Chris Stedman asks at Religion News what misconceptions people have about atheists. There are lots of them, he notes, and that’s probably because most people don’t know many atheists, or don’t realize they do.
But when people meet atheists, they have an opportunity to revise their ideas about who we are and what we believe.
In that spirit, the Yale Humanist Community is cosponsoring an “Ask an Atheist” panel with Hartford Faith & Values—Connecticut’s nonsectarian, nonprofit religion news website and an affiliate of Religion News Service—this Monday, April 7 as the kickoff event for our first ever Humanism at Yale Week.
Great idea. He gets the other panelists to give some misconceptions, then he adds one.
I think another misconception is the idea that atheists and theists do not and cannot identify shared values or areas of mutual concern.
This is a harmful and ultimately dehumanizing assumption, predicated for some on the idea that atheists are so completely unlike theists—and that the chasm between believers and nonbelievers is so vast—that it isn’t valuable or even possible to work together for the common good.
But the reality is that we aren’t as different as we may think. Theist or atheist, we’re all trying to construct meaningful lives, understand ourselves and others, and learn more about the world around us. So let’s get together and get to know one another better.
I think that overstates the common ground a little bit. I don’t think it’s true that all theists are trying to learn more about the world around us. That’s one of the things I really don’t have in common with theists, as I understand theism. I think theism entails a belief in something that depends on non-rational non-empirical support – that depends, in short, on faith. I think that fact interferes with wanting to learn more about the world around us. I think theism is a motivation to try to ignore or deny some parts of the world around us – the ones that interfere with belief in a god, which is what theism is.
On the other hand people can compartmentalize. I get that. They can and do. But that’s not reliable; it’s not built in; it can’t be assumed. You never know when the door to the compartment is going to be breached, and the god-belief breaks through to distort the cognitive functioning.
To put it another way, I can easily agree that I can work with theists on many kinds of projects. I don’t quite agree that I can – necessarily – work with theists on trying to learn more about the world around us. Maybe I can, but maybe I can’t; it depends on the theists and how tightly closed they keep the compartment.
It seems to me that’s something the two parties really don’t have in common.