Religious Tolerance logo

On the tolerance of Christians
toward Atheists, and vice-versa

An essay donated by Robert Mettetal

horizontal rule

Sponsored link.

horizontal rule


bullet "Every religion is good that teaches man to be good; and I know of none that instructs him to be bad." Thomas Paine

bullet "Religion and morals are symmetrically opposed, just like poetry and philosophy."  Friedrich Von Schlegel

bullet "Atheism... is as unyielding and dogmatic about religious belief as true believers are about heathens. It tries to use reason to demolish a structure that is not built upon reason." Sydney J. Harris

horizontal rule

Although an atheist myself, I have always believed that most religious beliefs are generally good, and that they only cross the line into immorality when they are used to justify intolerance and hatred. The Bible itself may urge intolerance, but most Christians and Jews are better than the Bible they believe in, and they respect the rights of their neighbors to believe whatever they wish. Those who urge intolerance, perhaps even to the extent of violence, are in the minority among believers, and in the extreme minority among clergymen.

This tolerance frequently doesn't extend itself to atheism, however. Often, a Christian can't fathom how an atheist can have morals that aren't grounded in Biblical teachings. They overlook, of course, the fact that the concept of morality was explored by such Pagans as Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers from this era in Greek history. Morality comes from within, not from without. People have a natural antipathy towards killing, stealing, and other such immoral acts, dictated to them by what is commonly referred to as the conscience. It's not fear of damnation that makes a criminal confess; it's guilt. Guilt is a natural feeling that goes through a man when he realizes he has done something morally wrong.

If you want to look at it from a Biblical perspective: When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they gained the knowledge to distinguish good from evil, and they passed this ability on to all their kin. Therefore, even atheists should know good from evil, and how to avoid evil if they so desire.

Christians also sometimes find themselves worrying that an atheist will go to hell, and therefore feel sorry for them and attempt to "save" them so that they will be able to enter heaven. This is a hopeless practice, because people who call themselves "atheists" usually arrived at that moniker through lots of intense thought and soul-searching. They long ago made up their minds that they don't believe in God and nothing will make them change their minds, short of God Himself descending from heaven to shake their hand, and maybe not even then. Proselytizing is lost on an atheist, almost without exception.

Atheists, except for the bravest and boldest of us, are afraid to tell people that they are atheists, for fear of the millions of devout Christians in this country who think they are immoral and on the road to hell. Certainly, some of us are immoral (Stalin was an atheist), but so are some Christians (Hitler was a Catholic). It's unfair to judge someone based solely on their particular beliefs regarding the existence of a deity.

There are two sides to this coin, however. Many atheists have responded to Christian intolerance with equal intolerance towards the Christians. Atheists have been known to refer to Christians as "
hopelessly deluded," along with several other uncomplimentary names. Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Jon Garth Murray in their "FAQs About Atheism" describe religious beliefs as "old, silly ideas that we should have abandoned by now." 1 They also do not capitalize the names of any religions, God, or the name of Jesus Christ, which is simply an open act of disrespect.

It should be noted that they also say (supposedly speaking for all atheists) that God "
was never anything other than a fictional idea," suggesting that atheists actively disbelieve in God. Many atheists, however, simply refuse to believe in God, but don't go so far as to disbelieve in Him.

It seems like most of the atheists who speak out (rather than hide) hold beliefs like these. When they make their atheism public, they seem to immediately go on the offensive, attacking the beliefs of Christians before they can attack their disbeliefs. The entire FAQ referred to above seems more like one long treatise against Christianity than an explanation of atheism.

Perhaps we should take a lesson from Martin Luther King, Jr. In his day, African-Americans were vastly discriminated against, to the point that whites tried to totally separate them from society. They had separate restaurants, restrooms, and even schools. Violence was frequently performed on African-Americans, and often there was no one in law enforcement who would protect them. Dr. King, however, preached both love and pacifism. He said:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction."

We atheists are discriminated against far less than the African-Americans were in those days, yet we seem to answer intolerance with intolerance and hatred with hatred.

My point here is that if we atheists expect to be treated with respect by Christians, we have got to treat them with respect too. We say that we want the right to believe whatever we want without fear of discrimination. Well, if we expect to get that right, we have to practice what we preach: tolerance.

horizontal rule


  1. Madalyn Murray O'Hair & Jon Garth Murray, "FAQs About Atheism," at:

Copyright 2001 by Robert Mettetal
Originally written: 2001-AUG-7
Latest update: 2001-AUG-7
Author: Robert Mettetal

line.gif (538 bytes)

Sponsored link

horizontal rule

Go to the previous page, or to the visitors' essay menu, or to the Atheist menu, or choose:


Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only.

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore the page to English.