What to say when you meet an Atheist

Atheists are not a monolithic group — but a broad church of thinkers

Kesh Anand
Sep 18, 2019 · 3 min read

When getting to know someone, the question invariably pops up: “So, what religion do you follow?”.

Often the answer is “Oh! I am a Buddhist/Christian/Jew/Hindu/Muslim”.

This may result in further conversation about that religion but importantly — it also gives you insight into their broad set of beliefs and values they might hold, and how they may respond to various social and political happenings.

It’s a fantastic question to get to know someone a little better; further building your mental model of them.

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Sometimes, however, the person responds that they’re an Atheist. The topic then ends somewhat abruptly and awkwardly moves onto something else.

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Not only do you miss out on the richness of a conversation, but you don’t really build out your mental model of the person much further.

The thing is though:

Atheism isn’t one homogeneous monolithic grouping of people. It is a broad church composed of people with all sorts of different value systems.

Types of Atheists

Some Atheists have not really thought about the existence of a god, let alone which god. They are apathetic to philosophical enquiry in general and whether there is a meaning of life.

Some Atheists believe in a soul or spirit separate from the body — which lives on after your physical body dies. They may also believe in auras, chakras, lifeforce and other mystical concepts — which strictly speaking do not conform to a religious system or existence of a supreme being — God.

Yet some other Atheists have thought long and hard about the meaning of life. They’ve read Nietzsche, Camus and Satre. They’ve considered Atheistic philosophies such as Absurdism, Nihilism, and Existentialism. They’ve built up a way of deriving meaning from life.

By not ending the conversation when a person answers as an “atheist”, you have an opportunity to inquire further into their philosophical outlook — learning more about it, them, and perhaps — even yourself.

So next time someone declares themselves an Atheist — ask them a follow-up question:

Oh that’s cool. Are you keen on any particular philosophical thinkers, or are you otherwise spiritual?”.

If they’re not — no stress, but at least you showed genuine interest in them, rather than dismissing the fact that they might have something interesting to say — even though it may not relate to a particular religion as such.

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