In my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a meme posted by a good friend of mine containing a quote from Ray Comfort. The quote read, “Atheists don’t hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don’t exist. It is impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. Atheists hate god because he does exist.” While I have no idea of Ray Comfort actually said this, I would not be at all surprised if he did. However, I was surprised to find that my friend agreed with the quote enough to post it. She knows I am an atheist. I can’t help wondering – is that really what she thinks is going on in my mind? How deeply has she thought about the implications of this quote?
“Atheists don’t hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don’t exist. It is impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. Atheists hate god because he does exist.” Ray Comfort *
This quote falls apart on many levels:
ATHEISTS ARE NOT A MONOLITHIC GROUP
Atheists are individuals with different opinions. I think that it is highly likely that there are at least some atheists who do believe in fairies, leprechauns, unicorns or other being believed by most people to be mythical (just as I suspect that there are religious people who believe in these as well). The fact someone is an atheist doesn’t tell you anything more about him or her than he or she hasn’t been convinced that any gods exists. That’s all.
I do not believe in leprechauns (etc.) because I have never been presented with any good evidence for their existence. However, if good evidence were to be discovered that those creatures existed, I would believe in them. The atheists I know also do not have a belief in any of those creatures but would be open to belief if good evidence were ever discovered. They would also be open to belief in a god if good evidence were to be discovered.
HATING FICTIONAL CHARACTERS IS POSSIBLE
Anyone who has ever watched a movie or read a novel knows it is possible to have feelings (including hatred) about fictional characters. Part of what makes fiction so entertaining is that it has the ability to bring readers/viewers into the world of the characters. Many fictional villains are written in a way to elicit hate. So, it’s not surprising that many people might hate particular villains. In this same manner, some atheists who read stories about particular gods may hate the god characters. Not all mind you – we aren’t a monolithic group. That doesn’t mean that those atheists believe that the god character in the story is a real being.
While this type of hatred might not be the same as the type of hatred a person might have toward a real person who has harmed them in some way, it is hatred nonetheless.
THE PEOPLE YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT AREN’T ATHEISTS
There are people who are angry with a god who they believe is a real being. They may be upset that their god allowed a horrible thing to happen to them, or to someone they care about. Maybe they are gay and they believe their god forbids same sex relationships, therefore condemning them to a life of solitude — that could make a person angry. Maybe they are angry because there are so many children suffering throughout the world and they believe their god should alleviate their suffering. There are many reasons that people might be angry at a god for doing or not doing something. However, the difference here is that those people are not atheists because they believe in a god. They are just theists who are unhappy with the god they believe in.
YOU MAY BE CONFUSING WHAT WE HATE
Many atheists dislike religion and are angry about the harm they perceive as coming from religion. Sometimes those of us who feel that way are quite vocal about it. This leads some people to believe that we are angry with their god or are angry people in general. However, they are not angry at your god, they are angry at the social injustices or issues they view as related to religion. Some examples of things that make some atheists angry could include science denial, subjugation of women, indoctrination of children, childhood circumcision, mistreatment of homosexuals, and valuing faith over evidence. Even though some atheists are angry about those or other issues, a great many of them are very happy people. Most people (atheists and theists) have issues they feel strongly about enough to anger them. That doesn’t mean that the anger encompasses their entire disposition.
It’s worth mentioning that not all atheists view religion as harmful. There are many people who don’t believe in any gods but view religion as helpful, or at least not harmful. Some atheists even subscribe to a particular religion. There are some groups of religious people who do not believe in a god but practice the religion, such as humanistic Jews. There are some people who don’t believe in any gods but still attend services with people who do because they enjoy the environment, or like the social groups, appreciate the tradition and rituals, believe the religion has something positive to offer them, they feel they need to hid their atheism to avoid mistreatment, or for other reasons. While you might not be able to tell who they are, chances are that if you look around your congregation, there are at least a few atheists there. Sometimes there is even an atheist standing in the pulpit (See The Clergy Project for more information).
WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE IN UNICORNS WHEN THEY ARE IN THE BIBLE?
Mr. Comfort’s comment implies a belief in unicorns is ridiculous. However, many Christians believe the King James Version (KJV) of the Christian Bible to be the most accurate biblical transition. And since that version of the Bible has unicorns as part of at least one story, why does he think the belief is ridiculous? If he thinks it is ridiculous, then he must either be unfamiliar with the fact that unicorns are mentioned or he must think that the KJV is a poor translation. If he thinks the KJV is a poor translation, my question is why did his god, who supposedly inspired the text, not inspire the translators to do a better job of translating a version that would be so influential in Christianity.
(According to the BibleGateway website, job 39:9-10 in King James Version of the Christian Bible reads “Job 39:9-10 KJV: Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?)
If my friend reads this post, I hope she is able to see the Ray Comfort comment from my point of view. The main takeaway that I hope she gains from this post is that being an atheist only means that the person has not been convinced that any gods exist. That’s all. It doesn’t mean that they hate any gods. And it doesn’t even necessarily mean they don’t believe in fairies. Ray Comfort clearly doesn’t understand atheism.
What are your thoughts about this quote from Ray Comfort? I’d love to hear opinions from both theists and atheists.
*According to Conservapedia, Ray Comfort stated the quoted message in 2009 http://www.conservapedia.com/Atheism_and_hatred_of_God
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