17/05/2016 3:26 PM AEST | Updated 21/12/2016 4:05 PM AEDT

Atheists Do Believe. They Believe They Should Be Left Alone

It’s high time that Atheists are given the same respect that the religious demand.

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Why is it so hard for religious zealots to understand that Atheists are not interested in hearing the reasons they feel we need to be indoctrinated into their belief systems? Why is the concept that we do not have a belief in any supernatural power threatening to them? It's high time that Atheists are given the same respect that the religious demand. The freedom to believe in "nothing" and not be marginalised as a result.

In examining some of the arguments used to attack atheism, one quickly sees misinformation and hypocrisy are the norm. One of the most common is that mankind can only be civil if it is doing so to appease a deity and be rewarded in an afterlife. If this wasn't the case, we would all be murdering and pillaging. This is laughable. Why is it hard to understand that humans should treat each other with respect so that we all have a safe environment in which to live?

In 1958, prominent Psychologist Lawrence Kolhberg developed the six stages of moral development incorporating the previous work of Jean Piaget. The level of morality at which religion functions is within the lowest two levels - how can I avoid punishment and what's in it for me? Basically I'll be good so I don't go to hell and get a heavenly reward. This is like telling your two-year-old to finish dinner or they'll have time out if they don't and will get dessert if they do. This can be a factor in creating a world in which people will only do something if they feel they are getting something personally as a result. It fosters greed and selfishness. This isn't to say every believer is selfish, but it creates the mindset to promote it.

Atheism, in contrast, operates on the two highest levels of moral development in Kohlberg's chart s- social contract orientation and principled conscience. Atheists conduct their lives in a manner that is ethical, not out of fear or reward-seeking but because they are upholding their own principles and have empathy for others. They understand and accept others have varying opinions on most everything. The religious struggle with this concept.

I won't even go into the wars and killings in the name of religion. These are documented daily. But one thing the religious do try is to mislabel politically motivated violence as an assault on themselves. For example, those who died in the Gulags in Stalinist Russia were not incarcerated because of their religious beliefs. The majority may have been Christian, but this was due to the fact the Christianity was the predominate religion in Russia and Eastern Europe at the time. The majority of people sent to the Gulags were charged with conducting class warfare and exploiting groups in a lower social economic segment of society or for speaking out against the government.

Religious believers have other arguments to attempt and dismiss nonbelief. My favourite is if there is no God how could the universe have been created from nothing? The science behind this is probably too advanced for the majority to understand, I certainly do not, but we can easily reverse this question. If God exists and created the universe, then where did God come from? How does this God exist? The hypocrisy in accepting that a God could exist out of nothing, but nothing else could is blatant. There are many more examples I could describe but, really, this isn't a contest to see who can come up with the most examples to defend their position or berate the other.

All Atheists and agnostics want is to be left alone and not have religious believers continually try and force their beliefs on us. Not wanting your religion is not an assault on your religion. If you want to believe, fine, we really do not care. If it helps you through life, that's fine for you. But not us. Individuals and organisations that chose not to participate in your beliefs and traditions need to have their rights respected. Saying 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas' is not a plot to persecute Christians. Quite frankly, this type of hypersensitivity is a turn off to many and is self-defeating.

It would be great if everyone could open their minds to the possibility that there are people who think in a completely different manner than yourself. These people are not a threat to you. They are your neighbours, your doctors and nurses, your teachers and co-workers. Let's allow everyone the right to believe what they feel is best for them and not take their being different as a personal insult.

This post first appeared on May 15, 2016.