How Should We Treat Others?

Lately I have been troubled by the “us vs. them” mentality between groups of people. Particularly where religion is concerned. As an atheist, I find that it is quite common to find other atheists who think of theists as the “other.” This is not very shocking: it is hard to comprehend somebody who has a completely different world view from ones self. But it is nonetheless problematic. Atheists want to be accepted in mainstream society. We want to be trusted and treated as equals. This is more of an issue in the United States than it is in Canada, but even here there have been studies that show that people mistrust those with no religious beliefs. Atheists debate about how best to create acceptance within society. Some believe that we must be loud and proud and get noticed in order to be accepted. I agree with this: if the people who mistrust atheists get to know an atheist then they will likely realize that atheists as a group aren’t untrustworthy. However, the way that some atheists go about getting attention is easily taken as an attack by theists. I don’t disagree that debating theism is a worthy pursuit, but I do disagree with doing so in a tone that suggests that we are out to get all the religious people. I believe that this problem is created when we confuse the institution of religion with religious people. We claim to be attacking the institution (which I believe is something worthy of attacking) but we condescend the theists that we are talking to. We use an “I clearly know more than you” tone that attacks the person and confuses them with the institution. This is problematic because the people tend not to be the problem. I can’t help but think that going out of our way to befriend religious people and get ourselves known in our communities is a far superior way to gain equality. Unfortunately, many people disagree with me. They believe that we need to be louder and get in more peoples faces. We need more debates. We need more Dawkins’ and more Dillahunty’s. Do we really need to continue to isolate ourselves? Do we really want to create this sense of otherness?

7 responses to “How Should We Treat Others?

  • Kate Rauner

    I will attend a church service for something like a wedding. Otherwise, if someone asks or invites me, I just say I’m not a church-goer. If anyone is interested further, I’ll say I do not believe in god – unfortunately, I think the word “atheist” has come to imply a set of political positions beyond its dictionary meaning. I think Darwin had a good point: “It appears that direct arguments against theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of science.”
    That works for me on a personal level. (Of course, sometimes the separation of church ans state must be defended in the public sphere.)


  • Glen Goddard

    Excellent post. I was reminded that we have two ears and just one mouth. You are an Atheist while I am a Christ follower. Interestingly enough, what you talk about is what I try to do no matter who I am talking to. Thanks for a great post. That same wisdom that you espouse is also found in the Bible. Paul talks to the Corinthian Church about this very thing in his letter.


  • existentialone

    Great post. I need to be reminded of this often, as I tend to fall back on my debate oriented Christianity and assume that same identity only now in a different skin (Atheism). The manner with which a case is made can deter the effort to educate and inform before the essence of an argument is even considered. Thanks for your post. Excellence!


  • kat

    this is an interesting topic. i too am atheist, and as far as i am concerned, no one else really needs to know. i dont really care what anyone else believes, and i dont just walk around and ask them what they believe and then tell them they are wrong and i know cause im an atheist.

    actually, i never even think of it to myself, unless a conversation comes up or someone asks me. my closest family and friend know i am atheist, and that is enough. i tend to meet people and talk to them because of some shared event, memory, interest. not because of what they believe.

    my ex however, is the more ‘in your face’ atheist you were mentioning. for some reason, he feels it is necessary for him to tell everyone he knows that he is atheist, and then, if the others are not atheists, he seems to think he must forcefully convince them, in a fire and brimstone kind of way, only using arguments (valid) instead. i have seen this tends to kind of alienate all those people who now think all atheists are rabid, angry, argumentative people. not really the way to go, imho, if we atheists want to move up the trust scale from the very bottom of the list. no wonder they think we see darkness and no light. showing them we are not different than them except we dont go to church or pray….is, i think, a much more useful approach.


    • hessianwithteeth

      I’m glad you agree. Where I live, religion isn’t really discussed. It’s seen as personal and private. I think that that is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, I grew up in a Christian family and just assumed that everybody else was Christian because I had never heard otherwise. That makes it very difficult to comprehend and accept differences. But, on the other hand, I also didn’t have religion shoved in my face. I was never told that I would go to hell if I disagreed or partook in some ‘alternative lifestyle.’ I think that religion, or lack there of, should be talked about. How else are we going to create an understanding society? But I also don’t think that any belief system needs to be worn on ones sleeve. It doesn’t need to be discussed at all times and it doesn’t need to be forced on others.


      • kat

        It is ironic, actually, I am in AZ, which is home to the 2nd highest population of Mormons in the US, after Utah. Here, both the politics and the religion runs quite conservative, and there are probably equal numbers of Mormons to other Judeo-Christian religions. Religion is made obvious here, although not necessarily spoken aloud. It is ‘in your face’. I often encounter Mormons, who I have never met, who begin to tell me how wonderful Jesus and God are, and that I must believe them so as to not go to Hell. Granted, most of these people are Missionaries, but still…

        When I lived in the Midwest, in Iowa and Illinois, I was aware of the different faiths, but never had a friend or random person approach me as to the status of my everlasting soul. I would have to say, the Midwest is much more liberal in both politics and religion, and what you believe is not usually attacked, even if you happen to choose the sad ideal of atheism.


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