I previously published a post entitled “Six Common Misconceptions Christians Have About Atheists.” But that’s only one side of this tangled web of miscommunication and hatred. I know this because I was a Christian for most of my life, and continue to be surrounded by Christians who defy the stereotypes on a daily basis.
So, because these posts are about bringing people together and discussing the things that don’t get discussed often enough, here are six common misconceptions that atheists have about Christians.
Misconception 1: Christians hate atheists
As a Christian, I never hated atheists and hardly ever came across those who did. For the most part, pity was the predominant emotion. How sad that they lost their way. The desire to help them regain clarity was tempered only by the vague fear that I’d lose in a debate with them.
Misconception 2: Christians want to make you a believer
Evangelical Christians make up the loudest group within the faith, so it makes sense that they’re the ones people notice. But there are many denominations and traditions that have nothing to do with angry sandwich boards or microphones on street corners. In fact, Orthodox and Anabaptist Christians are some of the most accepting, mild-mannered people around, and wouldn’t ever stick their doctrine in your face without permission.
Misconception 3: Christians just haven’t been exposed to the truth
Of course, there are Christian communities that operate in a bubble. My bubble was extremely small for a long time. But treating Christians like they just haven’t heard the arguments yet is erroneous and insulting. They know the talking points. They’ve heard the arguments. They just don’t care.
Misconception 4: Christians are smug know-it-alls
There are definitely smug, know-it-all Christians. These are the ones they send out to do battle with the scary atheists, so it makes sense that those are the ones we think of. But there are also many Christians who, in keeping with the actual tenets of the belief system, thrive on meekness and a willingness to “let go and let God.” While the ready acceptance of non-answers or platitudes encouraging faith are problematic in their own way, they certainly don’t breed a sense of obnoxious superiority.
Misconception 5: All Christians believe in hell
Atheists regularly assume that Christians are mentally sending them to hell upon learning of their unbelief. But actually not all Christians believe in the concept of hell, as it doesn’t fit with their view of an all-good, all-powerful God (I fell into this camp during my last year or so as a Christian). So before you start talking about fire and brimstone, ask where that Christian stands on the issue. You might be surprised.
Misconception 6: Christians are stupid
This flawed argument can quickly be dismantled by a basic understanding of sociology, psychology, and neuroscience. Besides, humans have believed in fantastic, supernatural things since the beginning of time, and still managed to not only survive but thrive. Belief does not rule out intelligence, and in fact could be a byproduct of intelligence. Problems only start to arise when that belief is allowed to encroach and stymie other forms of intelligence or progress.
As I said in my previous post, false assumptions don’t just run one way. Both Christians and atheists need to to better at combating the harmful stereotypes that crush huge swaths of people into unnecessarily small boxes. Let’s start with honest and compassionate communication, and go from there.
Originally published on Medium in December 2017.