9 Annoying Things Atheists Do

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?

23 Replies to “9 Annoying Things Atheists Do”

  1. You’re totally right. No 1 is why I realised I’d never actually been an atheist but merely reacting to the Christian beliefs I no longer held. But at the time, yes, I did all of the above. Motivated by anger towards having been indoctrinated, I guess. I’m extremely grateful for that phase in my life and all the liberating material put out by atheists to deconstruct the rigidity of dogmas; I did however make an arse of myself quite a few times.

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  2. I consider this post to be an honest confession by an atheist. As someone who believes in God, I have had several conversations with atheists on my blog and I must say, these traits you mentioned often manifest amongst them. And they wouldn’t even admit it.
    Once again, thumps up for this post.

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  3. A good and interesting article. All good points and I especially liked you saying ‘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’. I also agree with your comment ‘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’. Treating people respectfully, no matter what they believe is always the right thing to do and as you said ‘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’ One of my big complaints with people on either side of things is just what you said, ‘Making people feel like they’re stupid because of their beliefs’. No one wants to be told they are stupid or made fun of for what they believe. Again, we all should be treated respectfully and with kindness no matter who we are or what we believe.

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  4. I guess all this is true…but you could have easily titled this 9 Annoying Things Christians Do and it will still apply equally. There are obviously assholes everywhere. Yes it is more bothersome when you see it from atheists simply because religion is already established and if you are trying to build a movement that values science and reason, being an asshole doesn’t really promote your cause.

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  5. Rebekah, I’m only half with you on this. Firstly, I don’t see many atheists doing many of the things you highlight. Then there’s point 9 – we can’t say that you can’t prove god/s exist. Throughout history the brightest hotshots of numerous religions have spectacularly failed to even begin to prove that their chosen god exists. Surely this is a bit of a clue! We have, I believe, proven beyond reasonable doubt that gods don’t exist. In theory we can’t say for sure, any more than we can say that fairies, goblins, pink elephants, flying pigs or imaginary friends don’t exist. In reality, we would probably not have any qualms about saying just that. Why should we offer religion respect that we don’t give elsewhere (unless to perpetuate the repressive, domineering, discriminatory power of the church)? Which brings me to the point about not ridiculing religious ideas. In other areas, ridicule is a powerful tool used to help demonstrate to people whose thinking is so clearly mistaken. Used carefully (and I agree we shouldn’t be aggressive) it can be just the kick up the backside someone needs to get their brain in gear. Don’t get the idea I do any of this though. More likely, I’ll just think it, but keep my mouth shut.;¬]

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    1. You wrote: Why should we offer religion respect that we don’t give elsewhere? (e.g., fairies, goblins, pink elephants, flying pigs or imaginary friends). Good point!

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  6. Good post and comments..
    My one thought is though, when religious people start with the hate, racist vitriol, homophobia, white supremacy etc. etc., they need to be called out, simply because this is dangerous and they have crossed a line.

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  7. Regarding a conversation with a troll, I agree they are usually best avoided. It depends on where this conversation is happening, and how trollish the troll is. Because any conversation I have with one of these is not for the benefit of the troll, it’s for the benefit of the other people reading. So I’m more willing to engage on places like ex-christian, where there are a lot of people lurking who are just starting to reconsider their religious views. There, a conversation with a troll allows the troll to put all the worst parts about religion on display, and allows me to make the rebuttals that the lurkers may be hearing for the first time.

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  8. I agree with most of the things you said, but being an Atheist means you don’t believe in a supernatural power similar to a god. You can still believe in astrology or crystals. Some Atheists aren’t Atheists because they think it’s impossible that there is a supernatural power, but because they think that specifically deities like gods who have a lot of power and can appear in the human worlf and make everything happen can’t exist. So they might still believe that different supernatural powers or fate do exist. Astrology, for example, works very differently than a god.

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  9. All too often I see Atheists and Christians engage in pointless debates that go nowhere but name-calling, so I can see where you are going with that! I also don’t like it when people get attacked or called mentally unwell for having opposing beliefs.

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  10. Do not dwell upon or try to answer bozo questions like how many monkeys does it take to build a ….?
    Ignore silly, dopey, questions. They go nowhere. How how many times does a bear fart while hibernating?.
    Simply ask “Who cares” because the question is irrelevant.
    At 81 I am a life long atheist without baggage. I tell questioners to read: “Atheism, the case against god” or better, “Did Man Create God?.”
    Both books are available on-line, used at reasonable prices.
    Pat, my wife and I, are very interested in your blog. We wish you to continue and grow with the knowledge, that we, your fans, cheer you on.
    The problem you must deal with is both simple and not complicated: All you can do, unfortunately, is to call them on their stupidity.
    If these people cannot deal with rationality do not take it personally If you are wrong it is not your fault.
    Dopey did not explain himself very well.
    I feel bad when one of us has doubts. We must support each other.
    Our enemies are phantoms of our minds.
    .

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  11. I’ll just address number one. I was working on a local add campaign with a national company. I walked into this esoteric shop and was greeted by this madamesque woman. As we shook hands she looked me in the eye and said, “your an Aries, I like Aries men”. Wtf? Ok, I agree with you mostly Rebekah, but their are people in tune to these things. Sure she had an 8% chance of guessing right, but she was very confident and never even bothered to ask me if she was right.

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  12. Dang. Typed my reply and lost it. You are right. These have nothing to do with being atheist. I agree with being nice, but that will only go so far with condescending jerks. I have recently been labeled cantankerous (humorously by friends), but I am ok with that. So, my #10 is: don’t be a dick. 🙂

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  13. Thanks. Good post.

    I pretty much agree on all points.

    Some people are atheists for reasons other than an interest in truth or science. So it is no surprise that some people might still cling to other weird beliefs such as crystal healing or astrology or anti-vax.

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  14. Excellent points. If you go into a mental facility it doesn’t do any good to tell the patients that they are crazy. Their intransigence is their defense. Education is the only true answer to eliminate the delusion which supports all religions and that is that heaven, the supernatural realm, does not exist. It is a mental construct of the human mind. GROG

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  15. Several of these tendencies were part of the reason it took me so long to accept my own atheism, and are still part of the reason I do not align with atheism as a community, particularly 3, 4, and 5. I might add a tenth item, a tendency to present simplistic, largely emotional arguments (like, “religion kills people”) as if they were the word of God (haha) and use those weak arguments to presume a ridiculous degree of moral superiority. I find modern atheism very vulnerable to an accusation of smugness. Incidentally, the same tendencies were a big part of what drove me away from organized religion, and also keep me away from political parties, despite the strength of my political beliefs.

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  16. Regarding #2, a coworker once asked me the “why are there still monkeys” question in all seriousness. She thought it was a good point. She outranked me in the office hierarchy, so I explained to her how evolution works without being snarky (I think.) Regarding #5, It is only with age that I learned to separate my opinion of a person from my opinion of their beliefs. You have to if your dear family members are religious! Good post, Rebekah!

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