In response to five common misconceptions about atheism

Atheists are the least trusted minority in America today.

What, you were thinking of a different group? If so, that isn’t surprising, given that there has been great pushback (as there should be) against negative attitudes towards Muslims, members of the LGBT community and immigrants.

However, not many are quick to defend atheists. As a result, 47.5 percent of Americans would disapprove if their child wanted to marry an atheist, and 40 percent of Americans would not even vote for an atheist as president (a University of Minnesota study and a Gallup poll, respectively).

In an effort to combat misunderstanding and prejudice, I have compiled and responded to five common misconceptions of atheists and atheism.

1. “Atheism is a religion.” Yes, it sounds absurd, but this is one of the most common misconceptions. The most essential thing to understand about atheism is its definition: the lack of a belief in any god. If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sex position and “not collecting stamps” is a hobby.

2. “Atheism makes no sense because without religion, what basis would we have for morality?” How about a basis in respect for human rights, and a commitment to equality and moral progress? Atheists have the capacity to be moral (or immoral) just as religious people do — the difference is, no atheist has ever justified atrocities (bombing abortion clinics, beheading cartoonists, medical neglect/murder of children) in the name of atheism.

3. “Atheists believe everything came from nothing.” This stems from a misunderstanding of the Big Bang theory (no, not the sitcom). The truth is, although it is well-accepted the universe expanded from a singularity, scientists do not yet know why or how this process began. An atheist is simply someone comfortable saying “I don’t know” when it comes to such questions.

4. “If atheism is true, life is meaningless.” No atheist I have ever met would say that life is “meaningless.” Each one has their own interests, passions, family and friends that make living worthwhile. Consider this: if the totality of our conscious experience is limited to this one life, shouldn’t we treat it as the infinitely valuable gift that it is?

5. “People are just atheists because they are angry at God/because they hate religious people/because they don’t want to believe/because (any other made-up reason).” Atheism is not a choice. Do you, reader, believe in Zeus? Probably not. But you never chose not to believe in Zeus — you have simply lived your life without having been convinced otherwise.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I implore you to take seriously and spread awareness of the bigotry against atheists, as you would bigotry against any other minority group, in accordance with Guilford’s core values of community, diversity and equality.