An Atheist’s Views on Society

As an atheist, how do you feel about people and society in general? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, somewhere in between? Do you trust people? How does atheism affect your views? 

I used to be really optimistic. Religion spreads hate, shame, and guilt and I would pride myself on seeing the good in people. I thought maybe this was a trait that many atheists share.

A recent traumatic experience has left me questioning my views and I’m really sad that I will probably never return to my optimistic self. 

Considering atheists are few and far between where I live, I think it’s really important to keep my head up and stay positive. I don’t want people to see me as cynical and negative, and although I’m not always open about my atheism, I still don’t want to feed any misconceptions or stereotypes. 

I know there are so many factors that play into a person’s views on people and society. Can atheism be one of them?



  1. says

    I think atheism underpins all of my views of people and society. When you’ve discarded religion, then you can’t fall into the “X is a good person” moralistic world-view (in terms of sin) you actually have to look at what people do. And when you’re skeptical about religion you’re also skeptical when someone tells you their actions are motivated by god’s love and you reach down to put your hand over your wallet. In other words, there’s a lot that my atheism makes me reject outright, and those would be crucial social inputs for a religious person. I have seen serious hard-core baptists simply take someone’s word for something based on the fact that they go to the same church. Then, they are genuinely surprised to be ripped off.

    I’ve always been pessimistic. Life’s short and we’re gonna die and everything we did will be forgotten if it hasn’t already been forgotten. The main question is whether our death will be prolonged and ugly or short and sweet. The second question is “what’s for dinner?” and whether I can get some snuggles as I drift off to sleep before confronting tomorrow. The good part is that tomorrow will probably be mostly OK and sometimes it’s even awesome and beautiful and sometimes there’s pizza and red wine.

    I consider myself to be a nihilist (IMO it’s the only view that works for a skeptic) and that frees me to live in the moment and try to do what I think is interesting and good. Naturally, I worry about believers inflicting their beliefs on me, but I need to dodge them long enough to die peacefully, which is as close to laughing last as I can get.

  2. says

    I believe atheism does impact on ones view of society but that view depends on ones relationship with religion. Atheism is either a response to formerly held views or views that affect one’s life and society if one was never a theist (not exclusively those things).
    Without theism one may technically be an atheist but there’s no contrast to make the concept useful.

    As for me I am in between. Religion is something to human behavior even if the details aren’t true. It’s about social organization and social activity. Human group activity. The form is still useful in many places even while it needs safeguards in others (that it shares with other kinds of human organization like government or group x where another victim was shut down because the abuser had more power). But right now there’s a lot of people holding into broken social tools because they’re personally useful and shit sucks.

  3. Kevin Dugan says

    Wow, huge topic. I’d say slightly worse, but that’s ok. If humanity has more complex issues with the religious glasses off, I want to believe that humanity has more complex issues. Removing the rose-colored lenses tends to increase the level of detail.
    Atheism allows you to shed the illusions of religious thought and accept the world as it is, at least that’s how it initially feels; but then you learn that culture is the ocean we swim in. There are many illusions and misperceptions that are non-religious in nature, be they political, ideological, or just part of your family and community heritage. They color our expectations of others behavior and how we feel they should be motivated by arguments. Now that you’ve shed one illusion, it’s time to dig deeper and look harder for evidence that disconfirms your comfortable beliefs. It’s ok because the reality is what there is to deal with and what you’re already living.
    Another factor I discovered as a new atheist is that our minds are optimized reality interpreters, with biases and heuristics built in largely with the goals to help us survive, to keep us in good standing with our current tribe, and to save energy thinking.
    There are also external factors that influence how we perceive other people. In the last 20 years, the rise of the internet has torn the blinders off of many social institutions. This is the first generation that’s grown up being able to connect globally and where institutional information hiding is much more difficult. The anonymity of the internet has also brought forth a legion of trolls, which at least for me, was a disappointing development. These are growing pains, and the emerging technologies like Twitter and Facebook are learning to cope.
    So good and bad, we see more truly and in finer detail than we ever have. As an atheist, I’ve grappled with what this means to me and the biggest realization is that there is no redemption, no alleviation of suffering, no increase of justice except what we work for. Every child that dies in war or famine or is abused, every young man forced to carry a gun and kill for a flag or cause, every law that oppresses – these are all in our purview of action. We are responsible for making change happen. There is no eternal leveler. No heaven to soothe the pain of seeing someone else’s torment. On the other hand, every incremental victory toward enfranchisement, freedom, justice, etc. are things we can be proud to have been a part of.

  4. says

    I am pessimistic. I think people are basically shit and humanity is rotten. Individuals can be fine, on an individual basis, but in any group, tribalistic thinking and behavior prevail and inevitable nasty shit starts happening. Religion is a result of this basic human property, and it does perhaps exacerbate it a bit, but it is not a cause.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    I’m atheist and optimistic. The history of the human race is people making sacrifices so that their tribe can do better in the next generation, while the concept of “my tribe” has expanded from immediate family, to city-state, to those in distant places sharing the same culture, to nowadays people even on the other side of the world who look and think quite differently. If we can avoid the triple threats of nuclear annihilation, global warming, and economic collapse for a few more decades, I think the future will look more like Star Trek than 1984.
    I mean, a majority of people in the world these days don’t spend a lot of time worrying about being murdered or enslaved by a rival nation. That hasn’t necessarily been true for most of human history.

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