Facebook users may have noticed a change in their friends profile pictures this past week as tens of thousands of people placed an “A” in their profile to openly declare their support for nontheist views.
The day after I put the “A” in my profile, I got into a conversation with a coworker, who is also a Facebook friend. He clearly didn’t understand what atheism is about. In fact, he was surprised to find out that we don’t worship Satan!
There appears to be a misconception among believers, or theists, about atheists and other nontheists, that is, in my opinion, generally unfounded.
Non believers come in many different shapes and sizes and represent an ever growing segment of the American population. Recent surveys show that 1 out of 6 Americans are nonbelievers, or Nones. Among American males that number rises to 1 out of 5, and America’s younger generation, those under 30, that number approaches 1 out of every 4!
The sheer number of Nones is staggering when you consider that, taken as a whole, Nones outnumber African Americans, Muslims, Jews, and Mormons in America combined!
It is even more encouraging, or discouraging depending on the point of view, that the trend in America shows Nones are clearly on the rise – having doubled in size in just the last 20 years; however, America still lags far behind European countries, and Canada, where religion is predicted to heading to extinction as the number of Nones continue to rapidly grow.
Despite these numbers, there are many American Nones that are forced to hide their religious views (or lack thereof) out of fear of alienating family and friends, for fear of losing their employment, and for fear of isolation within their own communities. When I became vocal, for lack of a better word, about my atheism, several people on Facebook defriended me – likely as they no longer wished to associate with a nonbeliever.
Nones face a public relations problem – predominantly due to the fact there is little cohesiveness in the disparate sects that comprise Nones, exacerbated by a lack of common community – church is a non sequitur for nonbelievers.
Much has been written defining the various subsets of Nones – from Atheists to Agnostics and Freethinkers to Skeptics. The primary commonality these sects appear to share is not so much a rejection of God as much as the rejection of the Christian God.
Nontheists arrive as this conclusion by many different paths. For many, especially the younger generation of Nones, they have been raised to be Freethinkers and Skeptics, never having been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system as children. For the majority of apostates, or those that were raised in the church and have come to reject the Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish) belief it is ever more challenging. Apostates were raised to believe in all all-caring God and many may have felt a personal connection to their God through prayer. They also experienced being part of a greater community of believers. Leaving the church and community is no less difficult, for many, as it is for those rescued from a cult and undergoing deprogramming.
Apostate adults, who as children were raised in the church, were indeed programmed and conditioned to believe in the God of their parents. In fact, everything that defines who we are as adults comes from the conditioning we receive as children. People of my generation were raised to clean our plates at every meal and told of starving people in China that would love to have what we have on our table. As we became parents ourselves, those sayings were passed on to our children. It was only years later that I realized that in the year 2000, three generations removed from the Great Depression, I was perpetuating a Depression mentality on my children – which could also account as a factor in America’s obese youth problem.
Some readers of this article may question why anyone would knowingly reject the Bible, Christian theology, and Jesus Christ.
The answers vary among Nones. Some embrace science and evolution as the answer to our existence and see the Bible as nothing more than a book of myths, akin to ancient Roman or Greek mythology – a way of an ancient people trying to understand the physical world around them.
Other Nones do not reject the idea of a creator deity, but do reject the notion that the Biblical God, Yahweh, is a loving, or just God. They look at the world presented to them and think that if there exists a benevolent God that cares about humanity – that God could not possibly be personally connected to us.
For these people, when a disaster strikes and tens of thousands of people are killed, but a child is found alive in the rubble days later, take offense when people thank God for saving that person. They see a cognitive disconnect that on one hand praises a deity for saving a single life while either causing, or not preventing, the disaster that took the lives of others. We do this all the time without thinking the logic behind the statement through and when questioned, the easy response tends to be that God works in mysterious ways and we cannot understand God’s will; however, that never stops people from judging others based on their understanding of God’s will – it’s simply a disconnect that ultimately causes many that take the time to look harder at to “lose” faith.
Other apostates simply read the Bible. As Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists said:
“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.” link
When presented by church doctrine that God loves you, yet the bible presents a different view of God, again, a believing reader is forced to make a mental adjustment. As Richard Dawkins writes in his best-selling book, The God Delusion:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
How one can read the opening chapters of the Bible – especially through the Book of Kings and not reach a similar conclusion has to be based on the concurrent messaging of a Lord and Savior that sacrificed himself for sin paving the way to a glorious afterlife.
It might be a surprise to many Christians that when it comes to knowledge of religion – especially of their own, that atheists tend to know more about the bible and the church than they do. According to the Pew Research Center, Atheists and Agnostics averaged 21 correct answers out of 32 questions on religion — several points higher than Protestants and Catholics. You can take a shortened version of the quiz yourself here. [For the sake of disclosure, I scored 31 out of 32 on the original quiz]
This is likely due to the skeptical nature of atheists to explore for themselves the answers to why we exist than blindly accept a doctrine of faith presented to them by those that do not always adhere to the doctrine they preach. Simple hypocrisy cannot be ruled out as a cause for apostates.
For myself, even when I was a strong, young(er), believer, I had a problem with a key doctrine of faith: that which proclaims that only those that accept Jesus Christ as their savior make it into heaven – all others are destined for hell.
This always struck me as a disconnect between a loving, forgiving god and the god described by Dawkins. As a younger Christian, my way of rationalizing the disconnect went along the lines of:
Surely a loving, just God would not condemn those of different faiths – especially those that believe in him – less Jesus – to an eternity of hell.
Unfortunately, there are many Christians that see it just as that simple, cut, and dried. You’re either in the club or you’re not. Leaving the club, by ones’ own volition, is a hard concept to grasp. Obviously, if you were once saved by believing in Christ, then you choose to reject Christ knowing that the consequence of rejection is an eternity in hell – that person must be a Satanist. Ah, I see the connection now!
I have family members and friends that patronize my nonbelief; despite knowing in their hearts that I am destined for hell for rejecting their religion. Catholics, however,may see it a little differently – since I was born and raised a Catholic – to include being baptized as an infant – they would know that my soul has already been safe-guarded. I may not make it into heaven on the first chance, but I’ll still have a shot at it after spending some quality time in purgatory. This happened to be the subject of the one question I missed on the Pew Religious Survey Test. I forgot that Catholics aren’t big on the “born again” thing.
However, I digress; the point of this article was not to attack religion – and hopefully readers will not feel that I’ve attacked their faith. The point was to draw attention to the Nones among you – those one out of every six people you see and growing daily.
I earlier mentioned the lack of an effective public relations campaign for the part of Nones and I admit, I’ve admired the charm offensive that the Mormon Church is putting on to let the American public know that Mormons aren’t that much different than you (or me). Atheists and Nones need a similar PR campaign. “A” Week on Facebook is a start toward that PR campaign, but we have to do more to let the Christian public know that we are not Satan worshipers or baby rapists…
Using the Mormon script, mine would read:
“I am a husband, a father of four. I volunteer hundreds of hours at our local high school. I donate to charities. I work as a civil servant defending our country against those that would do us harm and, I am an atheist.