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Just because I’m an atheist doesn’t mean I’m [adjective] November 14, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in issues, rants.
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I have a religious friend, Alice, who is working on a chick lit novel for National Novel-Writing Month. We haven’t known each other all that long (we met at an event), but we get along fine even though she knows I’m an atheist.

Reading her plot synopsis, however, made my facial muscles twitch a little bit: [Removed for privacy. Sorry, guys! And Alice, if you're reading, don't take it personally!]

Even funnier is this exchange:

TA: “Your protagonist is an atheist, right?”

Alice: “The girl is. The boy isn’t. He’s nice.”

TA: *trying hard not to headdesk*

I actually still like Alice despite this, and she hasn’t made any judgments (out loud, anyway) on my atheism so far. So while we’re still friends, I doubt I’ll be reading that novel anytime soon. Besides, I loathe chick lit.

The whole conversation got me to thinking about atheist stereotypes in the media. I’m not as big a literature geek as I am a TV buff, and while there are definitely types that atheist characters on television are categorized into, I can’t say I really mind these types:

  • The Brilliant, Snarky Misanthrope: Dr. Perry Cox (Scrubs), Dr. Gregory House (House), Dr. Cristina Yang (Grey’s Anatomy), Matt Albie (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip)
  • The Heartless, Dysfunctional Whore: Andrew Van De Kamp (Desperate Housewives), Dr. Christian Troy (Nip/Tuck), Brian Kinney (Queer as Folk)
  • The Slutty, Angsty Rebel: Jen Lindley (Dawson’s Creek)
  • The Lab Geek: Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones), Dr. Mohinder Suresh (Heroes)

The only one who doesn’t fit into any of the above categories would be Dr. Allison Cameron on House, and this fact is actually acknowledged on the show (House to Cameron: “You’re the most naive atheist I know”).

While I’m against stereotyping of any kind, I don’t really have a lot to complain about when it comes to what we atheists have been stuck with. Notice that out of the 10 examples I’ve provided, 6 are doctors (7 out of 11 if you include Cameron). Of the remaining four, one is a successful advertising executive (Brian Kinney) and one is a talented head writer for a popular sketch show (Matt Albie), while the last two (Jen and Andrew) are the cool, rebellious teenagers. And all ten are smokin’ hot.

Honestly, I kind of love it. A lot of these characters (see: Cox, House, Yang) tend to be the most popular among TV critics, they tend to be the most quotable, and most of them have been my favorites on the shows, even before they came out as atheists (see: the above three, plus Andrew on DH and Albie from S60). If anything, I take this as an indication that TV writers understand atheists better than most people do, otherwise all TV atheists would be serial killers, rapists and/or baby-eaters. Or “temporary” atheists, like Girl X of Alice’s novel. Thank God (hee-hee) TV writers know better.

And really, what would we have to bitch about? “We atheists are misrepresented! Not all of us are terribly smart, sexy and successful! We demand more idiotic, vapid atheists on television!”

That’s not to say there are no idiotic, vapid atheists in real life (because, well, I am one), and should such a character ever appear on a TV show, I’d welcome it. Right now, though, I’m really happy with the way we’re being portrayed on TV.

[ETA 11.15.2007: Oh my Godz! I forgot to mention one of my favorite characters of all time, the whip-smart, lovely Brenda Chenowith from Six Feet Under. In terms of the stereotypes I mentioned above, she’s a cross between the first two (brilliant, snarky misanthrope and heartless, dysfunctional whore). Absolutely looove her.]

Comments»

1. Nick - November 15, 2007

The most general atheist stereotyping in the media is generally positive, (As you pointed out) and the most damning comes from ignorance perpetrated by the church. I’ve heard everything from devil-worshiper and anti-christ, to my all time favorite quote:

“You don’t believe in god, but you do believe in heaven, right?”

Stereotyping for any atheist is unavoidable. Some will be good, most will be bad. Its something we just have to deal with, myself on daily basis.

2. Teen Atheist - November 15, 2007

That quote made me laugh. XD

The most general atheist stereotyping in the media is generally positive, (As you pointed out) and the most damning comes from ignorance perpetrated by the church.

Exactamundo. Which is why I thank God for the media. Hee!

3. rainmountain - November 15, 2007

That first part makes me wanna bang my head on the desk as well, sigh.

I am not very comfortable with narrow minded people, even less with the ones that talk behind my back. Makes me wanna puke, or bang my head ;)

4. Wayne - November 15, 2007

Is atheism a religion?

5. Teen Atheist - November 15, 2007

Wayne: No, it’s a lack of one, as well as the lack of a belief in any god.

6. Teen Atheist - November 15, 2007

Rainmountain: I wouldn’t say Alice is narrow-minded, necessarily, but I do believe she’s a little misguided in terms of how atheists actually think. Like Nick said, I blame it on the “ignorance perpetrated by the Church.” :)

7. patrickandchristy - November 16, 2007

I don’t understand all this double-talk and whining about stereotyping from atheists. If I, as a Christian, speak of God and His risen Son, Jesus Christ, then I am narrow-minded and out-of-touch with “reality” per a lot of atheists that I’ve seen blogging or spoken with. However, if I don’t believe in any god, then I’m enlightened, open-minded and a realist, again per atheists.

And ignorance is but a subjective term. Just as the “Church”, which is a very loosely used word, may view an atheist as “ignorant”, the atheist views the Christian as ignorant. Aren’t we all “perpetrating” something? There is a God, there isn’t a God, evolution is real, evolution isnt real, etc.

Do I view you or any atheist as ignorant? No…just “lost” based on what I believe. I will gladly share my faith with you in a loving manner but in the end if you choose to deny the existence of God then that is a CHOICE that you made. It doesn’t mean you’re ignorant or inferior to me. It just means that we choose to believe differently.

In my opinion, Christians don’t always portray a true picture of Christ, and unfortunately this is turning people away from the Truth that we believe. I know a lot of judgmental Christians. We ALL can be at times. But atheists don’t always come across as the most intellect folks either. I’ve met atheists that truthfully, were crazy and filled with mental illness. I’ve met some who were very bitter and angry at everyone and everything and I’ve met some that were very sane and lived promient lives but just didn’t believe in God because they chose to allow science to tell them what was real and what wasn’t.

I will tell you without shame or guilt or regret that Jesus Christ is real and He is the only way to the Father. I will also tell anyone that you will go to Hell if you die without accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior. This is what I believe and NO ONE will convince me otherwise. However, if you chose not to believe that then that’s okay. I will not judge you nor condemn you. That’s not my duty. I didn’t write the Gospels or the Bible and I didn’t set the ground rules. I just try to follow them but with much stumbling.

So, let’s agree to disagree instead of stereotyping and ignorantly “slamming” others that don’t believe as we do. In the end, somebody will be proven right, and somebody will be proven wrong.

8. Leyland DeVito - November 16, 2007

I read an article over the summer about Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who recently was released from jail where he was serving time for alleged malpractice in his voluntary euthanasia service. The slant of the article, written by Mitch Albom, who objectively is a terrible writer anyway, was that Kevorkian was a godless monster because when asked where he thought people went when they died he said, “The ground. We go into the ground and we rot.” Regardless of the circumstances (I actually see Kevorkian as having much compassion for man), I couldn’t help but feel that Mitch was perpetuating a negative stereotype of atheists. He seemed to think this one thing was what made Kevorkian evil.

People have a tendency to preach. I’m probably guilty of preaching atheism, which is ironic because it’s everything I hate about religion… but there is a time and place for it and usually you should just keep your mouth shut. For instance, patrickandchrist said they weren’t going to judge us, yet also told us we’re off to Hell… that sounds like judgment to me.

9. Teen Atheist - November 16, 2007

Patrickandchristy, Nick and I were not bashing or stereotyping believers in any way. We merely pinpointed the main cause of negative stereotyping for atheists. From what I understand, you’re saying that there are judgmental people in both camps, which I agree with, but that doesn’t disprove our standpoint that the Church (or at least, its anti-atheist tenets and members) is largely responsible for the common notion that atheists are OMGZ EVIL!!!11

10. patrickandchristy - November 16, 2007

Like I said, I believe the Bible is the Word of God and the Bible states that all who do not believe in Christ will be condemned to Hell. I make it clear that I did not write the Bible or set this ultimatum. I knew someone would throw that “but you’re judging” statement in there but if you clearly read what I wrote you would understand that I wasn’t judging. I have no authority to issue punishment upon anyone or send anyone to Heaven or hell. Therefore, it is not judging, it is simply stating that the Bible states that God will judge and decide our ultimate fate and I believe it. If I were truly judging, I would have the authority to dictate your punishment, the consequences of your beliefs, etc. I think we all are guilty of misusing that word and not truly understanding what it means “to judge”.

I didn’t think you were slamming anyone per se, I was stating that we have to get away from this thought process coming from both sides. I definitely don’t think atheists are evil because they choose to not believe in a god. In my experiences, I’ve found that Christians are often resposible for the negative perceptions about us and atheists are often responsible for theirs. I’ve met very self-righteous and truly judgmental Christians as well as atheists that verbally attack believers every chance they get. I think we could both “prove” the source of a lot of negative stereotypes, whether they are about Christians, atheists, blacks, Asians, etc.

Like I also said, the word “church” is used to liberally. The group of so-called Christians that go around and show up at a gay persons or soldiers funeral with signs condemning them to hell is a false church of God in my eyes. The same for the ones that run a website stating “God hates Fags.” If you ever read my blog, you’ll see I spend more time “scolding” Christians than anyone else.

11. patrickandchristy - November 16, 2007

I believe in Jesus Christ and He is my Lord and Savior. If you don’t believe this then it would not change the fact that I would love you unconditionally and feed, clothe or assist you in anyway that I could if you needed it. As a Christian, I will try to live as Christ lived, therefore, if I have a bowl of soup and you are hungry, then I would share it with you. This is what it means to be a Christian to me. It’s not about condemning people. It’s not about, “I’m an atheist”, “I’m a catholic”, “I’m a Republican.” If you are a person, then you deserve to be treated with unconditional love. Is that always easy to do? No but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to live by that everyday.

12. Annonymous - November 16, 2007

Okie dokie, can someone clarify something for me? If one is an athiest how can they write about something that is nothing? If you don’t believe in anything, what is there to say about it? “Preaching atheism” seems to me like an oxymoron. Sorry, something about that just confuses me. What I really wanted to say is that by pointing out how religious people stereotype athiests can ultimately stereotype the person pointing the finger. I almost want to say “who cares?” I feel that each side will never get around the cliche sterotypes associated with them. I just wanted to throw out there that I attended a (gasp!) Catholic high school and studdied virginia woolf, fredrick nietzsche, and ayn rand my senior year. I was NEVER told to burn their writtings or even disregard their thoughts, but rather simply to THINK, my thoughts were my own and I was free to have them. If you are not reading a friends book because of it’s Chrisitan themes, that is equivalant to those who refuse to open the cover of the Harry Potter novels for fear of being suddenly infected with dark magic. Is that a judgement? Or can I voice my opinion? Can we think of something to think about other than this impossible compare and contrast? Don’t many athiests and Christians alike feel that there is a great need for social justice awareness today? Or how about a call for world peace? Or heck, decent literature (aside from the creed of the author)……. Or we could keep with this perpetual running in circles…………..

13. Friendly Atheist » Atheists in the Media - November 16, 2007

[...] Atheist over at Diary of a Teenage Atheist was writing about reactions people have when the word “atheist” comes up in [...]

14. BZ - November 16, 2007

Anonymous on comment 12, I’m guessing you are Christian, forgive me if I’m wrong. If you were to preach Christianity, you would go around telling people about how what you believe is the truth. Similarly, if I were to preach Atheism I would go around telling people how what I believe in is the truth. Also, Atheists do have positive messages for others, such as how their can be morality and purpose in life without religion. Politically, we stand for seperation of church and state. We also promote grounded scientific research over creationist propaganda and stem cell research. These are some of the causes that atheists can get behind without simply talking about how other religions are wrong.

15. Anonymous from comment 12 - November 16, 2007

I would like to apologize for my cynical and somewhat condescending tone in my former entry. However, I do take serious issue with how you believe atheistic ideals should be the ONLY ones society should be exposed to. When you say: “We also promote grounded scientific research OVER creationist PROPAGANDA and stem cell research” I find a bit of a contradiction. You yourself wish to propagate your own reasonable ideals however you simultaneously wish to deny another this right of belief. Christian or atheist, I believe each of us are entitled to these rights to belief as human beings, entitled to what is truly our own: our unique thoughts and ideas. I do believe that reason is a good thing, however, it must not become our God. Not all Christians are mindless sheep like creatures being totted around by a Pope or pastor. Even Rand was highly influenced by and respectful of Aquinas. Where I think you may take issues with Christians or religion in general is that their “answers” somehow trump reason. This is undeniable in some circumstances, but one must also look at how intricate many religions are. They are not some mess of ill thought out ideology, but for those who seek it, it is a complex labyrinth of philosophy and transcendence. This may be out of the scope of this blog entry, but you have my curiosity…what is truth? what is morality? what is purpose?

16. Efrique - November 16, 2007

Wasn’t John Becker from “Becker” an atheist?
(And, yes, another snarky doctor).

17. podblack - November 16, 2007

Heh, fantastic! I’m adding you to my blogroll. Thanks! :)

http://www.podblack.com

18. Teen Atheist - November 16, 2007

Where I think you may take issues with Christians or religion in general is that their “answers” somehow trump reason.

I wouldn’t say “trump,” more like “disregard.”

This is undeniable in some circumstances, but one must also look at how intricate many religions are. They are not some mess of ill thought out ideology, but for those who seek it, it is a complex labyrinth of philosophy and transcendence.

Well, the Star Wars and Harry Potter universes are also “intricate.” Doesn’t mean they’re true.

This may be out of the scope of this blog entry, but you have my curiosity…what is truth? what is morality? what is purpose?

Listen, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, to you and future commenters: The next time you post something off-topic, I’m deleting your comment. I’ve addressed your comments, but beyond that, I refuse to promote theist versus nontheist discussion here because it never goes anywhere.

Anything off-topic may be posted at the Feedback page, provided you all read the Disclaimer first.

19. Teen Atheist - November 16, 2007

Efrique: You’re right, yeah. Fits right in with all the other snarky, cynical doctors. :D

20. rainmountain - November 16, 2007

Uh, I think you opened up another can of worms here ;)

You know, you have narrow minded people in any religion or non-religion.

As well as good and well meaning people.

It is just those what I call narrow minded ones that make it hard to live with each other.

I’m a what you can call Pagan, even if that doesn’t fit my shoe size perfectly either.
I am a former Christian, have lived among Buddhists, Hindu and now Muslims and it works if all people show each other respect.
It could work well all over the planet, but there are always a few that spark the hatred.

21. Corncob - November 16, 2007

Don’t forget the movies – Police Sgt. Nicholas Angel in “Hot Fuzz.” Doesn’t really fit into any of the listed categories (well, maybe the brilliant misanthrope), but kicks all kinds of ass throughout the film.

Adam Willams - November 12, 2013

He’s an Agnostic.

22. Daryl N - November 16, 2007

TA- found your blog by accident via the wordpress homepage, and have been reading it continuously for the past 2 days. Sounds like you are really brave to strike your own path through life. No matter what form or fashion that takes, there will always be people trying to hold you back.

Stay true to yourself.

All the best,
Daryl

23. ipin - November 16, 2007

I laughed so hard at what your friend said.
Thankfully I live in a place where atheism is greatly accepted. It’s just not spoken about. Seriously. I live in the only country in the world besides Iran where government and church are still connected. I find it horrifying that the second you are born, you are a member of the church. And it’s really hard to get out of when you’ve grown up and made up your mind about what’s what. Even so, the taxpayers money goes to this church, because it has so many members. Members that were never able to choose. Unfortunately children here are also baptistized at age 2 or something. Due to tradition. In a country where 47% of the population answered that they don’t believe in God in a poll, they still baptize their kids.
I give up.

Oh, and Dr. Cox rocks my socks:P

24. kristi - November 16, 2007

Very interesting post. I’m fond of the atheist characters myself. But I think it will be difficult for many Christians to see atheists in a positive light, regardless of what they see on TV. Many churches define goodness as something that can come only from (their interpretation of) God’s word, making everything else bad by definition. That’s not a mindset you can argue people out of. They will just decide that you’re lost, and a fool.

All the same, the positive depictions of atheists can’t hurt. Some viewers who are “on the fence” about atheism might be able to see that there’s nothing to fear.

25. fitnessfortheoccasion - November 17, 2007

This post was hilarious!

kristi, good point. But there is some hope. It wasn’t too long ago that any faith other than Christianity was “lost”. This is still the case today for many Christians, but not for all. In fact that number has greatly fallen. The same could happen for atheism.

Then an atheist would at least have the same chance at say, running for office, as another non Christian in this country.

26. fightingwindmills - November 17, 2007

LOL @ #23 ipin! That’s what my 3 year old daughter said when I tried to explain to her that some people believe in the Trinity, but I don’t. I think my efforts to expose her to Christianity without actually “indoctrinating” her are a little futile.

Conversing about why God isn’t pictured in her illustrated Bible for preschoolers. . .
Me: “No, God doesn’t have a body. The one that was born as a baby is Jesus.”
My 3 year old: “OH I give up!”

Teen Atheist, I like your blog. :)

27. Neil - November 17, 2007

I’m a Christian and I see your points. Some Christians have a false view of the whole “nice” thing. They miss a foundational element, namely that we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. People should be “nicer” once they are saved because of the work of the Holy Spirit, but they aren’t saved because of their niceness. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of nice (by the world’s standards) non-believers.

28. Neil - November 17, 2007

For you older folks – I just re-read my comment and was reminded of when Major Burns said the following on an episode of MASH: “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”

29. nogreyarea - November 17, 2007

Hey TA – I have to say I like to see other teenage girls who are actually willing to stand up for their beliefs (and know what they’re talking about for the most part). It’s a rarity where I come from (northwest US). I don’t agree with you, but I definitely think you address very valid points. I’m a Christian, but I have a lot of the same feelings as you do about the hypocrisy of Christians, and I hate the stereotypes that are placed on Christians and atheists alike. I understand that I am no better than any other Christian or person for that matter, but I still don’t endorse a lot of what other “Christians” do. I agree with Neil. A lot of people miss the foundational element that we sin, but most of all they miss the point Jesus was trying to make with his golden rule that we love one another. How easy we forget that when it comes down to it…

Anyways, just wanted to say I think people are way off base when they stereotype, as you said. I especially hate it when people, Christians or not, tell me that Muslims or atheists or Buddhists are “bad” people. I’ll tell you right now that every Muslim I have ever met was by far a “better” person than me. I have family members who are Christians-turned-atheists and I love them to death. I’ll admit, the few Buddhists I’ve met were nutty, but I know that’s not true for all of them, and I would be an idiot to try to make that connection.

Just thought I’d add in my two-cents worth without trying to “convert” you. (Stereotypes can go to hell)

30. nogreyarea - November 17, 2007

When I said that I didn’t “agree” with you, I meant with your belief system. I agree with a lot of points you made. I was contradicting myself. Aah! Shoot me.

31. Teen Atheist - November 17, 2007

Hee, no problem, nogreyarea. Thanks for taking the time to comment. If more Christians (and atheists, for that matter) were as open-minded as you and Neil are, the world would be a much better place. :)

32. DaFatalGigabyte - November 18, 2007

Atheists use the wrong phrases.
Theists aren’t out of touch with reality. They are just trying to touch some other realm.
OK, so out-of-touch seems to come from the fact that this other realm is a dreamland to the Atheist. This is because the realm is not scientifically falsifiable nor truthifiable(says so in the bible) It’s like when someone says they had a dream the night before about a rooster. I can’t debate with them about it because it’s non-falsifiable nor truthifiable(although there might be a way, but “the night before” does make debate impossible at this level of technology I think). Thinking about realms outside of this realm doesn’t make them out of touch with reality, just in touch with some other realm that can’t be debated about scientifically.

Theists aren’t narrow-minded. They’re just extra-minded, sometimes to the point where their imagination is infused into reality, like when they call someone the work of that slimy snake in red tights, the Devil.

I think the deck is stacked against the Theists on the whole Reason thing(not just for the usual Atheist reason though). Hostile Atheists and hostile Theists are lost. My social studies teacher said he believed in Real Karma, as in it was a good concept for something sorta based on reality. Like, you do good, you feel good. You do bad, you feel bad. Very simple concept for everyone to think about.

Back on track: House is the bomb with the Mormon! lol

33. DaFatalGigabyte - November 18, 2007

Oops, clarifying the Reason thing. It’s about the belief in God. I know Theists reason just as much as any other human does.

34. sara - November 22, 2007

Interesting, fun blog.

What was weird for me is that before I went to school, all my parents’ friends and people around us were all atheists or even if religiously involved, not exactly believers but more of agnostics. I truly and honestly didn’t “get” that someone could really believe without doubt, with all their heart, until I hit school and there were all these crazy people around. (And no, I don’t mean that all religious people are crazy.)

Seeing how you wrote about Christmas is a Christian thing was sort of surprising to me. I guess my native worldview is that no one believes by default, even though that’s backwards.

35. SexySecularist - December 3, 2007

How is it that this is the first atheist blog I’ve read that mentioned Studio 60?

More importantly, how did Danny Tripp not get a mention? Sure, Matt was the outspoken one, but Danny got the real meaty scene in which Harriet brought him in the the church and he refused to pray. That scene managed to condense nearly all of the logical and emotional objections to prayer into a few short, moving minutes.

Your blog rocks, I’m adding you to my blogroll.

36. Teen Atheist - December 3, 2007

I was going by the list on Wikipedia (Category: Fictional atheists), and Danny Tripp wasn’t there so I didn’t include him. I only got to watch the first half of S60, sorry.

37. Interview with Blogger Teen Atheist | The Pakistani Spectator - July 20, 2008

[...] think the entry of mine that got the most attention was the one I wrote about atheist tropes on TV (http://teenatheist.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/just-because-im-an-atheist-doesnt-mean-im-adjective/). It was a post combining two of my greatest interests — atheism and TV — so I was very [...]

38. Teen Atheist - September 14, 2008

Mel Steffir: Please read the disclaimer before posting.

Comments deleted.

39. Mel Steffir - September 16, 2008

Hi Teen Atheist,
I couldn’t find my original post. must have been deleted. MY question is, Why do both Atheists and Christians Hate God so much? All of you dislike his recent message. What is it that bothers you so much about his message about First is Last.

40. Teen Atheist - September 16, 2008

Mel: I deleted your comments. Read my disclaimer to find out why.

I don’t hate God, I just don’t believe he exists. There’s a difference, and I would appreciate if you respect my personal belief the way I respect others.

41. “Atheist” =/= “Alien” « Diary of a Teenage Atheist - October 10, 2008

[...] about the — oh wait, you’re an atheist…” TA: “Dude, we’re not hateful misanthropes who can’t take a joke. I like Altar Boyz and the occasional Lifehouse song, and Judd Apatow [...]

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