It’s always interesting to see how people react to learning various facts about you, especially when you know that the impression they have of you may contradict the image they will associate with some other aspect of your life. For instance, when people find out I was a cheerleader in high school they often expect me to be dismissive or ashamed of it because, clearly, I shouldn’t want to associate myself with the cheerleader stereotype.
Similar things happen when people broach the topic of my religion. Because I don’t want to enter into long, potentially uninteresting (to them, at least) conversations about my spiritual exploration and philosophies, I usually just fall back on the “atheist” label because it is technically correct. Technically, I don’t believe in supernatural beings or phenomena which exist outside of the laws of science, so I’m an atheist.
To some people this helps paint me as a rational, intelligent human being who values logic and the scientific method.
To others, this brands me as hostile to people of faith, misled by evil influences to reject truth. And they might even think I eat babies or something.
This could, of course, turn into a rant about how people misjudge other people and apply stereotypes which are negative and damaging to society. But that’s not where I’m going.
Yes, it’s ridiculous that there is a portion of people on this planet who believe that atheists are evil and lack morals, or that cheerleaders are more sexually active and less intelligent than average, or any number of other unduly negative stereotypes. But what is more ridiculous is that we put far more effort into trying to convince others to change the way they think rather than demonstrating with action that they are wrong.
Arguing that, as an logical atheist, my beliefs make more sense than religious concepts goes nowhere to convincing a devout person that I am not threatening to them. In fact, the argument likely reinforces their perception. Using that effort to be as much a positive force in the world as they expect me to be negative would go much farther. That is not to say that debate and discussion have no place, but when it comes to those who are judgmental and accusatory it is unlikely that logic and rational discourse will get you anywhere.
Ultimately, it does us all more good to focus on being a living embodiment of those positive things we hope our labels will say about us than it does to fight the negative stereotypes through words and confrontation. It’s much harder to claim that a group of people is destructive and evil when that group is visibly and unquestionably working to help others and contribute positively to the world around them.