Straw Atheism January 14, 2008Posted by Joe in agnosticism, atheism, faith, freethought, media.
There are many misperceptions of atheism held by those unfamiliar with the subject. I see them propagated on the internet, television, print media and in conversation. They are readily accepted and believed by the religious for a very simple reason: believing otherwise would invalidate a key religious claim.
The common view is that atheists must feel that they are missing something. Without god in their lives to do all the wonderful things that he supposedly does for believers they must be sad, angry, afraid, unfulfilled, unloved, unloving and unsatisfied. If atheists could feel happy and fulfilled and all the wonderful feelings that religious people can also experience, than how could religious people believe it is god that is the source of all these good thing in their lives? How can they give god credit for the good in their life if faced with an atheist who has just as good a life? These questions are what drive some religious people to embrace and spread the negative stereotypes of atheism.
Of course, atheists can be sad, angry, afraid, unfulfilled, unloved, unloving and unsatisfied, just as any theist can be. Atheists can also be happy, healthy, loved, loving, fulfilled, satisfied. They are just as capable and incapable as theists are in personal relationships and family matters. They are just as fallible and needy as any other human. In short, atheists are people too.
Stereotypes contain a self fulfilling element. Anyone walking around believing that atheists are angry will take special note whenever they encounter an angry atheist (or what they can interpret as one.) They can ignore or not notice at all the atheists that are content with their lot. (Confirmation Bias)
This creates a certain tension in atheist/theist relationships. If the atheist admits to anger, sorrow, or dissatisfaction it will often be interpreted by a theist as a need for god; a symptom of atheism. Thus turning any need of sympathy or advice for the atheist into a perceived need to be converted by the theist. I must say this is the primary reason that I seek out the company of fellow atheists.