Believe it or not, everyone has their faults—even atheists! I know, I’m shocked too. This week we are going to turn our attention away from creationists and humble ourselves with a little bit of atheist introspection. It is probably needless to say, but this post doesn’t need to be taken too seriously. No one is perfect, and when it comes down to it, most of these points should just serve as a reminder to be a decent person, no matter what your beliefs. Regardless, here are nine things that some (not all) atheists do that they probably shouldn’t.
1. Believe in crystal healing, astrology, or other supernatural phenomena
It should be obvious that all it means to be an atheist is to not believe in a god or gods. One can be an atheist and still believe in other supernatural phenomena, but if I’m being honest, I can’t see how. Believing that crystals have powers or that the day you were born influences your personality are just as ridiculous to me as believing that there’s a god that cares who you marry. But if you are into astrology, I dare you to guess my star sign without knowing my birthday: if it’s real, shouldn’t it be obvious?
2. Feed the trolls
When I say “feed the trolls”, I mean engaging in dialogue with people you disagree with in an unproductive way. I think there’s a great need for communication between atheists, theists, and those of other prefixes, but there’s some conversations that are better unsaid. For example, I have never in my life been compelled to respond to a tweet that said, “If men evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?” I just think that people who ask such ignorant questions aren’t doing so because they really want an answer; they just want an argument. There are people who will never be satisfied with anything you say, and these arguments more often than not dissolve into name calling. I think that in responding to trolls in this way, we are just giving them more of what they want and getting nowhere.
3. Contribute to negative stereotypes
Like it or not, but it is still popular in religious circles to view atheists as reckless, untrustworthy hooligans without a moral code who want to burn down churches and abolish religion. More concisely, we are seen as hateful and angry. Unfortunately, even though there are a lot of peaceful atheists who just want to promote science and share their beliefs, there are a lot who still align with the traditional stereotype. Obviously no one should be a rude or mean person, but I think that we have an even greater obligation to be good when people expect us not to be.
4. Be too in-your-face about it
I think that every group can have people who are too open about it, whether it’s religion, veganism, sports, or something else. It can be off-putting to know a person who can only ever talk about one thing. It’s great to be out of the closet, but it’s also important to make sure you’re not so open that you are incapable of dialing back your passion, especially around people who may not share in it.
5. Insult people for their beliefs
I’ll just get it out of the way right now: a lot of people have a lot of pretty stupid beliefs. I’m free to think that, and so are you, even if you think I’m one of those people. But do you know what’s not cool? Making people feel like they’re stupid because of their beliefs. This is especially true when you’re trying to change someone’s mind. I think of Richard Dawkins (who is still a brilliant biologist) and his famous statement that religion is a mental illness, and Sam Harris’s language in Letter to a Christian Nation of “You believe this, and this belief is stupid because . . . ” When has anyone insulted the religion out of someone? Why not try to respectfully and logically show why a belief is incompatible with reality? If this isn’t possible, then refer to #2 and consider that this might not be the hill to die on.
6. Act like they know everything
There’s a stereotype about atheists that is more rooted in reality than the one in #3, and that is that atheists think they are the smartest people alive. I can think of a handful of examples off the top of my head of atheists who really think they are just brilliant, especially if they have left religion and “had their eyes opened” and “seen the truth.” To me, a lot of these people really are, or seem, pretty smart, but a dose of humility never hurt anyone. You don’t have to spend years studying the great philosophers to not believe in God, and I daresay you need not even read The Origin of Species or the bible all the way through. It’s not a contest, and building up a community of skeptics is a lot easier when you don’t need to build in extra room for everyone’s egos.
7. Be incapable of finding value in differing opinions or learning from other people
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone and explain your beliefs, only for them to constantly shut you down? I think that a lot of times, when this has happened to me, it was because the other person was insecure in their beliefs, and they couldn’t handle ideological diversity. This is not to say that something can be true for someone and something else for someone else, but everyone deserves to have their voice heard regardless. When a Unitarian Universalist minister spoke at my local freethought community last month, it was interesting to see the other atheists’ responses to some of the most divergent beliefs I have seen presented to the group. Some were upset about the Humanist religion, but I found it fascinating to learn about the spiritual side of skepticism, even though I don’t identify that way.
9. Be intellectually dishonest
To be completely honest, I don’t see this among atheists that often, but it does happen. It always bothers me when people claim to know that there’s not a god, or say that science has disproven god, or that you can’t prove that god exists. When it comes down to it, we really just can’t know. Maybe we can be 99.9% positive, but if there really is a god (or something like it), then it would probably not be something that we would have any way of detecting. And the point that god cannot be proven isn’t so strong, because a theist could turn right around and say that god can’t be disproven, in which case the argument is right back where it started.
These have been my nine things that I think atheists should stop doing! I got this idea from the video 4 Things Atheists Should Never Say by Genetically Modified Skeptic. What do you think? Is there anything else you would add to, or take off the list?