Why the prejudice against atheists?

I’ve had countless conversations with persons of various religious persuasions where they were very tolerant of other religious persuasions but immediately took a hostile, more defensive attitude on learning of my own lack of religious beliefs. For example, a Christian may have no problems with someone else’s Muslim or Hindu beliefs but takes exception to someone being an atheist. I would think that whatever a person’s religious persuasion, they’re assuming their god is the correct one and that everyone else is following a false path through life. If this is the case what makes an atheist inherently different from someone who believes in another “bogus” god?

Its simple. An atheist, to a believer in any divine force, is refusing to look at reality.

Imagine is we were walking along one day, and you said, “Hey Bandit, look up at the sky! Isn’t that sunset beatiful?”

And I replied: “What are you talking about? I see nothing at all, save the reflection of sunlight off of oxygen particles. Did you smoke something?”

We could disagree, even violently, over the relative merit of the yellow or red shades in the sunset, or even which part of the sunset is mosat important, but we both still see the sunset. An atheist does not.

In short, to either side, the other is acting in a way contrary to the perfectly obvious reality.

I just opened a similar thread, after I was insulted by several anti-atheist remarks in today’s press and was taken to task for it in the Pit.

There’s a story about Bertrand Russell. He had been arrested for protesting WWI, and the jailer was filling out his paperwork. He got to the question “religious affiliation”, and Russell answered “agnostic”. The jailer was confused, obviously having never heard the word before, but wrote it down, shrugged, and said something like, “'Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God”. :slight_smile:

I think it’s that sentiment that leads to it…most people are willing to be tolerant of different religions because, at least they’re worshiping God, but people are less likely to be tolerant of atheism, because that’s a direct denial of the existance of God.

Well, I don’t mind if someone doesn’t belief in the existence of God.
On the contrary, I find it fascinating because it is the opposite of my view on everything you can imagine.

Salaam. A

I think some element of it involves feeling threatened, or insecure. I can imagine it would be difficult to hold on to unprovable religious beliefs, and pass them on to your children, when confronted by moral, intelligent people who have no need for such beliefs. IME, many if not most religious people are incapable of understanding a basis for morality independent of religion.

For the very intolerant, I suspect that they have little else going for them, so they have to hang onto what they believe. They get a lot of support from their fellow believers, and in this area of their lives, at least, they are able to convince themselves of a reason for considering themselves better than someone else. A very human tendency, IMO.

Many religious people seem to believe the only moral compass man has comes from a higher power. So when you say you’re an Atheist you’re saying that you have no morals and are only interested in self serving actions.

Others seem to think that EVERYONE deep down believes in god so your refusal is just an attempt to not serve god which is offensive to those that think they do.

Some of them have also been taught in church that Atheists are trying to destroy god and the church. There can be compromise with say Muslims (after all they’re all really Christian deep down if only the poor souls would admit it) whereas with Atheists there is nothing to be worked out. Opposite world views.

Plus the other points already made here.

It seems the religious can be a bit more aggressive with atheists than with other religious. For example, I was asked recently what my religion was and I said “atheist/agnostic” (not about to get into hard v. soft atheism in a casual conversation) and was asked why I didn’t believe in God and if it was becuase of the bad stuff in the world. Doesn’t seem like a shocking question, but if a Christian said “Oh, you’re Jewish? So why don’t you believe Jesus is your Savior? Do you not believe because some Christians have done bad things?” it would seem a bit gauche, because the implication is that the choice is strange enough that it needs a justification that a Christian beleif does not. Or people think it’s perfectly OK to ask why I don’t murder people, when they generally don’t feel the need to ask that of others. I think atheism is still considered so foreign that atheists are seen as devations from normal that must account for their deviance, rather than a fellow-god-follower who is accepted as having a “factory setting” even though his/her moral code and culture may be radically different.

Funny you bring that up, because, although I’m guessing you’re being facetious, I have encountered many theists who really seem to think that’s what atheists are like. Since God and beauty are so inextricably intertwined in their minds, they assume that the two concepts cannot exist independently, and conclude that atheists must be unfeeling robots. I always get a chuckle out of that idea.

Funny, but I’ve had countless conversations with humanists of various atheist stripes who were very tolerant of other religious persuasions but but immediately took a hostile, more defensive attitude immediately upon learning of my own Christian beliefs. For example, an atheist may have no problems with someone else’s Muslim or Hindu beliefs but takes exception to someone being a Christian. I would think that they’re assuming their metaphysic is the correct one and that everyone else is following a false path through life. If this is the case what makes a Christian inherently different from someone who believes in another “bogus” god?

And I’m not just making things up. I have run into atheists and agnostics who have no problem at all with Hindus, neopagans, Muslims, etc. but get quite hissy when they realize that they’ve been speaking to a Christian, of all people!

I have a friend like that. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that Christianity is the dominant religion in this country. So, Christianity is just more present as a “force” than Hinduism, neopaganism, Islam, etc…which means atheists/agnostics are more likely to come up against it, and thereby react negatively to it.

Also, because Christianity is dominant in the US, most atheists/agnostics are former Christians, and there must have been something about the Christianity that they found unsatisfying, offensive, or wrong, to get them to leave. Therefore, they’re less able to react without bias when it comes to Christianity, and more likely to see its faults, than another religions.

Dogface said, “I’ve had countless conversations with humanists of various atheist stripes who were very tolerant of other religious persuasions but but immediately took a hostile, more defensive attitude immediately upon learning of my own Christian beliefs.”

There are more Christians in America than any other religion, and they’re infinitely more in-your-face than any other religion. Bar none. The animosity stems from some Christians’ inability to mind their own business.

It stems, I believe, from a wacky form of empathy. Assume that the only thing stopping you from robbing, raping, and pillaging was your belief in God. If you posit that people are like you, then people who do not believe in God have nothing stopping them from robbing, etc. All IMHO, IANAP,D,L,oB, etc.

I believe that this is probably part of it. A friend of mine is Catholic, and he once said to me that I was one of the most moral people he knew, despite the fact that I’m an atheist. As if being an atheist is somehow a detriment to morality.

I sometimes wonder, when Christians find out that I’m an atheist, if they are worrying that I’m just going to snap one day for no apparent reason and go an a murdering, raping, pillaging spree.

Perhaps Christians view atheists as being kind of like a half-tamed lion in a petting zoo full of lambs and ponies, or something. Sure, it’s behaving itself now, but its nature is to attack, and when it finally does, it’s going to be total carnage.


Yeah, as a Christian, I’ve never understood this. It would be like my culinary school friend being shocked that I make damn good pancakes. (And I do make damn good pancakes.)

In the sense, of course, that culinary school gives him experience with cooking and going to church presumably gives one experience with morality.


I assume this is hyperbole, but it makes me wonder (besides or including your Catholic friend) who these Christians are that you hang out with. I certainly hope you don’t consider them friends.

Maybe it’s because my church (Greek Orthodox) isn’t “aggressively evangelistic” in the sense American evangelical churches are, but the primary thing I feel when I’m communicating with an atheist (and I mean here, with a good friend who is an atheist) is not prejudice, but a certain sense of frustration that we cannot communicate to the fullest extent on matters spiritual. Not because he/she thinks I’m crazy (despite what’s written in this forum, I hope not) or because I think he/she is a heathen, but just because something’s missing.

Of course, I often experience a similar feeling with my closest friend, who is Baptist.

I’d go for the in-your-face explanation on that one… plus Christians have killed and murdered more than other religions that I know of. (Includes New World Conquest). Dangerous people. :slight_smile:

Try Satanism next time to see what the reactions will be :smiley:

I think that it’s mostly a cultural attitude; in other cultures, a person following the “wrong” religion would be looked down upon more than someone who doesn’t have any religion at all. There are, however, parallels in other cultures. For instance, in the Bushido code of Japan, a warrior pledged to another lord was treated with honor. You might end up killing him, but if he fought bravely and died with honor, you would respect him as a fellow warrior. But the ronin, warriors without masters, were considered without honor.

There seems to be similar dynamic in American culture; it’s almost like there’s a “truce” between the different “lords”, and the followers of one respect those of another. But if you don’t follow a “lord”, you’re on your own. Attacking someone for following another “lord” would be disrespectful towards that “lord”, and our culture has come value respect for different “lords”.

The idea seems to be that if you follow another religion, then that’s a “good” reason why you can’t convert. Following another religion is a big deal, and so of course you can’t be Christian, you’re X. You can’t just up and walk away from that religion. Maybe eventually you’ll come to see the light, but if you’re reluctant at first, that’s understandable. But if you’ve got no prior commitments, what are you doing not converting to Christianity? What’s stopping you from accepting the Truth and the Light?

Another analogy is that some guys go around hitting on single girls, and will pester anyone that turns them down. But if they find out you’re married, they back off, because hitting on another guy’s girl is Against the Guy Code.

And if you ask me, that says something about the person holding the misconception – e.g., that the only thing preventing him from committing wanton raping and pillaging and looting is the Fear of Being Smitted By The Big Voice In the Sky.

IMO, people who think morality can only come from religion feel that way because they themselves cannot live moral lives without religion. And that’s pathetic.

I agree with The Ryan, and want to expand on one bit - part of the reason may be that atheists are easy pickings? There is no commonly recognized (by the man on the street) atheist grouping, so every atheist is seen as alone, without any backup, whereas any single Muslim, or Hindu or whatever, while he may be the only one around for miles, still has a sort of weight of numbers to back him up. Kinda like gang warfare , and us atheists ain’t gots no homies (as far as general perception goes) to come running when we call. ~1 Billion Muslims and < one Billion Hindus pack a lot of theological weight.