The Best Defence Is To Take Offence

Question from Rieno:
Many Christians express views about many aspects of life. In addition, they also express their honest beliefs in their deity and even preach it. Atheists also express their views on many aspects of life (morality, politics, science, faith, etc.)

Why is it that when Christians express themselves, it is deemed acceptable, but when atheist express themselves it is considered offensive? I, personally, have been called a blasphemer once just by saying “I don’t believe in god”.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you very much in advance.

Answer by SmartLX:
This unequal treatment of views springs from an intrinsic asymmetry between believers and non-believers. This asymmetry is genuine, and the reason for the outrage is sometimes clear, but that doesn’t truly justify it.

Religion is claimed by many to be the sole source of their morals, comfort and/or reason for being. If you question some people’s faith, you are ostensibly shaking the very foundations of their lives; no wonder they take it personally.

This can be taken to extremes, as you’ve already discovered. Recently a bus company refused to run an ad with a one-word message: “Atheists.” It was deemed controversial to do nothing more than alert the public to the existence of people who don’t believe in gods. There are people, the ad says to believers, who think you are wrong.

By way of contrast, atheists usually protest religious advertising either because their own advertising has been refused or because the religious message is effectively delivered by a secular state authority. Aside from these practical concerns, why don’t atheists take as much personal offence from the topic as believers? Because atheism is not an equivalent source of morals or purpose. Atheists source these essential parts of life from other places (I briefly delved into this here), so when their position on the existence of gods is challenged they do not feel that their entire worldview is under attack.

The important thing to get across to believers, though of course it’s not easy, is that the targets of criticism are religions themselves, not their adherents. Religion really is under attack, in a sense, but believers aren’t. The statement that one’s religion is false implies merely that one is wrong, not that one is stupid, insane, wicked or deceitful. If more believers understood this, organisations as the Catholic League would look a lot sillier with their persecution complexes on show.