Religion & Beliefs

Atheists are Giving Me Hell

A few days ago in the comment threads to the Harris/Prager atheism debate, David Lantos said this: I would be interested in hearing Christine's thoughts on the following: in my experience, atheists frequently view believers as automatons, as people who … Read More

By / December 8, 2006

A few days ago in the comment threads to the Harris/Prager atheism debate, David Lantos said this:

I would be interested in hearing Christine's thoughts on the following: in my experience, atheists frequently view believers as automatons, as people who cannot or do not think for themselves. I have a few questions: Firstly, is this indeed an impression that many atheists hold? If so, where does this impression come from? Is it justified? Is independent, critical thinking indeed the exclusive domain of atheists?


I think atheists frequently view believers as automatons, and worse. Look at the comments on the Prager-Harris debate. Believers are described as ignorant, non-rational, emotional, illogical, intolerant, bigoted, and eager to impose their views on the rest of society. There are exceptional atheists, of course, such as the anonymous former Christian who posted a comment after my first blog entry. This individual made a reasonable and civil argument, without resorting to the hostility and name-calling that I’ve seen in other posts. I appreciate this kind of tolerance and good will. But many comments coming from atheists are not so magnanimous.

My renegade status is driving a lot of atheists nuts. I understand their discomfort. The me of 20 years ago would have a serious problem with the me of today. As an atheist, I used to buy into the idea that religious people are irrational and stupid. One of the worst things to be called by a fellow Objectivist was a “mystic”—Ayn Rand’s pejorative term for religious people. I wasn’t the only atheist who felt this way, either. My post-modern Marxist colleagues held the same low opinions about religious people, although they had a different term for it, something along the lines of “deluded opium addict.”

Interestingly, since I’ve come out of the closet as a theist, the only people who have given me a hard time are non-religious folks. Again, I urge you to look at the comments on the Prager-Harris debate and judge for yourself. The most scathing criticisms about what I have to say come from atheists who insist on filtering me and other religious folks through their own stereotypes and pre-conceived notions. Some critics of Dennis Prager have sunk quite low and have posted ad hominem attacks that are completely devoid of any real substance. So much for the idea that atheists have a monopoly on logic and reasoning.

I’m getting hell from the atheist camp. But not a single Christian has told me I’ll be damned for all eternity if l convert to Judaism. (If I missed a comment posted to that effect, please bring it to my attention.) At Thanksgiving, my born-again Christian cousin went out of her way to praise the values of Judaism and to tell me she finds it to be an admirable religion. Isn’t that remarkable, given the history of persecution that Jews have suffered at the hands of Christians? Isn’t it especially remarkable, given the supposedly bigoted, intolerant, narrow-mindedness of Christians?

You ask where atheists get their impressions of religious people. Some of it may come from personal experience. I myself have known a lot of religious jerks. Even so, it doesn’t justify stereotyping all believers. Those same folks who don’t think twice about slapping a label on all believers based on the actions of a few would be quick to condemn somebody who used that very same logic toward a particular ethnic group.

I think a lot of criticism toward organized religion these days is a trickle-down effect from the elite intellectual class. Many college professors are hostile to religion, and it shows in the way they teach and handle arguments from their students. A lot of folks in journalism and entertainment don’t like Judeo-Christian folks, and it shows in the way they slant their coverage of the news and the kinds of characters they develop for shows and movies. I am convinced that a movie like “The Sound of Music” could never be re-made today and still retain the spirit of the original. Hollywood would not be able to pull off the portrayal of a religious person without injecting some modern cynicism into it. The remake might have Captain von Trapp and Maria doing a little pre-marital “test drive.” Some skeleton would have to be shaken out of Mother Superior’s closet, just so everybody can rest assured that those serene religious types are actually hypocrites beneath the surface.

You ask whether independent, critical thinking is the exclusive domain of atheists. Contrary to what a lot of atheists believe, it is not a monopoly of either the believer or the non-believer. But, in my atheist years, I would have automatically dismissed any believer as a serious, critical thinker solely because he or she was a believer. Needless to say, I no longer subscribe to this way of thinking.


Christine Silk