By Sarah Sodemann, October 30, 2011
When some people first hear the word atheist or nonbeliever or even agnostic, there are many misconceptions that begin running through their minds. I hope to help increase the level of understanding for those who have perhaps been misled.
One of the most common negative misconceptions is that we non-theists are incapable of having morals or knowing right from wrong. While some freethinkers and nonbelievers may do bad things, so do some people who follow any of the world’s religions.
Some in the world do terrible things and some do wonderful things; their motives are not always due to a religious affiliation or lack thereof. Morals are constructs of society taught to one another through the generations. How people are taught them is irrelevant to whether they listen.
That being said, I must note that there has yet to be a time in recorded history in which someone did something awful because of their lack of belief.
Other generalizations, while not necessarily negative, are simply not true of all people who lack belief in a god or gods. Sometimes nonreligious people are all said to be in particular social demographics or have the same political affiliations despite the great variety of personalities who make up the non-believing world community.
Not all of us live in a specific country, feel the same way about various political issues, are the same age, have the same level of education or same income; the list goes on. We’re all people just like everyone else in the world; we just happen to not follow a particular religion.
A lot of my friends and family either identify as atheist, agnostic or are just a little skeptical. I would like to describe a few just to demonstrate the great diversity that can be found among people lacking religion.
My best friend and her husband live in North Carolina, where he serves in the Army. She is going to school for English education and enjoys knitting.
My father is a chemist with a casual interest in quantum mechanics and electronics. My mom tutors math at the high school level and scrapbooks in her free time. Both tend to identify politically as moderate to conservative. My sister has a strong live-and-let-live mentality as well as an avid interest in all things Harry Potter.
My boyfriend is a computer scientist and is working toward a master’s degree in software engineering and is quite liberal when it comes to politics. He is the greatest guy a girl could ask for and mostly enjoys PC gaming in his free time.
His brother also is a computer scientist with a job near Minneapolis. Their sister is a communication studies student and loves cooking, painting and photography. Their mother is an elementary school technology teacher and enjoys running, while their dad owns a fireplace business and enjoys golfing.
A married couple from Michigan and their son have been friends to our family for as long as I can remember. We’ve always had fun traveling with them and their former neighbors, usually to tropical localities.
I personally identify as politically moderate. I will be graduating next spring with a degree in archaeology, and I write science fiction in my free time.
In addition to this list, there are all of my friends in both the La Crosse Secular Student Society and the La Crosse Area Freethought Society.
LCAFS membership ranges from college students to people in their 70s, from doctors to artists, from Democrats to Libertarians and more.
Keep in mind as well that the people I know are such a tiny sampling of the world — there are freethinkers and nonbelievers everywhere, and you will find just as much variation in personalities as if you took a sample of people from the religious world population.
It is probable that everyone, whether they are aware of it or not, knows, works with and is even friends with atheists or skeptics.
Most non-theists are not very vocal about their lack of belief due to the potential negative reactions. This is unfortunate, because the more people come forward, the more the rest of the world will start to realize we’re just people.
The only thing we all share is a lack of belief in something, which is hardly grounds for any further generalizations, negative or otherwise.
Sarah Sodemann Is a student of archaeology and biology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a member of La Crosse Area Freethought Society.