Spot On!

I found this article the other day that I want to share with you. As an atheist I often get religious people making some pretty big assumptions about me. I'm sure you do too. They are boringly common, tediously repetitive and astoundingly stereotypical. (I freely admit though, I am just as guilty of making assumptions about religious people and people in general. It's a common thing to do)

So this woman, Alise Wright, is married to a man who deconverted. She said she made some pretty big assumptions when he told her he didn't believe in God anymore. So this is her advice to other Christians on dealing with us godless heathens. I think they are really great!
Surviving a Conversation with an Atheist

1. Please don’t assume that they’re evil. ...The idea that because someone doesn’t believe in God means that they will become a murderer is very frustrating, particularly as the wife of one of “those people.” C.S. Lewis suggested that one of the proofs for God is our common morality. To assume that because someone lacks belief in God means that they no longer possess a sense of right and wrong strikes me as a strange way to prove God’s existence.

Her thoughts here, the last sentence especially, are really excellent. I would add that people get their morality from society and their role models. Atheists, humanists and freethinkers discuss and try to improve their ethics as society evolves and matures.
2. Please don’t assume that it’s just a phase. Most atheists who have “deconverted” from a religious background have studied it and other religions thoroughly before choosing not to believe. Painting it as a “phase” denies the seriousness of both their study and their decision. I would certainly not want to have any encounter with God resulting in a closer devotion to my faith called a phase and neither should we use that terminology for those who have left the faith.

Right! Most atheists deconvert after much study of the religion they are leaving, as well as other religions of the world. It's a tough decision to make, and most do not take it lightly.

3. Please don’t say “It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a Christian.” Most atheists will say that they are empiricists. That being the case, they are just looking for proof. It doesn’t take faith for me to not believe in Big Foot. If there was proof that he existed, I’d be open to it, but it’s come up short so far. Atheists feel the same way about Christian proofs for God. Non-faith is not the same as faith.

OMFSM! That's awesome! How many times have I said basically the same thing about leprechauns? Thank you, Alise! You get it! I've never heard a Christian say this before. Faith, by its very definition, is the opposite of where atheists are coming from, because most of us look for evidence when it comes to something as important as a god.
4. Please don’t assume that they weren’t really saved before they became an atheist. No one wants to be called a liar and this kind of statement reads that way. Maybe this is more for me than for my husband, but I don’t like to think that I spent 13 years with someone who may have lied to me about such a foundational part of our relationship, particularly because I know that he was very sincere in his Christian faith. Throwing more doubt at someone’s unbelief, particularly if they were a believer before is damaging to them and to those who love them.

I don't really have anything to add with this one. I don't recall anyone ever saying I wasn't saved when I was a Christian.
5. Please don’t assume that they’re unhappy. As Christians we often say that our joy is found in our faith. As a result, it’s easy to make the assumption that those who have no faith are unhappy. But as generalizations go, this is just not true. There are a number of things in the world that are fascinating and beautiful and most atheists I have met are fully appreciative of those things and find joy in them.

Hallelujah! Well said, Alise. Yes, this one really makes me very angry when I'm told I can't feel happiness and joy like Christians do. I get this a lot and find it quite offensive. 99% of the atheists I know are happy, compassionate, passionate, loving, and full of wonder and awe about the universe.
The most common mistake we make with just about any group that is “the other” is that we tend to make assumptions. And the best way to avoid assumptions is to ask questions. And the best way to get to the questions is to just be a friend. Which is really what most of us want anyway. To be known.

One need not share a faith to share that.

I really couldn't say it any better myself. That's so true.

What assumptions have you heard about you as an atheist/humanist/skeptic/freethinker that aren't on this list?


  1. Slightly off-topic perhaps, but according to PZ Myers post on "Dictionary Atheism" a while back, it seems I *AM* an atheist, even though I don't consider myself to be one (not quite).

    Perhaps (de)conversion isn't so much what a person believes as it is what standards other apply to them.

  2. Hmm, I don't know. I think it's how you identify yourself more than how others identify you. At least for how you see yourself. Of course, it's probably more that both are useful, to self-identify and how others label you based on your behavior. It's probably very telling.

  3. Myers' remark seemed to stir a lot of controversy that I didn't pay much attention to, but I think his primary point was that atheism doesn't really define anyone the way adhering to some religion might. Or to put it another way, that insofar as we do identify ourselves as atheists, that we mean a variety of things by it, like skeptic and humanist.

    I might be misremembering, but that's pretty much the gist of what I recall.

  4. It is, isn't it? I've Never encountered a christian who "got it" before.

  5. I have, but not on the Internet. :P

  6. "Most atheists who have “deconverted” from a religious background have studied it and other religions thoroughly before choosing not to believe."

    If I have any reservations at all about this, it's that "choosing not to believe" hung off the end there. I never chose not to believe. Once I realized I didn't believe anymore I chose not to keep practicing the Christian religion. That was the choice involved.

  7. To be fair, I'm not "very" Christian, at least as measured by my church attendance. Someone close to me thinks that I don't believe.

    I think there are rational Christians that "get it" (many, I hope) but these people do not readily identify themselves as such for various reasons. It takes a lot of communication and trust before people will open up about this, and that is hard to achieve.

    PS: If all of Christianity were the fundamentalist madness that is so common on the internet I would drop it like a dead cat. ;-)

  8. Oh my gosh, Mike. You're totally RIGHT. I just wrote about this to a catholic friend of mine who threw Pascal's Wager at me. No one chooses to believe or disbelieve. You're right!
    I really like how you explained it. That once you lost your belief, then you chose to change your behavior. Right?
    That's what I did too.

    Thank you so much for clarifying. That was badly written and definitely needed correcting.

  9. Yes, you're probably right, Tomato, there are probably a lot of Christians out there who are reasonable and "get it". Still, I've never ever met one. This online encounter with Alise's article is the first time I've ever encountered one.

  10. I agree, I never "chose" to not believe in any god or gods. I was raised mormon, and 95% of both sides of my family are still practicing mormons, but I never accepted it. I remember being amazed and concerned when I first started sunday school, because it boggled my mind that grown ups could believe the things in the bible as literal fact! That kind of skewed my world view from a very young age, I never fully trusted authority about anything since. I mean, GROWN adults, my care takers, responsible for my health and well being.. believed in magic? fairy tales? nonsense?

    I felt if they were capable of the profound ignorance they proudly displayed...surely they could not be trusted to prepare me to face the realities the world would present. My position on religion has only become hardened, better thought out, and more educated since.

  11. This was the line for which I've received the most criticism (though my husband completely missed it when I ran this piece by him before publishing it, so you'll have to blame the sleep-deprived man for that one! ;-D). I'm actually working on a blog post addressing that statement following a lovely email conversation I had with a woman regarding her response to it.

  12. Thanks for sharing this Neece! I think you may know my husband from a couple of MA meetings (he's the tired guy who hasn't made it to many, but brought my kick-awesome mashed potatoes to the Thanksgiving dinner!). I hope to make it to an event sometime this summer once he's graduated. Though if you meet me in real life, you'll be back to not knowing any reasonable Christians online. Dammit. ;-D

    Have a lovely day!

  13. Hi Alise,
    Thanks very much and please let me know when you've posted that article.
    Don't blame your husband too much, I missed it too!

  14. Thanks, yes. I understand how that could drastically alter your worldview of seeing parents and authority as rational.

  15. My pleasure, Alise. I think it's amazingly cool that I found your article and Jason comes to our meetings (when he's not too tired.) Small world!
    I look forward to meeting you in real life! :)

  16. I think the biggest one for me that has not been mentioned here is that people assume atheism means that I think I can "prove" that there is no god. Really, it's not the sort of thing that can be proven either way. I believe that there is no god.

    I liked people's comments about how people mistakenly think that we "choose" not to belief. That's a very good distinction to make. For myself, I did choose not to follow the god that I'd been taught, but then my disbelief in god entirely followed shortly after.

  17. Right, god can't be proven or disproven. That's just the way it is.

    Can you clarify? You first chose not to follow the god you were raised with? And then you lost your belief for that god? That's fascinating. I'd love to hear your story. Feel free to email me at if you'd be willing to elaborate, and maybe answer some questions. :) Thanks very much, Rachel. :)