There are many who are fond of stopping someone when the words “atheists believe that” leave their mouths. They are quick to remind this person that the word “atheist” merely means a lack of belief in a god, so, if the person they’ve stopped is about to say anything other than, “Atheists believe that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of gods”, they are wrong.

Similarly, I often see the phrase, “Christians believe…” or “Christians say…”, and what often follows is some mention around abortion rights, birth control, marriage equality, trans rights, or some other thing that requires an assembly of an all-male, all-cis, and all-hetero panel speaking to a U.S. Senate committee.

I think we need to eat our own dog food here. If we take the simplest definition of a Christian – someone who believes Jesus was the son of Jehovah and died for our sins – then we have to acknowledge that we can’t say what Christians believe beyond that simple statement. The banner of “Christian” encompasses people of a wide variety of people who are secularists, theocrats, anti-choice, pro-choice, pro-LGBT, anti-LGBT, creationist, scientifically-literate, and a whole host of other descriptors that make blanket statements about Christians, the majority of the time, false.

I’m not saying you have to agree with how a progressive Christian who is pro-LGBT handles what Paul and Moses had to say about LGBT people; I certainly don’t. However, if that person believes that Jesus was the son of Jehovah and died for our sins and believes that LGBT people are totally stellar, then, by the example you have before you, you cannot say, “Christians are anti-LGBT.” The Bible certainly is, yes, but Christians, as a whole, are not (the blade cuts both ways, of course – we cannot say that Christians, as a whole, are pro-LGBT; see: Fred Phelps & company for the most immediate and local example).

This type of thought, of course, isn’t limited to just Christians – it applies to political labels, other non-Christian religious labels, philosophical labels, and a whole spectrum of ideas. I don’t point this out to try and get us all together for a warm, fuzzy group hug to share the love (though I certainly think religious people and atheists can work together for the greater good), but to point out that, if we’re going to strive for accuracy in how people talk about atheists, we should do the same when talking about non-atheists.