I have been thinking recently about relations between Christians and atheists, and the gulf of animosity between the two. I’ll go ahead and share some of my thoughts on the dynamics involved.
There was a Pew poll last year which highlighted something we already knew: Americans have a very negative view of atheists. On a scale of 1 to 100 representing negative to positive emotions, Americans ranked atheists a chilly 41, only one percentage point above the most negatively perceived religious group, Muslims, who got a rating of 40. This is 8 points below the third most disliked group, Mormons, who got a rating of 48. When it comes to atheists’ and evangelicals’ rankings of each other, there is a mutual dislike between the two. Both groups ranked each other worse than any other group. Atheists gave evangelical Christians a score of 28, while evangelical Christians gave atheists a score of 25.
Even more alarming than these numbers are the studies which have suggested that Americans distrust atheists less than rapists (!) I find this incredibly saddening. It is also unjustified.
Just the other day I was having a conversation on one of my Twitter accounts with someone who I’ve followed since before I left the faith. We had brief conversations before, but we were more like Twitter acquantainces. I didn’t intend on turning it into a debate but as you know, sometimes certain personalities can’t resist sparring. I didn’t mind it, as I enjoy a good, respectful (key word) debate. But it took a turn which annoyed and angered me. I took a bunch of screenshots so you could see it. Keep in mind that Twitter convos can be somewhat hard to follow, depending on which tweet is replied to, the order can be confusing.
This man revealed his biases about atheists, by trying to suggest we are okay with rape and murder. As much as I find this thinking offensive, I feel sorry for him. I personally am not easily hurt by fundies’ opinions; this case is no exception. From his perspective, he really thinks I’m going to Hell. Can I blame him for not having tact? It’s unfortunate when people embrace false beliefs which require unbending devotion. Having been on both sides I know that there are many factors which lead someone to accept these stereotypes and biases. Fear of punishment, mixed with indoctrination is a potent combination.
Now it would be unfair of me to say that this guy is representative of most Christians. Most of my followers on that account are Christians I’ve known since before my conversion, and immediately several of them started to chime in with apologies for what this guy said. It truly is nice to be reminded of the amount of love within Christianity. That sounds strange as an atheist, but I believe it. There are great Christians; some of the best people I know are believers. There are also great atheists; something I hope more Christians would see. People are individuals. Stereotyping is wrong; regardless of what a person believes or doesn’t believe. I listed some stats on my feed regarding atheism and crime which I thought I’d share here.
There is evidence that atheists are overwhelmingly peaceful and law-abiding. 2013 data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons shows that atheists make up only 0.07% of the prison population; Protestants on the other hand make up 28.7% and Catholics 24%. Atheists make up 2.4% of the American population according to a 2012 Pew poll.This means that atheists are 34 times less likely to be incarcerated than those who do not identify as atheists. The caricature of lawless, conscience-devoid atheists running wild is absurdly inaccurate. We have consciences, and societies don’t necessarily crumble due to a decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, there is considerable evidence that secular societs fare better than religious ones.
All of this however, has nothing to do with the truth value of Christianity or the debate of it. But what it does show is that the negative stereotypes of atheists are simply invalid; in addition to being unproductive to society. We don’t need more Phil Robertsons saying “You lose your religion, you lose your morals.” And on the flip side we don’t need more New Atheists in the vein of Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens agitating Christians (as much as I can appreciate some of their work.) What we need now is respectful dialogue and a more positive approach on both sides to help restore some civility between the two groups.
I might add that there are still a few statistics that favor religiosity as well; such as higher charitable donations. However it is not surprising that giving would increase if you pass around an offering plate once a week and urge people that it is their duty to give.
Some atheists caricature Christians as stupid and intolerant. Some Christians caricature atheists as immoral and obnoxious. These stereotypes will continue to hinder forward progress in relations between the two groups if both sides don’t commit to changing the focus. It shouldn’t be ‘us vs. them.’ We can disagree respectfully, and commit to loving each other regardless. We may not gather together and sing kumbaya on the weekends, but we can learn to respect each other and not stir up animosity. We have a long way to go, and I’m a work in progress myself.
Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
My name is Zach Van Houten and I am a secular Humanist with progressive values who enjoys good discussions with intelligent people. I was a passionate conservative Christian from childhood until I found intellectual freedom in November of 2014. I take an interest in Humanism, general philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, eastern religious philosophy, atheism, politics, Biblical studies, and most importantly, the life cycle of sea turtles. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to offer tips on how I can make myself less boring or start up a convo about the weather.
© Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.