Why Do Many Religious Believers Want to Silence Atheists?

Why do so many religious believers want atheists to lie about our atheism?

It seems backward. Believers are always telling atheists that we need religion for morality; that we have to believe because without religion, people would have no reason not to murder and steal and lie. And yet, all too often, they ask us to lie. When atheists come out of the closet and tell the people in our lives that we don’t believe in God, all too often the reaction is to try to shove us back in.

In some cases, they simply want us to keep our mouths shut: when the topic of religion comes up, they want us to tell the lie of omission. But much of the time, they actually ask us to lie outright. They ask us to lie to other family members. They ask us to attend church or other religious services. They sometimes even ask us to perform important religious rituals, like funerals or confirmations, where we’re not just lying to the people around us, but to the god they supposedly believe in.

Why would they do this?


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Do Many Religious Believers Want to Silence Atheists? To read more about how this phenomenon plays out, and what I think is motivating it, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Why Do Many Religious Believers Want to Silence Atheists?
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7 thoughts on “Why Do Many Religious Believers Want to Silence Atheists?

  1. 1

    One source GC cites in the above comes from Technology Review, which estimates about half of the jump in freethinking since ~1990 comes from widespread use of the Internet. The authors have no answers as to the cause of the other 50%, and ask commenters for suggestions.

    Oddly enough, out of the 174 replies posted by the time I got there, not one mentioned either of the two individuals who might claim the most credit: Richard Dawkins and George W. Bush.

  2. 3

    First, do not order me to enjoy something as my feelings are not to be dictated by others.

    Second, I enjoyed the article.

    Third, AndrewD is mostly right but its not a simple fear but a multiple fear that believers have – fear that they might be wrong in their beliefs (and I’m sure every believers has had doubts to choke back down), fear that if they’re right their ever-loving god will punish them for just knowing a non-believer, fear of identity loss (I cannot stand people whose first words after being introduced proclaim they are Christian – clearly without that they think they are nothing), fear of what these other fears entail (death, uncertainty, sleeping late on Sunday even when there is no football on), etc.

  3. 4

    Interesting. As a Christian, I’m enjoying reading Greta Christina’s blogs–most atheists of my acquaintance are equally smart and thoughtful. Also as a believer, I would never want someone to profess belief that she/he didn’t possess, and I never thought about atheists being forced to keep their beliefs quiet. I will look for that in the future.

    I have a gay friend whose mother wanted him to attend an annual church service with her. In that sense, it’s more of a cultural event than a belief test–which is difficult for those of us in the West to fully understand because the dominant religion (Christianity) is more orthodoxic (concerned with belief) than orthopraxic (concerned with practice) or orthopathic (concerned with emotion). Not every invite to a church service is about challenging someone’s beliefs; rather, it’s a request to participate in a communal event.

    Although I am a Christian, I’ve respectfully attended services at Hindu temples, Jewish synagogues, Zen meditation groups, Sufi ceremonies, Wiccan rituals, and more. My Muslim friend invites many of her non-Muslim friends to celebrate the end of Ramadan; my Jewish friend invites her non-Jewish friends to Passover suppers… The expectation is certainly not that the guests pretend to be Muslim or Jewish but more of a cultural experience. Perhaps some invitations to church are along this line?

  4. 5

    I think part of it is as Greta mentions in her piece, but there is a far less pleasant, less intellectual reason.

    They know the kind of pressure that is always there, like air pressure, to conform to whatever their religion requires and they don’t want extra pressure focussed on them. They’ve seen it. They’ve heard the conversation “Yes, Joe’s son has quit coming to church. Well, I’ve always wondered just how committed to Jesus Joe really is. Can Rebecca be the chair of the food committee when her daughter is an atheist?” For many their church associations are most of their social life and they see people having that mix of pity, condescension, and contempt so prevalent in such conversations as horrible and I don’t blame them.

    Shannon, I would never assume that an invitation to church was anything but friendly. Oh, I have been invited to church in circumstances where it was clearly a challenge. Sometimes it’s “Oh, you poor thing, you just haven’t been taught about Jesus. Come to church with me and you’ll find out what you need to know to be saved,” which, I admit is a bit insulting. But the intention is usually friendly.

  5. 6

    Shannon Montgomery @4:

    The expectation is certainly not that the guests pretend to be Muslim or Jewish but more of a cultural experience. Perhaps some invitations to church are along this line?

    Perhaps some are. In fact, I’m sure that, out of all the invitations to church that get made, some are exactly that. But I’m having trouble seeing the relevance of your comment to the article. I don’t think Greta is criticizing the mere act of politely inviting someone (who is not subordinate to you) to a religious service or event. The examples in her article involve some sort of express or implied coercion, either physical dragging a child to a service, or using one’s authority as a parent, employer, or commanding officer to compel participation.

  6. 7

    @5: That’s been my experience as well. Fear of losing face for parents with atheist kids is HUGE. You don’t want your friends, your pastor to know that you’ve failed your God-given parenting duties so grievously. And you value the respect of your peers above the trust of your kid, Easier to get your child to shut up than the gossip once it gets rolling, and there’s a *lot* of talking behind people’s backs going on at church. Easier to maintain the self-delusion that everything is well in the world. (Given that people can believe in God without proof, I shouldn’t be surprised that they can believe their children aren’t atheists *despite* the proof, but I am constantly amazed how completely my mother has forgotten my coming out conversation with her. Eurgh.)

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