10 Myths and Truths About Atheists: Greta’s Version, On AlterNet


ScarletLetterBlack.svgMaybe you’ve read 10 Myths — and 10 Truths — About Atheism, Sam Harris’s famous op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, which was an attempt to clear up the most common misunderstandings about atheists. The piece is a good idea. But something about it bugs me. Specifically, it bugs me how much time Harris spent dissing religion.

Don’t get me wrong — I think religion deserves criticism. But here, I think it’s inappropriate. If you’re writing a piece saying, “Here’s who we are and why the myths about us are incorrect,” you shouldn’t go off on a “here’s why the rest of you are losers” tangent. It’s not persuasive … and it’s seriously off-topic.

So here’s my own version. (Very much riffing off Harris’, and with all due credit to him.)

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That’s the teaser. I’ve written a piece for AlterNet, my own version of the ten most common myths about atheists and the truths are behind them, titled — imaginatively enough — 10 Myths and Truths About Atheists. I think this is one that my atheism readers are definitely going to want to read: it’s a piece I’ve been thinking about and working on for some time, and I think you’re going to like it.

If you’re inspired to comment, feel free to comment here as well as on AlterNet. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. says

    Very nice. I especially like #4.
    Alternate #10: We’re not superior, but the methodology we follow, per #9, is superior at describing reality.

  2. Claire B says

    “Coming out as atheist is often a big deal. It can mean losing friends, being cut off from family. It can mean getting threatened by neighbors or kicked out of school, losing job opportunities or custody of your kids.”
    This. This is what gets me. Losing custody of your children? Being thrown out of school? Threatened?
    That’s just… insane. I can’t actually imagine what it would be like to live in a place where that could happen to you because of your beliefs about the world. No, wait, I can imagine. I imagine it would be horrifying.
    And I’ve got so much respect, right now, for anyone at all who is publically atheist in America. It must take so much courage. Seriously. My hat is off to you all.

  3. baka says

    Funny thing, this immorality issue of atheists. Me being from country where agnostics and atheists are majority, I grew up with similar story, just reversed. When i was young, my mom told me to be careful dealing with believers because they can cheat me, than go to church, pray to god, be forgiven and be all OK. It is just normal in-group/out-group distinction – out-group is always evil :)

  4. DSimon says

    Nice article! The commenting community at Alternet seem kind of toxic, though. Do you find yourself able to just skip past the particularly trollish stuff at larger blogs without letting it get you down?
    I can’t, on my own posts or on others. I get drawn in by curiosity, and by the time I realize that the paper bag is not filled with candy and stickers, I’m already wrist deep. But I never learn.

  5. says

    That was a great article, one thing I had a problem with though in your point about the ‘evil atheists’ argument (Pol Pot, Stalin, etc). You said “A sensible version of the Stalin argument has to look, not at every death and imprisonment and such that Stalin caused, but at the ones explicitly done in the name of atheism, to suppress religion.”
    I think this is a bit misleading because of the very mention of atheism. Stalin’s actions were intended purely to suppress religion and stop it becoming a force to counter his own cult of personality. Atheism had nothing to do with it and it still seems to be a bone of contention whether Stalin was actually an atheist or not.
    Hardly a major point though, the rest of the article was a great read :)

  6. says

    Well done.
    I think the current Swedish prime minister is atheist, although I can’t find a source for that statement. However considering our high prevalence of atheists/agnostics/nonbelievers, it’d be rather odd if at least half of our prime ministers in modern times have been atheists. Either way, as much as many Swedes dislike Fredrik Reinfeldt, he’s no bloodthirsty dictator.

  7. rgiz says

    Enjoyed the article but re: point 2: Atheists are immoral: without religion, there’s no basis for morality:
    I think one could take your argument one step further, a la Richard Dawkins. Not only are we not immoral, it’s our morality that forces us to reject certain biblical or Koranic treachings.
    Even theists have come to reject the more barbaric bits of religious teachings; eg. the stoning of adulterers, the sacrificing of children in the name of a fictional god…the kind of utter poppycock that forced church leaders to dump the first testament.
    We reject those things because humans develop values that compel us to do what’s right, as opposed to what has been written.

  8. says

    Cannonball Jones: I’m currently writing a longer piece on the Stalin argument, which (I hope) will answer you in more detail. My quick and dirty answer:
    My understanding (and historians should correct me if I’m wrong) is that, regardless of what Stalin’s true intentions might have been, the reason given for his actions against religion was to stamp out religion and foster the official state policy of atheism. If atheists argue that bad actions done in the name of atheism weren’t really inspired by atheism but were really inspired by (X), then we can no longer criticize religion for the bad actions done in religion’s name. Believers can argue, “The Crusades? Witch burnings? 9-11? That wasn’t done because of religion. That was done because of (X).” We can’t have it both ways.
    That was quick, but not very dirty. So let me add this: Boobies!
    DSimon: Yes, much of the commenting on AlterNet is, shall we say, challenging. (That’s one of the reasons I invited people to comment here if they liked.) Yes, it gets me down. But I’m also finding it useful. It’s sort of a petri dish of the bad, not just of believers’ arguments, but of atheists’. I’m already working on two more pieces inspired by it: one on believers, one on atheists.

  9. says

    Oh, and rgiz: Your point is a good one, and I largely agree with it. But I was trying to be (mostly) scrupulous about having this piece be about defending and explaining atheism rather than criticizing religion, so I was making an effort to stay away from “bad things about religion” content.
    Also, I had a word limit.

  10. says

    3. And of course, just because an atheist is angry or unhappy doesn’t mean it’s because of their atheism. They will likely be just as angry or unhappy with religion as without.
    I am often a rather cranky and miserable fellow. I’m also curious, and awestruck, and sometimes giddy and joyful. I’m simply a moody sort, and lately it’s been more bad moods than good, and I often feel like I need to hide it so as to not “prove people right” about atheists.
    4,5,9,10: See above. I’m guilty of all of these things to some degree. As I said, a bit of a cranky bastard. I’m the same way with all of my beliefs – but when I’m bitter and judgmental about any other topic, it still somehow reflects back on atheism in general.

  11. says

    I forgot to actually ask what I was trying to get at: has anyone else felt guilty or frustrated when they play into specific atheist stereotypes? Do you go out of your way to be more polite, or pretend to be happier, etc.?

  12. Maria says

    “Do you go out of your way to be more polite, or pretend to be happier, etc.?”
    I’m not doing that, I think, but I know what you mean. I have sometimes felt, when discussing with believers on-line, that it would have been better if I had been a human with a perfect life just to show them that life without god/gods is not a problem. And I have thought that if I showed my “weaknesses” or revealed that things has not always been good in my life, they would at once jump at that and see it as proof of ‘what happens when you don’t let Jesus into your life’. *SIGH*
    But the truth is that bad stuff happens to ALL people sooner or later, and we all handle it differently (some better than others) and we all have down-periods in our lives – regardless if we believe in supernatural entities or not. And both believers and atheists can, as individuals, be more or less cheerful as persons, more or less pessimistic/optimistic, more or less prone to depressions… and so on. Atheism doesn’t cause these negative things, and theism doesn’t really seem to help against it.
    It’s purely anecdotal of course, but the few very religious people I have known in real life and on-line had their ups and downs, just like me, and struggled with pretty much the same things most people do, and some really had some bad problems. Their beliefs really didn’t seem to make a considerable difference toward the better concerning how they felt or handled things, not when it really came down to it, and not in the long run.
    On the contrary I’ve seen plenty of believers feeling guilt on top of feeling bad about different things, because since their beliefs doesn’t make them happier it must be something wrong with THEM. God has forgotten them, they have sinned somehow, or their faith is not strong enough… things like that, and it seems like a rather cruel way to add on to the pain, especially with things that just happens out of our control.
    No matter my up and downs, I never feel THAT sort of guilt, which I am happy about.
    Now, what I think DO help is human contact! That’s really what makes us handle the hardships and help us get through it – support, comfort, help and physical contact from and with people we trust and love. If we have that in our lives THAT is what makes a difference! Many religious people do have strong social support in their churches and so on (at least as long as they conform) and many times when they say how much Jesus has helped them, I think they are really misinterpreting the love and support they get from their co-followers as ‘god’ helping them.
    But of course, any supportive group will help, it doesn’t have to be religious at all. My friends and family helped me through hard times – no supernatural agency needed.

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