Something that has always perplexed me is this image people seem to have of atheists as being horrible, judgemental, angry people. It has always confused me because in my experience those who identified as atheist were generally more accepting of people than most. It’s not until recently that this perception has started to make sense to me.
I have been a member of a few atheist facebook groups for a while now, however I’ve mostly only used these groups to keep up with a little bit of news which the members tend to share. Only in the past 2 weeks or so have I actually begun to pay attention to the comments that are being posted and they have begun to shine a pretty bright light on why people perceive atheists as they do.
Recently a few threads in particular have caught my eye. One was about Richard Dawkins comments regarding his views on aborting a fetus if it is known that the resultant child would suffer with Downs Syndrome. Another concerned a news story about 2 expectant, christian, parents who had been told their child would be born with an abnormality which would result in it not have a fully developed brain and would almost certainly die within hours of being born. The parents had decided not to abort, and instead asked for prayers for their child.
And just before people get sidetracked, as they are want to do, I’m neither defending nor condemning Dawkins comments. That’s not what this post is about at all. That said, let’s continue.
Many of the same people commented on both threads and the comments were quite enlightening. On the one hand we had people calling the expectant parents “selfish, ignorant idiots” and saying that if they had an ounce of intelligence they’d get an abortion and try again, almost none of the commenters seemed to take even a moment to consider what these people were going through. On the other hand we had these same people commenting to say that Dawkins was a “callous old douchebag” and how could he “suggest someone get an abortion just because their child may have a defect”. I mean it’s not like these same people, not 48 hours earlier, were posting abuse directed at 2 christians for not wanting to do what they had just abused Dawkins for suggesting.
Another thread which presented some very interesting evidence to support the “atheists are horrible people” image that is so prevalent in our society was one regarding the infamous Westboro Baptist church and the suggestion that they would travel to Iraq in order to protest ISIS. Despite the fact that anyone who knows even a miniscule about of information about ISIS and their actions, many of those commenting seemed excited at the prospect of WBC doing this.
I’m not here to defend WBC, in fact anyone who has read my post regarding the death of the WBC patriarch Fred Phelps knows how I feel about them. The members of the Westboro Baptist church are horrible, inconsiderate, cruel people who have rightfully earned the hatred of millions of people worldwide, however they are still people. I don’t for a moment expect people to forgive anything WBC has done, and I certainly don’t expect them to like it’s members, but to take delight in the prospect of their death or to suggest you’d help them perform an action which is tantamount to suicide is just not right. Westboro members are horrible people, that’s an undeniable fact, but they don’t deserve death anymore than any other group of bigoted assholes.
While I did see several people confront the comments I’ve mentioned above, it seems those who were intent on being the loudest were also those intent on being cruel.
It’s quite sad but I can now say I know where quite a bit of the negative image atheism has comes from and I understand why it exists. There are many atheists out there intent on being judgemental assholes and that is very unfortunate. I understand the anger that many atheists feel towards religion, I feel it too, but to allow that anger turn you into a nonreligious version of what you hate so much is sad.
I don’t advocate for forming a close atheist community, we all know how Atheism+ turned out, but I do feel that if we want to be seen for who we are as individuals and not just as “angry atheists” then we need to take a stand. Not just, as many activists do today, against those forcing religion onto others but also against other atheists who abuse and insult people just for the sheer fun of it.