many atheist would reject God because they don’t like him.

  • Goldstein’s Nephew

    At least you admit it!

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