Why Are Atheists Mistrusted?

The first commandment doesn’t say “Thou shalt not have no gods,” but rather “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The main concern there is not with atheism, but with competing religious beliefs. And at first it does seem that belief in rival deities should, if anything, be regarded as worse than lack of belief. Just like atheists, members of other religions fail to believe in the Christian’s god of choice. But in addition, they believe in false gods! Surely, that’s the greater crime.

And yet, that’s not how the religious see it these days. Ever since religion stopped being central to one’s tribal identity — especially in the West — those with different religious beliefs have been tolerated. “Thou shalt have no other gods” is no longer so important. Rather, it is atheists who are now viewed as the remaining enemy. And the reason seems obvious. Atheists don’t merely reject these people's religion; they reject the very idea of religion.

Consider how much easier it is to convert someone from one religion to another than it is to convert a non-religious person. Missionaries are much more effective among those who already believe in gods than they would be at an atheist convention. Having a religious mind-set makes one open to the acceptance of beliefs without evidence; nonbelievers tend to be far less malleable in this respect.

Atheists may of course say that if they were shown real, conclusive evidence, they would believe. But that’s not good enough for the religious — and I suspect the reason is that subconsciously, they realize they don’t have any actual evidence. The "very idea of religion" that atheists reject is the acceptance of belief on faith. Thus, the religious probably feel more ill at ease with atheism than they do with other faiths.

What’s worse as far as the religious are concerned, however, is that we atheists openly state the fact that there is no basis for religious belief. We are the ones pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

No wonder we are the enemy!