Many Christians think atheists are evil. Think I'm wrong? Here's a video of Ted Cruz's dad explaining how atheism leads to sexual perversion. Before you cry foul at this video, you have to understand it's not just conservatives who say such things. I've also heard the fluffiest of progressive believers say strange things about atheists. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Christians–spiritualists of all kinds give into the temptation to paint skeptics with an evil brush.
I have often heard Christians say, "Well, at least they believe in something" when comparing Muslims to atheists. Given the considerable international tension between Christians and Muslims, this is really saying something. I suppose that greater tension with atheists is inevitable. People who believe in God tend to hold that belief deeply, and they can't imagine how anyone could not believe in God. The position is so foreign that its hard to find common ground with someone who does not believe at all. I think this lack of understanding is what creates such confusion and fear around unbelief.
I am a Christian, but I was once an atheist. Let me state it plainly: atheists are not evil.
Atheists aren't anything, really. Atheism is not a movement. The only qualification for being an atheist is lacking belief in any god. Most atheists are skeptics, but not all are against religion. Many atheists have no problem with religion at all, or even view it a beneficial to society.
You don't hear about that a a lot because most of the atheists people hear about are the New Atheists. New Atheism is a movement popularized by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and others. New Atheists assert that religion does more harm than good in human societies. In a world made up primarily of religious people, this claim is understandably controversial. But even the New Atheists are not evil. In fact, they rail against religious dogma because of their humanism, and humanism is a philosophy that stands for the advancement of humans. New Atheists cry out against some pretty legitimate issues, and provide a necessary opposition to some of the worst expressions of faith on issues like child abuse and genocide.
Most atheists are not angry with God. They are not angry with God anymore than you are angry with Santa Claus. They can't be angry with something they do not believe in. Of course, many atheists are frustrated with religious people, and they object to having any civil liberties oppressed for religious reasons. Atheists in America overwhelmingly support equal marriage rights, while America at large offers support by a slim majority.
Many atheists know the Bible well, and most atheists in America come from a religious family. They are not generally ignorant of the core teachings of the Christian church–they just don't believe them. Most atheists are skeptics, so they believe things only when they have adequate evidence. They don't believe things on faith alone.
Some believers argue that everyone takes something on faith. For example, we all assume that the world exists and is not a dream. If you call that faith, skeptics use as little faith as possible to operate in reality. There's some sense in this, after all if you take ideas on faith alone, how can you know what to put your faith in? If Muslims say to have faith in the teachings of Muhammed and Christians say to have faith in the teachings of Jesus, how do you pick which party to have faith in? They have contradicting claims. You can't believe both. This article on Slate explains it really well.
So, atheists are people who lack belief in any god. Some of them believe religion is bad for society overall. Most of them are skeptics. As a group, they are very moral.
Studies show atheists are just a moral as believers. Some data even shows that atheists have more stable marriages than Christian people. Contrary to the teachings of some faiths, atheists can express love. Atheists love their spouses and children. They experience awe and wonder. They appreciate beauty. They enjoy literature and poetry. Atheists who are materialists are not dry machines of logic, devoid of compassion. They simply believe all the wonder in life is part of how the natural Universe works.
Despite their growing numbers, atheists are still one of the least understood and least trusted groups in the world. Some studies show their favorability with the public to be even lower than the congress–and in one study atheists are viewed about as favorably as rapists.
With popular notions like that, is it any wonder that many atheists are so frustrated, or that they feel oppressed by the majority?
Atheists are not evil. They just don't believe in God. It's time for those of us who believe to stop expressing hostility towards atheists, be it overt or subtle. When we protect atheists' right to worship no god, we also protect our own right to worship the God we believe in.
May we learn treat atheists with the kindness, compassion, and consideration that Jesus offers to us.
Next week I'll weigh in on another fallacy that bothers me: Christians aren't stupid.