What is there about the word "atheist" that makes normally sane people act crazy?

Help! I just got off the phone with my best friend. I started telling her about an event I attended recently. When I mentioned the group's name (which included the word "atheist") it was like I had rung a bell for Pavlov's dog! She immediately went on a rant about how she is "sick of atheists," and how "stupid" they are to be "angry at God."

This shook me up because normally she is a wonderful friend. She is a non-practicing Jew who was raised completely secular. I've been open with her about the full extent of my apostasy, and I've even identified myself as an atheist to her before. Perhaps she didn't believe me? What is there about that word?

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Why don't you ask her why she's sick of atheists and why she thinks they're "angry at God"? 

I was chatting with a neighbor down the street once, and I mentioned I'd been going to a local atheist group.  He looked shocked, and he said "well I believe in something", waving his arms.  Not organized religion, but something, somehow outside the natural world.

There has been such a thorough job of demonizing non-believers, it is a wonder we escape with our hides still on our back. It is just part of the price we pay for going outside the box and thinking for ourselves. Some believers are so crude and cruel as to make threats and use foul language. Perhaps there are some psychopaths out there that will take action against us, but mostly, they are just full of themselves and puff up like a balloon fish.

If the person who responded to you that way is a friend you want to keep, put some effort into understanding her point of view. If not, then just be thankful for her honesty and put an end to the relationship. Who wants to put up with such a person? Remember that 7,000,000,000+ other human beings on this planet and you don't have very many years alive. Choose your friend carefully. 

Actually, it is 7,216,077,067. 

Some believers are so crude and cruel as to make threats and use foul language.

For "crude and cruel" and the rest, Joan, read "weak and frightened, and using the protections they learned and still need."

Or for the ex-religious people here - if you had a negative impression of atheists when you were religious, why? 

When I was a theist, I literally could not fathom that there could possibly not be a God. So I thought that every atheist out there was just missing something. I saw it as so obvious that you had to be supressing the belief or just not looking for an answer if you didn't believe. I obviously see know how delusion my own thinking was, and I am ashamed to have ever thought it, but it does at least help me see the viewpoint theists come from. Many like me, who were raised from birth to believe in God and knew no alternative just know that God exists like they know the sky is blue. They can just "see is in his creation."


When you were one of the faithful, your take on the essence of atheism was, ironically, spot on.  

“…I thought that every atheist out there was just missing something.” 

Indeed, Morgan, atheists do lack, or are “missing” faith.  

Theists see that as a Hole that needs filling. 

Atheists see it as burden removed.

Regardless, the difference between a theist and an atheist lies NOT in the existence (or nonexistence) of a god. The difference is faith.  It’s pretty simple:  Are you “missing” faith?   Yes?  Then you’re an atheist.

I still recall going to lunch with a coworker the first atheist I'd met, asking over and over variations of the question "How can you believe there is no God?" My brain was buzzing so loud that I don't even recall her responses except that she finally in a bit of exasperation said "Well Richard Dawkins said..." and I remember thinking that she must be believing in him based on a false or incomplete information. I'm ashamed to admit that out of that whole hour of talking the only thing I can recall is four words.

Keep in mind that I had been non-religious for many years and the idea of atheism wasn't foreign to me. I think what made my head buzz was that for the first time I was considering atheism as it applied to me, rather than as an abstract. 

I would say that your secular friend thinks her own belief is more humanistic and "without god" but she believes in a god even though she does not practice that belief. Maybe she needs to understand what it means to be "without god" --an atheist. Just listening to others around her, or from what she sees and hears on TV, in the newspapers, etc. would drive her into the "angry at god" camp. You can be a secular humanist without being atheist.

I'm an ex theist. Theism is a disease. As a believer you think "god did it" solves everything. You don't believe in god? You couldn't think and breath without god, so therefore, god exists. This proves it, and the Buybull says so. What? Charlie doesn't believe in god and he's thinking and breathing. No, he only thinks he is. He's not very smart and will go to hell when he dies. We are christian and smarter than everyone. We know coz the Buybull tells us so.

Your non practicing Jewish friend just hears varations of this rhetoric everywhere and has come to believe that atheists are bad and even stupid. The belief is starting again now that atheists cause a lot of bad things, etc. Theists will keep this idea going forever because they have no defense in a world of knowledge. Theistic belief is never changing. Science is ever changing. My theist friend has known me since age 13. He says he has a "personal relationship" with god and that he "talks to him every day." This is interesting because he does mean talking out loud. He thinks everything would be different for me also if I would start doing this again.

Theists influence the entire world this way even if they are wrong. They have no other belief system to go to. One might as well talk to Wonder Woman.

I think she is on here.

Just listening to others around her, or from what she sees and hears on TV, in the newspapers, etc. would drive her into the "angry at god" camp.  Theism is a disease.

There's a difference between people's concept of a "nonbeliever" and their concept of an "atheist". There are lots of nonbelievers who aren't particularly angry at religion and even have a generally pro-religion attitude, as religious people do.  They often think religious people are virtuous even if they don't share their beliefs. 

Taking on an anti-religion attitude, as in "theism is a disease", is different.  It means having a value system that is divergent from the religious majority around you, and likely would make religious people feel defensive if they know about it. 

Also of course, most people think of atheism as the belief that God does not exist, rather than just withholding belief from God concepts.  Once you start thinking about these things and discussing them with other nonbelievers, withholding belief tends to turn into "it's quite unlikely that God exists".  But many people don't think about such things much, it's a bit taboo, so they just continue not believing. 

It means having a value system that is divergent from the religious majority around you, and likely would make religious people feel defensive if they know about it.

An additional fillip to the above is that the believers have been taught that their belief is ESSENTIAL to their everyday lives, yet here the atheists are, chopping their wood and carrying their water and at least apparently doing pretty well for themselves.  At some level or other, the believers have to look at themselves and ask, "What do they know that I don't?" or "Have I been sold a bill of goods here?"  Certainly, the average believer won't have the guts to confront the possibility that their belief system is wrong or unnecessary, but the very fact that atheists are and live and can be at least as successful as they are leaves multiple uncomfortable questions hanging in the air.

They may not be conscious of all that when they react, but there it is.

Especially if the atheist in question is an ex-believer, it's very threatening. 


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