The Christian Guide to Atheists: Satan Worshipers

The Christian Guide to Atheists

Myth: Atheists are Satan worshipers

 As people of the Christian faith, worship is part of what we do. A fair portion of our faith is dedicated to determining if we’re spending enough time worshiping God or if God is the true object of our worship. No matter the particular tradition, worship is inherent in it.

So when we meet an atheist, the tendency is to want to figure out who or what it is that they worship. The idea that worship could be missing from their daily experience seems to be unsettling to a number of Christians. And since the opposite of God is Satan, many will say that atheists worship Satan. So much so that this was the number one comment that I got back from atheists when I asked about common misconceptions that Christians have concerning atheism.

I suppose if you believe that the decision not to worship God is automatically a decision to worship Satan, then there is an element of logic in this pronouncement. However, I don’t know if this is really applicable.

Worship implies action. We seem to understand this when it comes to our own belief in God. Most evangelical Christians will agree that simply using the title Christian does not mean that the person is worshiping God, but that instead it needs to be backed up with action.

However, this knowledge of what worship is often goes by the wayside when it comes to atheism. The truth is that if one is an atheist, they don’t believe in the Devil any more than they believe in God. No belief means no worship.

But even if one does not believe in God or Satan, it doesn’t make these kinds of statements less hurtful. I think this can be expressed in a couple of ways.

First, it does not show a willingness to understand what atheism is, at its core. When we start talking about Devil worship, we are choosing not to listen to what the other person is saying about their lack of belief. Any time we choose not to listen, it is an act of disrespect and that is not something that inspires loving feelings.

Perhaps more importantly, even without belief, most atheists are familiar with what Christians are saying when they suggest that someone worships Satan. Just as our worship of God is what is supposed to make us better people, if we say that an atheist worships Satan, we are saying that this perceived action makes them inherently more evil. 

If you encounter this kind of language being used about atheists, I would encourage you to ask the other person to examine why they are saying it and help them understand why it could be hurtful to an atheist. And if you are the one who is using it, I would ask you to consider eliminating it from your speech.

That’s this week’s Christian Guide to Atheists.

Next Week: Deconverted atheists were never true believers.


Alise’s Disclaimer:

  • I’m one Christian and my pool of atheist friends is not vast. If you want to know about what an atheist believes, ask them. Daniel at The Barking Atheist will be co-blogging with me for this series and he is as committed as I am to having a good conversation between Christians and atheists. Stop by his place for additional thoughts on each of these topics!

Guidelines for Commenting:

  • Assume the best of the other commenters. Someone might say something that isn’t worded well. Rather than assuming that they meant it to be hurtful, please assume that they just didn’t know better. 
  • Questions are good. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, ask for clarification. As much as I say this is a guide, what I really want to do is to open up a discussion.
  • No proselytizing. We’re here to talk. Not to make people think the same way that we think.
  • Full comment policy available here.
  • Janet Oberholtzer

    Communication is always a good thing and when it comes to providing a place for it between Christians and Atheists, you are the perfect person to do it, Alise… wishing you the best with this series.

    And starting with “atheists don’t believe in the Devil any more than they believe in God” is the perfect place to start. That’s something I’ve learned in the past few years since having individuals in my family who no longer believe in the supernatural. And interestingly they prefer not to use the label atheist for themselves because of the fact that most people have so many negative ideas about atheists, starting with this very myth that they must now worship satan and/or are somehow influenced by him… so thanks for aiming to dispel that myth.

  • Veronica Monique

    I like how you point out that the lack of believe in God and Satan are equal with an Atheist, in that for an Atheist neither is real. I wonder if some of the thinking behind the “if you don’t worship one then you must worship the other” comes from the thinking that you have to believe in something. Because Atheist/Atheism is listed in the religion category there is this notion that a system of belief must be inherent in that. Is Atheism that unified? Or is it simply an abandonment of any religious doctrine? In the absence of religion is there room for spiritual consideration? And how can someone without a belief in God have any concept of moral or ethical guidelines? These are the questions that I think would be most interesting to learn the answers to from an Atheist’s point of view. I’m looking forward to how this series answers them and explains more than I’ve ever thought to ask.

    • Dan Silverman

      The idea that if you do not worship god you automatically worship Satan is taught a lot in the more fundamentalist circles. It seems to stem from the idea that Satan does not want god worshiped and, therefore, to NOT worship god is to worship Satan by default. It is also taught that the one that does not purposefully worship god is worshiping self and that self-worship is the very sin that caused Satan to become Satan in the first place (the idea that Satan/Lucifer believed he could sit on the throne of god, etc). Therefore, the worship of self, whether one realizes he is doing this or not, is the worship of Satan (according to people who think like this).

      Atheism should NOT be listed as a religion, though many Christians insist that it is. Atheism is not a belief in anything, but the opposite (“atheist” means “no god”). Just because one does not believe in Santa Claus does not automatically mean they have replaced Santa with some other belief. It just means that the person does not believe in Santa. Nothing more. Thus, the atheist does not believe in god. Nothing more. No belief in something else as a replacement.

      Atheism is NOT unified at all. No more unified then “white people” are unified with a common doctrine, or Asians, or Blacks, etc. Atheism is simply a label that a person can use to describe the fact that they do not believe in god. It does not describe anything else. An atheist may believe in spiritual things or not, in aliens visiting planet earth or not, etc. There is no unifying set of beliefs or ideas that bind atheists together. Again, it is simply the declaration that one does not believe in any god.

      In the absence of religion there can be spiritual consideration. As stated above, some atheists do believe in something spiritual. What some may believe varies greatly. Most, though, seem to reject the idea of there being something spiritual.

      Morals and ethics do not require a god or gods. Morals can be shown to have developed quite naturally as man needed them. And, as can be seen by a simple study of society and culture, morals change … all the time. Even in Christian circles morals change through the age … and drastically so.

      A careful reading of the Bible itself will not only show changing morals by the god of the Bible, but also by the people therein. Morals displayed by the god of the Bible will, at times, show forth a moral that is repugnant to most people. Many will simply attempt to brush this under the carpet by stating that “God’s ways are higher than our ways” as if to say we cannot understand nor can we judge the actions of god as recorded in the Bible. But to say that our morals came from god is to open a strange can of worms. Genocide, rape, murder, incest … all commanded/accepted by the god of the Bible. Pettiness, rage, jealousy, portrayed by the god of the Bible. Etc.

      • Veronica Monique

        Thanks, Dan. I always appreciate how thoroughly you explain things when I ask questions. It is interesting to me that even though I have some understanding that Atheism isn’t a religion that even I put the label in the religion category because that is how it is usually addressed. And because of that even I wonder about the commonality of those who choose to claim the label. Labels are always loaded, and rarely provide the understanding we erroneously think they do.

        • Dan Silverman

          Thanks, Veronica.

          I think “atheism” is also placed in a religion category because it deals with god (even if it is the lack of belief in a god). So, for example, if someone were to list various “religions” (i.e. ways people think about god) a list ‘could’ look something like this:

          - Christianity
          - Judaism
          - Hinduism
          - Buddhism
          - Mohammedanism
          - Etc., etc.
          - Atheism

          In such a list, the ‘atheist’ would ‘deal with god’ by not believing in one. Even if this were the case, I don’t think it is appropriate.

    • Cam

      Hi Veronica! I’m an Atheist so maybe I can answer some of these questions?

      Because Atheist/Atheism is listed in the religion category there is this notion that a system of belief must be inherent in that. Is Atheism that unified?

      -Atheism really shouldn’t be classified in a religion category, as it is the absence of belief in general. The one thing that Atheists all have in common is that we don’t believe in God, so I suppose you can say we are unified in that respect.

      Or is it simply an abandonment of any religious doctrine? In the absence of religion is there room for spiritual consideration?
      -It is an abandonment of religious doctrine, but it’s also an abandonment of belief in the supernatural in general. There is room for spiritual consideration, in terms of all of humanity being interconnected. I think most Atheists (at least the ones I am friends with) would believe in the supernatural or a higher power if there was quantifiable evidence,

      And how can someone without a belief in God have any concept of moral or ethical guidelines?

      This is a question that is often met with anger from Atheists, as it implies that we have no moral compass without belief and doctrine. The common response is “Is your belief in God the only thing keeping you from murdering someone, stealing something or kicking puppies?” No, of course it isn’t. Morality isn’t religious specific, it was here long before Christianity. We all want to see our fellow humans be happy, healthy, and loved. A compassionate society is a successful society – and since humans are communal creatures by nature – we want to see the community thrive. I’ve spoken to many Atheists who were raised in the church, and one of the many things that led them to begin questioning belief is how religion can claim morality – but act specifically against it in the name of the God they claim to be their moral compass. So many people have been raped, murdered, tortured, refused equal treatment under the law, and generally mistreated in the name of God.

      • Veronica Monique

        See, these are the things that need to be talked about more. As a non-Christian myself, but having no particularly strong claim to anything other than something spiritual even I have been hit with these questions, and it is hard to explain that religion doesn’t always equate morality, especially when it is used to justify the unjustifiable. It is not something the devout want to discuss as it presents many challenges that they struggle with. At least that’s what I’ve encountered.

        • Cam

          I think that’s because discussing morality apart from religion requires a considerably deeper study in philosophy in general, and that can make the deeply devout very uncomfortable since it can severely challenge doctrine.

          • Dan Silverman

            I agree. It also requires a study in anthropology in general. And, for those with a more fundamentalist mindset, they will struggle with the very idea of a human history where mankind evolved. If man is viewed as being created whole and perfect from the outset, then it would mean that man was given morals/ethics to start with. But if man evolved, then morals/ethics would have evolved out of necessity with him.

  • Michael Mock

    This one seems – to me – to go hand in hand with the idea that “atheists (want to) worship themselves’. I think both ideas are born out a similar place: if worship is a central part of your life, then it can be very hard to wrap your head around the idea that some people don’t worship anything.

    @ Veronica Monique – atheism isn’t really unified at all. It’s just a lack of belief in God (or gods). Once you get beyond that, you’re into cat-herding territory. So questions of how atheists think about morals; whether atheists consider religious belief in other people to be harmful, helpful, or a bit of both; and whether or not there’s room for other sorts of spirituality… well, ask a dozen different atheists and you’ll get a dozen different answers.

    • Veronica Monique

      Thanks, Michael. I’ve had a few Atheist friends point out that it is empathy that really makes all the difference for ethics and morality. I tend to agree as empathy can lead to compassion and neither of which is exclusive to Christians or any group. As humans we all have that potential barring mental disorder. Still the cat-herding is what has me curious, and I like to hear the various responses.

      • Michael Mock

        I’ve got a bunch of stuff scattered across my own blog, including a thought-piece on how you can derive the Golden Rule from a purely materialistic perspective. I’ll have to see if I can pull some of that together; it’s not one of my primary topics, so I’ve never bothered to index it.

    • Cam

      It is kinda like herding cats. Though I think that’s because we don’t have a belief system or worship system that brings us together and we all feel quite different towards religion depending upon our life experiences with belief and believers.

      • Michael Mock

        That’s how it seems to me, also.

  • Hannah M

    As a Christian with good atheist friends, I just wanted to say I really appreciate you doing this series. A lot of believers have never met an atheist and have built up some pretty bizarre misconceptions about them, and I’m excited to see some of these addressed.

  • Daniel Moran


    Daniel, The Barking Atheist, here. I would like to apologise that my response has not been posted yet. Had no internet access all day, except for on my phone, which is what I’m typing on right now. It will be up in the next few hours, I promise.

    Thank you for your patience and understanding

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  • Timesnlatte

    Honestly, while I can see how hurtful it could be for people to have people they love accuse them of devil worship, for those of us not from that background, saying things like that just makes people sound crazy and/or stupid. Like Pat Roberston telling people to cast demons out of the used clothes they buy. I’m UU, more of an agnostic than an atheist, but there are many atheist UUs.

  • Kat Walker

    For some fundamentalist Christians “devil worshipper” is a catch-all term for everyone who doesn’t agree with them on every last point of doctrine – they don’t even need to be remotely close to atheism. “Satan is misleading you” is their very convenient way of telling you they disagree without having to go through the trouble of constructing an intelligent argument. It’s nothing more than a trump card to be pulled out when their fragile, pathetic belief feels threatened. Not believing in Satan is a moot point, they’ll just say that makes you even MORE susceptible to his trickery.

    Maybe it’s true that a few Christians who really consider atheists “devil worshippers” are simply extremely ignorant/sheltered, and all they need is a bit of life experience. In general though, I wouldn’t waste any time and emotional energy in trying to justify yourself to such people.

    I once heard a YEC Christian say that Darwin came up with the theory of evolution after being personally tutored by Satan. There is a point where you simply cannot reason with people, and that would be it.

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  • Exploding Mary

    Nicely said, Alise, although for myself, I don’t care if someone is listening to my view when they suggest that I worship satan after discovering I’m atheist.
    What it means to me, simply, is that they are ignorant and unlearned. If they want to talk down to me, I’m not having it, and not because it would make me sad. It’s merely annoying that people can be that uneducated in this century.
    Good luck with your series, here.
    Peace, Mari