Atheists: A misunderstood minority
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 10:04
“God is dead” is a quotation often misinterpreted, and widely despised, as a statement of atheism by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was an atheist, but his claim was intended to be a metaphorical one, not a literal one.
Similarly, atheists in general are often misunderstood, labeled as blasphemous baby-eaters (incorrectly, mind you). Atheists are still human beings, and they have reasons for the beliefs they hold. Though most people fervently disagree with the belief structures of atheists, it is important for those individuals to understand where a set of beliefs stops and where another human being begins.
In the American Sociological Review in 2006, the University of Minnesota published results of a nationwide study conducted to more accurately gauge the feelings of Americans toward atheists.
The top three responses to the statement, “This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society,” were:
Atheist - 39.6 percent,
Muslim - 26.3 percent,
Homosexual - 22.6 percent.
The top three responses to the statement, “I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group,” were:
Atheist - 47.6 percent,
Muslim - 33.5 percent,
African American - 27.2 percent.
These and further detailed results of “Atheists As ‘Other’: Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society” can be found at soc.umn.edu.
It is evident that atheists belong to one of the most socially discriminated against social minority groups in this country; leading me to believe atheists are probably the least understood.
Why? In order to solve a problem, one must find the cause.
I think part of it has to do with the common misconception that atheists will verbally attack individuals who want to have a civil religious discussion. Contrary to popular belief, most atheists are more than willing to sit down and have an intelligent conversation about religion.
But let’s be real: no group of people with the same basic ideology — be it religious, political or otherwise — is going to consist solely of individuals with immaculate tact or impeccable social awareness. You are going to find that every group has a member (or members) whose only intellectual defense is to loudly offend or scare you into submission.
My advice is to refrain from drawing false analogies or hastily generalizing; the inability to articulate rational arguments using one’s indoor voice is rarely a product of one’s religious or political beliefs (see nature vs. nurture).
Atheists seem to rarely be asked why they believe what they do, but are instead asked how they can live believing what they do.
I may be wrong, but the second question seems to be implying one of two things:
1. Atheists have decided to live a life void of morality; or
2. Atheists aren’t afraid of going to hell.
In response to number one, long story short, there exists a philosophical discipline known as ethics. Because it is a discipline, it studies the idea that morality is objective (see Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative).
And the short answer to number two is, to fear something that doesn’t exist is known as an irrational fear. Therefore, no logical reason exists to fear it.
Atheism is a unique social minority in that its members can choose to identify themselves as atheist or not. Unlike gender or sexual orientation, individuals typically achieve membership because they have reasons for believing what they believe and not believing what they don’t believe.
I want to encourage you to talk to someone before you judge them based on their beliefs, or lack thereof. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s beliefs, there’s no reason we shouldn’t attempt to understand.