Shifting Opinions About Atheists

Last year, when I was at freshman orientation, we played a game. During this game, the room was divided into two sides. The leader would read statements, and if this statement applied to you, you would walk to the other side of the room. First, the game starts off with silly statements or things that are easily answered. For example, “Cross the room if you have a sibling”. As the game progresses though, the topics become more serious. Eventually, we started talking about if people knew someone who died from cancer or gang related violence. We were asked if anyone in the room identified as transgender, lesbian, or gay. And we also mentioned religion.

At the time, I was heartbroken to see so many people who identified as atheist. I thought to myself, “Are these people really that hopeless? To not believe in anything at all?”

However, over this year, my tune has changed.

I took some religious studies classes that really opened my eyes. In one of the classes, we focused on a different topic each week, and the class consisted of discussion between classmates. People of all kinds of different religious/non-religious beliefs would take the stage and explain their views on the week’s topic. And I learned so much!

You really learn more about religion from its followers than from a textbook.

I learned that people who identify as atheist are not “hopeless” at all. I also realized that thinking of someone with that mindset is condescending. Why is it that we often do not allow others to talk badly about different religions, but we often insult people who do not adhere to a single religion or God?

I learned that people who are atheist are often people who are very logical. These people want tangible evidence for statements, and find it hard to accept broad statements from religions. These people may have also had horrible experiences in their life, which has led them to lose faith in God. These people are not “lost sheep” at all.

It is not acceptable to judge a person on their belief/disbelief in a God. And I am so grateful for my professor and classmates for teaching that to me. 

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12 Responses to Shifting Opinions About Atheists

  1. Good on you.

    Just remember, also, that not all of us have had ‘horrible experiences’ that led to becoming atheists. No more than people have horrible experiences and become Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Scientologist, anyway.

    • That’s true, thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t necessarily mean that all atheists are atheists because of horrible experiences, but I happened to meet a lot of people like that in my class. It was a learning experience for me, and I found empathy for these people. You really can’t be mad at someone for disbelieving in God because their family member died in a horrible accident.

      Similarly, I’ve found that a lot of people who identify as atheists are very logical. They want tangible data and proof of hypotheses. So I’ve almost come to the conclusion that atheists/theists may just be different in how they view life in general. Example: someone who is a theist gets a job promotion. They drop to their knees and say “My prayers have been answered!”. The atheist says, “Great, I’ve been working really hard to get that promotion”.

      Not to paint theists with too broad a brush, that they believe every act of fortune is a blessing in disguise, but just to illustrate my point.

  2. It’s easy to think that just because one’s own hope, meaning, etc. is derived from one’s religion, that this automatically means that people who don’t share this religion, can have no hope, meaning, etc. Nice to see someone figuring out why that is wrong.

    Btw: No horrible experiences with Christians here before my realization that I am an atheists. Later? Well, after reading up on Christianity, it’s easy to find very dark spots, even today, but I don’t think of this a reason.

    • I used to feel like people who were atheist were hopeless because they didn’t believe in God, however I didn’t realize that these people had logical and perfectly legitimate reasons for not believing in God. I think that sometimes people can feel threatened by others who do not share their beliefs, and perhaps treat or view them negatively as a result. (Whether this is done consciously or unconsciously). I think another reason for this is probably the urge in religious faiths for people to proselytize. Some people may feel like it is their “divine task” and that they are doing a service for these people. They mean well, but they usually insult or alienate people who do not share their faith.

      I agree with you. Even as a Catholic, I am appalled with things that the Church has done in the past. And like you have mentioned, there are even radical groups today that do horrible things (example: Westboro Baptist Church). No matter the religion, there are always radical groups that interpret their scriptures or traditions literally or to the extreme.

  3. david says:

    That’s one of the reasons I can be weary of faith in general. There are people who really deserve much more out of life; they’ve never had the resources to get much of a foothold with education and such, but they rely on prayer as the primary thing that can trump unfortunate circumstances. There’s so much that could use, practically needs, a miracle, and it very rarely happens.

    • Hey David, thanks for stopping by again.

      I agree with you in that there are many unjust things in the world. And it’s very difficult for me as a theist to try and explain this. It’s probably impossible. With my limited knowledge, I could never justify all of the horrible things in the world. With that being said, I probably can’t give you an answer that would satisfy you.

      One of the patients I was helping at the hospital was admitted because her doctor had found a new tumor months after her last surgery. The woman told me that after praying to a saint in her religion everyday, the doctor went in for surgery and found the tumor had shrunk and was barely noticeable. The doctor was able to remove it without a problem.

      This woman believes it is a miracle. Of course, one could easily argue that it is coincidence, or a flaw with the x-ray machine rather than divine intervention.

      I don’t have the understanding possible to declare this a coincidence or miracle. Perhaps we will never fully understand, and it is more a frame of mind than anything.

      • david says:

        Prayers and placebos can both have the same effect on health, because they’re essentially a framework that something positive will happen in regard to illness.. Positivity in general is more healthy than not. The immune system can be bolstered by it.

        • I definitely agree with you. Always good to stay positive 🙂

        • I was thinking more about this and thought it deserved a better answer. If prayer can work like a placebo in regards to illness, what about the different people that pray earnestly but do not get well? In that case is it just chance that separates these two groups of people?

          • david says:

            Again, this speaks to the problem of suffering in relationship to a benevolent God.

            I guess that the prayer/placebo/positivity effect would be most beneficial in combination with other healthy things, of which luck may be a significant part.

            • You are definitely right. The idea of an almighty and kind God is difficult to understand or justify when there is so much unneeded suffering in the world. In older societies, like the Greeks, they believed in dystheism. Something like this seems to explain suffering better because their Gods were capable of doing evil things. There are also other religions that believe in two equal Gods, one good and one evil always battling each other. Thus misfortune would be explained by the “bad God” won this time.

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