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Jun 28 2010

Formspring question: why are atheists so mean to me?

Why do atheists feel the need to put down people who believe in a God? I spend a lot of time on the internet and a lot of my encounters with Atheists have been negative in the sense they feel superior to me because they don’t believe in God. Why is that?

I’m going to assume you’re earnest in your question, and that you’re not merely smearing me specifically with perceived slights by other people. There’s a number of possible answers for this question. From most to least likely:

1. You’re on the internet. People are generally douchier than in real life, when behind a screen of anonymity. It’s possible if you were to debate them in person, they’d be more civil.

2. It’s also very easily possible to misread tone on the internet as it’s pure text. You may be mistaken about their perceived superiority. Some people aren’t as good as others at being diplomatic in pure text, where people don’t have the benefit of facial expressions or tone of voice to detract from the seeming condescension of their words.

3. If you’ve spent a lot of time on the internet debating with atheists (and I notice you’re using a capital A so I think this possibility is a good one), they may feel that you’re claiming that an atheist is an Atheist, e.g. that they subscribe to a religious view of atheism, the same way that a person can be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew. The thing is, it’s also possible (and much more likely) that they are atheists because atheism is the default position for someone unconvinced by any specific dogma — it is merely a lack of theism. Getting on someone’s nerves is not a good debating tactic — it’s just a good way to ensure you’ll end up incurring harsh feelings. And once you’ve gotten someone’s enmity that way, forget civility.

4. They could recognize specific arguments from battles past, and they may have already heard and feel they have already sufficiently countered them. This is especially true if you’re going to an atheist’s blog, and you haven’t taken the time to search it to see if they’ve specifically addressed your exact argument before.

5. They could feel you’ve mischaracterized something they’ve said, and are offended. It’s not a matter of feeling slighted by your not “believing’ their argument, but rather that you’ve either intentionally or unintentionally misunderstood what they’re saying in order to make a point of your own. When having a debate with someone, read their argument more than once before you start your rebuttal. They’ve likely done the same, so its’s only fair.

6. Understand that just because they don’t agree with your position, doesn’t mean they haven’t thought it out. And it certainly doesn’t mean they are intentionally disrespectful of yours.

There’s more possibilities than just these, but these are the ones off the top of my head.

Update:
7. They may not necessarily disrespect YOU. It’s possible they’re disrespecting only your IDEAS. People deserve respect intrinsically. Ideas have to be proven before they should be respected. And in some cases, the manner in which you “prove” ideas may not be the same as other people — for some, merely having enough people believing the same thing makes the idea worthy of respect (e.g. if there are a billion Muslims in the world, their ideas can’t possibly be ALL wrong, could they?). This is fallacious on its face. The fact that a lot of people believe a thing that’s unproven, doesn’t make the thing they believe any more worthy of respect. It is only when ideas are well-evidenced that they should be respected, and even then, they should never be elevated to the level of sacrosanctness.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Bailey

    I totally agree with those reasons -I try to restrain my nasty comments as much as possible, because I remember having gotten incredibly defensive when encountering atheists online before I was one. I’m still quite a douche about the ridiculous ideas discussed, because those ideas aren’t worth the time it takes to pretend to be respectful. People, though, deserve respect until they lose it (which admittedly happens pretty fast, on the interwebs).

    I love debating with theists, but it does get tiresome to have to correct the misconception that atheists are all smug assholes all the time. We’re only smug assholes most of the time! ;)

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Excellent point! And it brought to mind reason 7, which I’ve included above.

  3. 3
    George W.

    I sometimes wonder if the complaint that atheist’s tone sounds as though they feel superior stems from the fact that religionists feel we should be unsure of ourselves.
    They get a pep rally every Sunday to tell them how superior their worldview is, then wander out into the blogosphere expecting atheists to be waffling fools.
    When religionists get crabby tone from me, it usually has something to do with what you touch on in #3:
    My best advice for people on the internet is to expect reciprocal tone.
    If you come waltzing into a conversation with an axe to grind or an agenda and you present it with disregard for the actual conversation going on then expect some nonconstructive criticism.
    If you present your argument as though every “fact” is indisputable (see also Zdenny)you must expect some disregard for decorum.
    I am as guilty as anyone of being occasionally nasty to theists.
    Have I ever felt remorse for the way I said things?
    Absolutely….but not often.

  4. 4
    Rich Wilson

    I think there’s an important distinction between being critical and being rude. I’m becoming less an apologist as I age and as I listen to Hitchens. But as much as I try my best to never be rude, sometimes the other person doesn’t make that distinction, and my disagreement with their very firmly and personally held belief offends them. And I won’t apologize for that. Sometimes their firmly and personally held beliefs (usually my supposed lack of morality) offends me.

  5. 5
    Dan J

    I’m mean and nasty, and I use extremely foul language (as judged by most standards of what polite society considers foul), thus I think I would also be able to help answer this question.

    Jason makes some very good points in his answer.

    #1 — Yes, the anonymity provided does allow people to be a bit more “out there” than they usually are in real life.

    #2 — Indeed, it is easy to misconstrue someone’s meaning when it’s only text. What would be the best way to indicate to fundamentalist creationists exactly how loudly I’m screaming obscenities at them?

    #3 — I am an atheist. That means I do not have any belief in a god or gods. End of definition. “Athiest” does not imply anything else that most fervently religious people nearly always assume.

    #4 — If I hear that watchmaker analogy of William Paley’s one more time…

    #5 — Naaahhh… I’m not easily offended. I will, however, take offense at someone who willfully mis-characterizes what I’ve said, even after having it explained to them countless times over. Can you say ZDenny? I knew you could.

    #6 — I’ve considered the probability of your savior rising from the dead, but I certainly don’t accept it as a given fact.

    And finally…

    #7 — This is my favorite because it’s difficult for a lot of evangelical Christians (and probably fervent Muslims, etc., as well) to understand. I don’t think that Christians are all idiots. I think that belief in a Christian god and his half-breed zombie son is idiotic, however. I think the belief is suspect as being moronic, ignorant, etc. Unfortunately, many religious believers seem to be unable to separate themselves from their religious beliefs at all. They cannot, for a single moment, conceive of what it might be like to not believe in god! I don’t hate religious believers. My own daughters are Christian, and much of my family are Catholic. How could I harbor hatred simply because of their beliefs? Take a moment to think about it, and comprehend that your religious faith is not the sole thing that defines you as a person. If your faith is ridiculed, it doe not mean that you are being personally ridiculed.

  6. 6
    khan

    As a female, I find it difficult to restrain nasty responses to fundies.

  7. 7
    Mike Haubrich, FCD

    I wonder if Christians are cognizant of the fact that the simple question “How can you possibly be an atheist when the world is so wonderful?” is at heart a mean-spirited question implying that we are really fucking stupid to not see God in the flowers.

  8. 8
    eric nielsen

    What do you think about the bill boards that poke fun at Sunday worship and Christmas. Is that helping the “Athiests are good people too” cause?

  9. 9
    Rich Wilson

    Aside from the billboards, I think “Atheists are good people too” is an incorrect statement. We often hear the argument that Atheism is behind the greatest atrocities of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin and Mao). That’s incorrect for the same reason. The vast majority of people aren’t good or bad because of their faith, or lack thereof, but in spite of it. Even when Peter Hitchens says he’d do terrible things if he didn’t believe in God, I don’t believe him.

    I qualify that with ‘vast majority’ because, I do think belief in God is instrumental to some people making good changes in their lives. I know of several alcoholics for whom faith had a big part of their recovery, and I don’t mean to downplay that. Since those people weren’t successful until they ‘got faith’ then I think it’s reasonable to assume that it’s an important, if not necessary, ingredient for those people.

  10. 10
    Evey

    I honestly do think we are the superior minds. I know I may sound arrogant or a bit bitchy. But it’s true and we all know it. Personally you (Christian Girl) are inferior to me. I see Christians and to me it looks like they have the brain function of a 8 year old kid. I will disrespect your beliefs and I will disrespect you. Why? Because I’m a cruel heartless bitch? No. Because Christianity has done the most damage to this world and it continues to spread it’s disease to this world. To me the whole theology of that belief is completely retarded.

    Christianity (in my eyes) The belief that a god created a universe 13.75 billion light years across containing 200 billion galaxies, each of which contains an average of more than 200 billion stars, just so he could have a personal relationship with you.

    Who big of an idiot do you have to be to believe in that bullshit?

    So yes dear girl. I am intellectually superior than you. Probably even more in physical, but I won’t get into that subject.

  11. 11
    Boyd N. Allen

    I wonder if atheists ever consider what is in it for them if I stop believing in GOD? Of course I could never do that. Do they ever wonder why they care? What force is behind them, pushing them, to try to stop Christianity? They even have meeting places, where they discuss ways to stop it. The aclu is trying to stop any Christian activity on Government property. WHY? What does it matter if our military prays, if schools allow prayer? To me there is only answer. Satan! Lucifer, the angel that tried to take GODS place, was kicked out of Heaven. If you allow him, he will control your mind. If there was no GOD, there would be no satan, no force to push you. I pity you!

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