The Out Campaign is a public awareness initiative begun by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
The purpose, or at least a benefit of the initiative, is to show that atheists come in all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities. Atheists are laborers and professionals. Atheists are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandparents. They are liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Atheists are good friends and good citizens.
I support The Out Campaign. So, I am in. That is, I am out.
Currently, the general public view of atheists and atheism is, well, beyond belief (pun intended).
A Gallup poll before the 2012 presidential election asked whether respondents would vote for presidential candidates who belonged to various religious, ethnic or gender groups. This was the result:
As you see, there was a near-unanimous willingness to trust black, female, Catholic, Hispanic and Jewish candidates. Mormons and gays were less acceptable, and there was a great deal of distrust of Muslims. But atheists were the least acceptable candidates. (Distrust of atheists was most pronounced among Republicans and the elderly.)
Distrust of atheists is not a new phenomenon. Researchers at the University of Minnesota told us in 2006 that “atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups.”
And a study done by researchers at The University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011, found that atheists were considered even less trustworthy than rapists!
OMG! (irony intended)
Myths About Atheists
These poll and study results are driven by a long list of common myths about atheists and atheism. Australian writer and philosopher Russell Blackford has written a book titled 50 Great Myths About Atheism.
Let’s shed a little light on a few of the most common myths about atheism.
Myth: Atheists Don’t Have A Moral Code
This myth does the most harm, so let’s get to it first.
Believing that one cannot be good without God, many theists believe that atheists have no morals.
I recall a particular conversation I had with a friend – an otherwise good, smart, thoughtful person that I like and respect – where she reacted to learning that I was an atheist with something like this: “if you are an atheist then you don’t believe in anything. You must think it is all right to murder, rape and steal.”
Actually, atheism correlates to better behavior on average. Atheists are under-represented in prison, for instance, and the more religious nations have higher rates of violent crime and teen pregnancy.
So, yes, atheists have a moral code. Atheists manage to do good without fear of eternal damnation if they don’t.
That leads to an interesting question: is it more moral to help the poor out of concern for their suffering or because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?
There is a moral and ethical code that is programmed into humans which is unrelated to religion. If all religion disappeared tomorrow, would all formerly religious people immediately start murdering, raping and robbing? Of course not.
These are two atheistic expressions of morality from famous people that make a lot of sense to me . . .
”When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
” I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.”
Myth: Atheists Are Aggressive And Rude
This notion has been around in various forms for a long time, but it really took off after the rise of “New Atheism,” which focuses its energy on disproving religious claims instead of merely pleading for tolerance of atheists.
Is it more rude for an atheist to say, “I don’t believe in God and here’s why” than for a believer to intrude in your personal space with pamphlets, attack people with religious claims when they’re feeling low, knock on your door to proselytize, or force your children to recite religious language in school.
What constitutes aggressiveness and rudeness depends on your point of view.
Myth: Atheism Is Dogmatic
A definition of dogmatic is “expressing personal opinions or beliefs as if they are certainly correct and cannot be doubted.”
That describes theism, not atheism.
The very essence of the scientific method and reason on which most atheists rely is that nothing is immutable. Anything can be changed based on evidence.
Religion, on the other hand, offers answers that may never be questioned.
If it is dogmatic to reject religious beliefs, then we are all dogmatic. As the programmer Stephen F. Roberts once said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
The Out Campaign Can Be Part Of The Solution
Dispelling myths about atheism is important. Knowledge always defeats ignorance in the long run.
It is also important for atheists to be public about their atheism, and demonstrate their utter normality.
There’s actually some science behind this idea that exposure to atheists will reduce prejudice. In social psychology, the Contact Hypothesis states that, under appropriate conditions, interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members.
That is what happened with gays and lesbians. As straight people became more familiar with homosexuals – through personal contact as more homosexuals came out and through favorable portrayals of homosexuals in the popular media, such as the television show Will & Grace – and straights saw that gays were more like them than not, homophobia lessened.
There is reason to hope that bias against atheists can be reduced as more atheists “come out.”
Get To Know An Atheist
I avoided writing this post for a number of reasons. I am not an expert on this subject. I do not speak for anyone but me. And, this blog is not about religion and atheism, and I do not want it to be.
I finally decided to write this post to join the Out Campaign in showing how ridiculously normal atheists are.
Just look around this blog. If you do, you will see that, although I am an atheist who does not believe in gods, I am interested in core values, volunteerism, practicing kindness and living by a set of values-based personal rules. Atheists can even be fun and have a sense of humor!
If this shatters a stereotype of yours, I’m glad to have been of service.
Meet Some More Atheists
You are probably aware of recent polls revealing that about 1 in 5 Americans and 1 in 3 Americans under age 30 do not identify with any religion.
Although not all of these non-religious people are atheists, there is still a very good chance that you know atheists, even if you do not know they are atheists.
You also know of many famous inventors, scientists, statesmen, authors, sportsmen, philosophers, business people and performers who happen to be atheists. Here is a list of a few of them . . .
Edgar Allan Poe
John Stuart Mill
Vincent Van Gogh
Frank Lloyd Wright
George Bernard Shaw
Robert Louis Stevenson
If you are an atheist, I encourage you to be public about it and to support The Out Campaign.
If you are not an atheist, I invite your comments, pro or con.