Ten Common Misconceptions about Atheists

10. We eat babies.

No, but we think about it sometimes. Mmmmm, baby…

9. Without God, we’re a miserable, weepy lot.

Look at all the happy atheists:

They’re thinking about the deliciousness of babies. Yum! (Richard Dawkins, Ellen Johnson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali)

8. Without God, we lead gluttonous, hedonistic lives, throwing orgies all the time.

In addition to being inconsistent with misconception #9, my personal experience tells me this is utterly baseless. If you know of any atheists who lead lives like this, please have them email me right away. For, um, research purposes.

7. Without God, we’re murdering, lying, cussing, thieving pedophiles who go around kicking kittens and spitting on old ladies.

Actually, we save the spit for crosses and Bibles. Just kidding! Dang it, I know some blogger is going to quote me on that. Anyhow, God does the kitten killing in these parts.

6. We are all angry and cantankerous.

While I can’t speak for Christopher Hitchens, we are probably as happy or sad as any group of people on this earth, but not as happy as Tom Cruise. Cory Doctorow loves Disneyland, and I don’t think you can love Disneyland and be irascible. And the voices inside my head tell me that the atheist humorists Dave Barry, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are pretty happy blokes. They must think about babies, like, all of the freaking time.

5. We like to blaspheme.

Like f[REDACTED REDACTED]s C[REDACTED REDACTED]t we do.

4. Foxholes magically transform us into theists.

This is one of those myths that has some basis in truth. It is said that Pope Lucius IX, to facilitate the mission of the Inquisition, ordered a group of Dominican scholar-priests to develop a device capable of turning heretical atheists into faithful believers. This group, led by Father Fernando Fox, devised a pit, narrow enough that a man had to stand upright, with only room enough to move his hands a bit. They surrounded the walls with pictures designed to induce reverence, including the apostles, the bleeding and naked body of Christ on the cross, and choir boys. Men were forced to stand in the Fox Hole for days or even weeks at a time, until they recanted their stubborn unbelief. It was remarkably effective, but it is rumored to have had the side effect of triggering pedophilic urges in its victims. The Vatican reclaimed the device from the Inquisition, and I am certain that they destroyed it long ago, since if it existed, we would see evidence of its use in the Church today. Nevertheless, the saying has remained with us: “There are no atheists in the Fox Hole.”

3. We are all middle-aged, middle-class white men.

Come a little closer and say that again. I know enough atheists to give you a cultural, gender, sexual-orientation, and racially diverse ass-thrashing. In a happy, completely non-angry sort of way.

2. We hate God.

You got us on this one. We also hate invisible pink unicorns, the square root of negative one, Dick Cheney’s compassion, and the girlfriend in Oregon I told everyone I had in the 9th grade.

1. We memorize paragraphs from the Origin of Species and worship Charles Darwin.

This is a favorite image of Creationists: pews full of atheists, each grasping well-worn copies of On the Origin of Species, all facing Richard Dawkins as he proclaims faith in evil-utionism and hatred of God and the Bible. The stained glass windows have elaborate scenes depicting the trilobite and the archeopterex and Australopithecus Africanus (the more I describe this, the cooler it sounds). After the closing hymn to Darwin, we go out into the atrium for a potluck. There we dine on whiskey and mmmmm….baby casseroles, before engaging in our sad and angry womanless orgies.

90 Comments

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  1. cameron

    Wow sam, i can’t speak for mark john and wendy, but that is one of the greatest compliments i could’ve been given.

  2. Nicolas

    I am an agnostic, but after reading this I am seriously thinking about becoming an atheist.

    Babies, mmmm, yummy!!!

  3. Bruce

    Doesn’t the square root of negative one prove that’s there’s a god, oh wait I guess that’s why we call it an “imaginary” number.

  4. Frankie

    Hahah.

    I’m sure any theist readin’ that wouldn’t even think you were being sarcastic when talking about the baby eating and stuff xD

    A sad truth…

  5. Thomas

    John, you realize that part of your reads “Like f[REDACTED REDACTED]s C[REDACTED REDACTED]t we do.” It is in number 5. For som reason, I have seen things like these popping up all over the place on blogs. It is done mostly by the DHL, so, I’m assuming they think you’re a terrorist. Careful.

  6. Emily

    aw the [REDACTED] part was my favorite… tell me that’s untrue, thomas

    im probably just pseudo-atheist stumbler, and interested in meeting squilax. i enjoyed this entry 🙂

  7. Brian

    Another viewpoint on the significance of the first 3/4 commandments.

    God does not set up the commandments to get Himself something He needs. He gives them to fulfill a need in ourselves. Most people can see the practical benefit of later commandments, as they deal mainly with other people. The first group are of similar benefit, but they deal with God. So I guess for a minute we’ll all have to accept as a working hypothesis that God is real and gave these commandments to Moses. (If He isn’t then there’s no point in questioning His motives.)

    First, the “no other gods, no idols” bit. Why is this good for us? If God is who and what He is depicted in the Torah, then praying to idols and false Gods isn’t going to get us anywhere. It’s similar to the problem many non-theists have with theistic prayer. If these gods are just products of our desires or imaginings, then praying to them is futile, and it leads us to neglect our relationship with the “true” God, who created us, preserves us, and loves us.

    The misuse of God’s name may be a bit harder to justify, but I think I can do it best with some mundane analogies. First, an unfounded assertion: Names have power. Words have power. Not mystical magical “Hah now I have your soul” power. They have power to the speaker. The promised Example. My wife’s name is Sarah. I cannot say that name in the same tone of voice as other words, or other names. I couldn’t even type it just then without it looking different (just to me) from all the other words around it. At my work, we recently hired another woman named Sara. I avoid calling her by name, because I don’t think I can do it without affection dripping from my voice, and if I could, I’m not sure I want to. I want my wife’s name to be special. I don’t ever want to take her, her name, or the way we say “I love you” for granted. The commandment is something like that. In the Bible, God has formed a covenant, which is a family bond, like a marriage, with His people, and moreover, has given them His name. That name, and that bond, should be special to them, and to us, and if we misuse or presume upon that relationship, it will suffer.

    As to the Sabbath, if anyone surrounded by our workaholic nonstop 24/7 culture of labor, consumption, and unrestrained ambition can’t appreciate the value of a day when the first rule is “STOP WORKING, FOR MY SAKE!”, I don’t really know what else to say in its defense.

  8. Stu

    Hmm it’s all very well to say the sabbath is more for us than it is for God. Try telling that to the old man who was stoned to death for picking up sticks on the sabbath.

    “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to kill you. For your own good!!”

  9. Mark

    Sorry I’ve been out of the loop lately but very busy. And Thanks, Sam for the compliments. And thanks to Cameron for some kind and thought provoking words. You’ve helped me better understand my own morality.

    But I’d like to reinforce what Stu just said about Brians post. I think this speaks to the point Wendy and others were making above.

    The Ten Commandments were written 3000 years ago. They had a meaning for about 2500 years that meant a certain thing. The first 4 of those regulations being about god. But analysis by modern (post Freudian) man suggests something primitive about a god who would make 40% of his regulations about himself, so Theologians, as alluded to by Brian, have done some re-interpretation of those “regulations” so they reflect better on that god. God is made more “humane” thru the analysis done by modern humans.

    Again, the Bible was written by men, for men, and now needs to get a modern “what he really meant” interpretation to better fit in with 21st century morality and philosophy. And that 21st century of morality does have some connection to that Bible, but is CERTAINLY not based upon it. (Hence the current illegality of slavery and stoning of those who work on the Sabbath nor the execution of kids who talk back to their parents. All perfectly fine Biblical proscriptions.)

    I think the point of “thinking atheists” is, if god was so all knowing and powerful, why would his word need such intensive interpretation and then reinterpretation?

    The most logical answer is because it wasn’t written by an omniscient being. It was written by a bunch of people who meant well. I say we thank those people, particularly that Jesus guy
    (if he really existed) who made some wonderful points about morality, and move on.

    To paraphrase (St) Paul, it’s time for the human race to put aside the things from it’s childhood, particularly when those things can drive some believers to fly planes into buildings and others to deny 10% of the population from loving relationships. Etc etc etc.

    The human race was in it’s infancy for millennia, thru the help of Christianity it made it thru it’s adolescence, now it’s time to grow up and put aside the “things of the child”.

    If people found their proscription in life to care for their fellow man rather than trying to interpret what MY religion wants me to do versus what YOUR religion expects you to do, we would all be a lot better off.

    Just a thought.

  10. a few quotes I absolutely love:

    ” I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you’ll understand why I dismiss yours.” –Steven Roberts

    ” It is not as in the Bible that God created man in his own image; quite the contrary. Man created God in his own image.” — Ludwig Feuerbach

    — I have to insert this one because I love Gene Roddenberry so much–

    “We must question the story logic of an all powerful, all knowing god, who creates faulty humans, and then in turn blames them for his mistakes.”

    I just had to share.

    Peace

  11. And….one of my great fears: Intelligent Design. This frightens me a little, with the science we have today. True, the theory of evolution is still a theory, as compared to the scientific data that proves all blue eyed people are not only related, but are descended from the same individual.
    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:R69eVZ9QUaMJ:www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2008/02/06/the-family-tree-of-blue-eyed-individuals/+blue+eyes+descendants+genetic&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a
    But…I believe Darwin. There is far more data to support the theory of evolution; hence, faith. To have faith is a good thing for some, but when that faith would establish a school of learning in which my child was not being given all the information available, my son wouldn’t have been properly educated. Being given as an optional study, not a problem. But as the default scientific curriculum? Oh God (pun intended, no offense intended) that scares me. And, the religious right are far more dedicated to turning up at the polls.

  12. I must say I stumbled here and thoroughly enjoyed the rhetoric exchanged. Humor, thoughtful points and discussion in a friendly fashion.
    Very well-put blog. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  13. Stu: in Brian’s defense (defense of theists is something I get from my oh-so apologetic parents, much as I try to defy deny it), no less a theist (tho we could argue that label) than Jesus said it’s okay to work on the Sabbath if you really have to: better to sin than to die.

    And as to words having power, Brian, that’s a very Jewish (and therefore xian) concept. It’s exactly why YWHW is spelled in such a manner as to keep it from being pronounceable. It’s exactly why Adam named the animals (and Eve). It’s part of why I desperately want to change my middle name.

    Although I do have problems with biblical scholars who say that the bible makes as much sense now as then because god is all knowing about past, present, and far future. If we accept that some of the commandments (don’t eat pork) really did make sense millennia ago but really don’t right now, we might see a sharp decline in religious violence (esp. against non-religious and women).

    House, my favorite television atheist, took on a pair of Hasidic Jews in a recent episode and described the commandments as follows (possibly paraphrased, but to the best of my ability to remember): “You follow all 600 of God’s commandments, right? [613] Do you understand them all? [It takes years of study…] But you follow the ones that you don’t understand because the ones that you do understand make sense and they were all written by the same god.” Which of course brings to mind the sheer number of authors of the bible when you get right down to it. Perhaps the pork one was written by an unsuccessful beef farmer who wanted a larger share of business (perhaps the milk-and-beef one was written by the disgruntled pig farmer).

    Finally, Wendy: thank you for those quotes, I shall have to steal some of them for use in future arguments.

  14. Previously when anyone raised the subject of eating babies, I thought of Dean Swift and felt intellectual. Now when anyone raises the subject of eating babies I think of Dr Evil and Fat Bastard and feel like drinking a beer… :oD

    BTW, outside the USA and perhaps Canada the “Baby Back Ribs” thing with Fat Bastard just made people go: “Huh?” ;o))

  15. oh, wow, I made that last comment while skipping about 10 others.

    Cameron: please be disabused of the notion that I am often continuously spongy like the interior of a stem. I just as often ramble on for no reason. But thank you 🙂 (Although comments made from work tend to be shorter.)

    My beliefs are many and varied but probably fall into the “less structured” than “along the lines of reincarnation”. I don’t believe that I’ve ever been any of the Cleopatras, but I’m sure that part of me was part of her, either physically or spiritually (some of my favorite veggies likely came from Egypt).

    My recommendation for works of Aristotle is either his Nicomachean Ethics or just about any of Averroes’ commentaries. He was a very astute scholar of Aristotle & brought a monotheistic bent to some of Aristotle’s teachings that still appeals to many Christians.

    Finally: the universe. The everything. In the same class that I met Aristotle & Ibn Rushd, I encountered Aquinas’ “proofs” of God. I call them quote-proofs-unquote because they’re only likely to make sense to someone already in a monotheistic world-view. My favorite was: “the universe exists; either it began or it has always existed; since it can never have always existed, it must have begun; it must have been begun by God; therefore, God.” Thomas lost me at “since it can never have always existed”, especially since this is antithetical to one of his proofs of God (that He always existed). Infinity just makes sense to me. More so than an actual beginning and an actual end. Infinity exists, this is something that theists and non-theists alike can agree on (how high can you count? how much love does God embody?). I just apply it to existence.

  16. Cameron (49): I managed to make my last post without reading your #49! Herewith, find my response:

    I now understand your reticence to use the words “ethics” or “morality” because they have an “ethical” or a “moral” meaning behind them 😉 In general, here at MoF, we assume ethics & morality to be non-theist unless specifically noted.

    My beliefs are many & varied but probably lean more toward “less structured” than toward “reincarnation”. Reincarnation is a system of thought that is familiar, so it can be useful when discussing my beliefs broadly. But I don’t believe that I’ve ever spiritually been any of the Cleopatras except in the fashion that I may ever have physically been any of them (I’m sure some of my groceries come from Egypt).

    “Very harmonious.” Thank you 🙂 I try.

    I always recommend Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics when asked, since I think it’s the clearest form of deist ethics, one of his more accessible works, and is my favorite. But any of Averroes’ commentaries on Aristotle are also worth it. He brings a monotheistic angle to Aristotle’s teachings that many Christians are very comfortable with.

    Ah, life, the universe, & everything. Never as a more redundant phrase been repeated so oft. Thomas Aquinas’ “proofs” for God have always confused me since they are only “proofs” for people who already have a (mono)theistic world-view. My favorite, and one I have co-opted to define my own belief about time, goes (broadly) as follows: the universe exists; either it has always existed (infinity) or it was begun/created; since infinity does not exist, it was begun/created; it can only have been created by god; therefore God. I get lost in the argument “since infinity does not exist”, since it is a concept I have always been comfortable with. It is also a concept that is believed in by everyone, theist or non-theist alike (how much love does God embody? what is the biggest number?). I simply apply it to time/the universe. I do not believe it was created or begun. The Big Bang, which is a useful tool, cannot have been the beginning: else what Banged? I could get into here my beliefs about hourglasses, which fits in nicely with Big Bang & Universal Expansion, but won’t, since it’s not real relevant except to prove the waste of concerning oneself with the Beginning, whether from a theistic or scientific standpoint.

    And please be disabused of the notion that I am frequently similar to the spongy inside of a plant stem. Although comments posted from work tend to be shorter 🙂 I enjoy your comments, of any length.

  17. Peter

    Wendy: “True, the theory of evolution is still a theory”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory
    People mix up the words theory and hypothesis, as they are the same in everyday use, but not in science.

    Cameron: I am ‘good’ and moral due to my evolution. An organism that lives only for itself is not ‘designed’ (not implying a creator) to survive.
    Consider, if evolution is true it is an explanation on why we survive. Humans that do not work with other humans will not pass on their genes. Therefore if it is in their nature to be unco-operative this nature will die out. If it is because of nurture, then these ways of nurturing (most likely learned from their parents) will not survive either. Therefor we survive because we are built to survive. Everyone on the earth today is the result of the co-operation of two (or more) people. Can’t dispute that.
    Now, the reason why I am good is because you need to be to interact with other humans. If you are not productive for the community, you will most likely me expelled. So an ‘evil’ man who might harm others will not be able to pass on his genes if it runs counter to the wants of the community (In most cases).
    So I am the prduct of good conduct, due either to nature or nuture, and these teaching will usually be passed on, allowing the community to live on.
    When bees attack they must sacrifice their lives. And it takes something like 1000 bees (killer variety) to kill an animal as large as a man.
    But if all bees were selfish, the hive wouldnt survive. The bees sacrifice themselves for the greater good, but I think all experts would agree that it is not a consious choice on the part of the bee. Its an instinct. In most our or moral codes, the bees have preformed a selfless and good act. They are moral creatures. Yet can they really be called so? For it is not a choice they make, it is a reaction.
    I think the same could be said for us. Ethics and morals are just a name put to these instincts. No-one ever told me rape was wrong. Never seen it, had it, know some one affected by it. Yet I do not like it, without any teaching on the subject matter. My parents never raised me with a moral code, yet I have one. The only rules pertained to fighting with my siblings and my bed time.
    I went to a multi-donominational school (you may have guessed already that I cant spell) and learned about all different world religions, yet I wasnt tought the moral code they follow.
    Obviously, my morals come from somewhere else.

    I accept the Big-Bang ‘Theory’ (That word again!) as there is evidence to support it (Read the book by Simon Singh) and it has the exact same flaw as the god hypothesis has, the start.

    Also, if I knew the chrisitian god to exist, I wouldnt worship him. How can you love something you dont know? Or cant understand?
    Also, as for respecting god, or religion, I cant do that. Respect, as far as I can determine, is the assumption of good faith on the part of the respected.
    The only assumption I deal with is that most of the data from my senses is correct.

    “what do you believe about life after this life?”
    Surely the whole notion of infinte life after this one totally reduces the value of our time now. Why cry over death, when you will meet the person in a couple of decades? Why does god need to test us?
    Im gonna donate my body to science, if it is in a fit condition. It will provide a use!

    “if god is omniscient, then he has a purpose”
    This is a unexplained leap in logic.
    And surely he would know the outcome of any actions, thus he wouldnt need to do them.

  18. Abner Little

    I was raised in the christian right, but never have I heard any of these misconceptions…

    Common? Really?

    Man, I guess I grew up more liberal than I thought.

  19. Abner: I’m sure it varies from rightwinger to rightwinger. From my parents alone I heard 1, 2, & 4-9. But you’re right, “common” is in the eyes of the beholder…

  20. Frank

    8. Without God, we lead gluttonous, hedonistic lives, throwing orgies all the time.

    That is this athiest right here!

  21. Nat

    I know this was mostly just a joke and all in fun, but it’s a bit offensive. As someone mentioned in an earlier comment, a common misconception of Christians is that we actually believe these things.

  22. Peter: I love your definitions of both (atheistic) morality & respect.
    The first, that morality is instinct, has some basis in science (see: ape studies where it is discovered that charity is good for the tribe) and is a wonderful way of getting around Aristotle’s annoyance that all morality must come from the gods or some nebulous “highest good”.
    The second, assumption of good faith on the part of the other party, is one that I need to work on. Thank you for that reminder.

    Ben: so true.

  23. Ryan

    hur. I find this list amusing.

    as an agnostic (leaning theist, on the basis that it intrigues me) going to a jesuit university taking coures in theology, i’m astonished how well my theo professor and i get along, considering he has some very fundamentalist beliefs.

    I remember debating with him one day after class, and he said to me:

    “you know, anyone, especially any christian, worth his salt should know that no matter what you do, you’ll never be sure your beliefs are true.”

    I just wish more people- for pete’s sake, the internet needs a double shot of this- would take the time to stop giving a damn what other people believe or don’t believe and let everyone else well enough alone.

    Except for on Youtube. People arguing about religion and politics on youtube should be encouraged like we encourage the participants in the special olympics. Because bless them, they just put so much heart into it!

    Either way, i lol’d (but perhaps not rofl’d- an issue you should adress)

  24. Ryan

    goodness gracious, i JUST got around to reading time stamps.

    Why does stumbleupon take me to year-old articles?

  25. Ryan

    Holy hell, i just read some of the rest of the discussion.

    What’s this? reasonable discourse? on MY internet?

    i don’t think so.

    Mark, Cameron, you are my new favorite people.

  26. Steven

    Hello Everyone.
    I enjoy respectful and mature religious debate. I’m what you call an open minided spiritualist. I believe in God, but I don’t think he’s a racist, sexist, homophobic genecidal monster as depicted by many atheists. I think that is just used to further atheist arguments. True, the Old Testament describes this, but then the New Testament kind of contradicts this image by paving a loving and compassionate deity. Any thoughts?

  27. Onlooker

    These religious debates never convince either side to change their views. People believe in God when they see evidence of his existence in the lives of others, or else they don’t believe because they don’t see any reason to. Most Christians display very little sign of anything out of the ordinary at work in their lives. Arguing online (however amicably the discussion is carried out) accomplishes nothing.

    • John

      Onlooker, as someone who did change their mind through exposure to and participation in these religious debates, I have to disagree with you. Granted, it’s unlikely that one discussion will convince anyone, but based on my personal experience and those of my friends, the process of engaging in these debates is transformative. I’ve been in motion between skepticism to faith to skepticism and now moving a bit back towards spirituality again, and discussion with others online and IRL has been enormously influential. It’s not just the arguments on the page that transform people–it’s the discovery of that ones concerns are shared by others, exposure to how others have resolved their own issues, participation in a community of believers or dissenters or critics that can, in nudge someone in one direction or the other.

  28. roy

    I have enough atheist friends in the real world to know this is not true, but if I were to go on what I see on the internet if I were you I would say add “11. We turn every article we read into a an argument about how this proves there is no god / comment about how religious people will react to this, even when the article did not make any even remotely religious comments.
    12. We all 100% believe we are right and believe that anyone who believes in a god is 100% stupid despite the fact that many of us fresh out of highschool (or even younger)”

  29. Xjane: yes, a lot of what I said did come from a book by Neale Donald Walsh…and some of it did not. More of it did not…but I stand by everything written.

  30. Ateist

    We eat babies?
    Yes Mr. Dawkins, You eat Babies, Deuteronomy 28:53-55., John 10:30.
    Dawkins: “Atheists for Idiot Jesus”

    Atheist 100%!!!

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