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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This poster cracked me up so I tried to track it down, which led me to Austin Cline's comments on About.com: "Godless Atheists Menace Western, Christian Civilization." Here is one paragraph:

What might be more serious is something that is generally left unsaid: atheists represent a specter of doubt, questioning, skepticism, criticism, and even blasphemy. Irreligious atheists are like metaphysical anarchists who do not submit to the authority of any religious institution, not even those of "false" religions, and thus feel free to criticize all religions. Irreligious atheists call into question the validity of religion generally just by the fact of their very existence. By living, and worse yet by living well, they demonstrate the irrelevancy of religion to having a good life. Christians Nationalists don't understand how they do it, but they know that it's intolerable.

The full text is HERE.

Gee whiz, how about that!  We have the unmitigated gall to QUESTION stuff, to demand explanations and verifications of claims made, and the more outrageous the claim, the more determined we are to insist on that corroboration.  Funny thing, too - to date, There Has Been No Corroboration For The Bible!

But let's make a distinction here: "Western" civilization is by no means de-facto CHRISTIAN civilization. Christianity may have been strongly associated with western Europe in the past and the United States in current day, but that association does not necessitate the integration of the belief with the location. Indeed, most of western Europe is very secular, and while the US is behind that curve, numbers of the "nones" is growing here by the day while the numbers of protestant christians recently fell below the 50% mark for the first time.

I also can't help but notice the rather loaded word, "menace". It paints a picture of atheists threatening believers, perhaps forcing them to give up their beliefs. A larger load of cow droppings I have not heard recently. Most of us who have become atheists did so rationally, as a result of looking at the evidence (or lack thereof) for a god of any sort, and Coming To The Conclusion That There Is No God. No one held a gun to our heads; no one threatened us with some horrible consequence. We made that deduction ON OUR OWN.

We do indeed scare the believers, and I suspect for the very reason pointed out in the last two sentences of that extract. We chop our wood and carry our water, pay our taxes and love our kids without the Damoclean Sword of Yahweh hanging over our heads, and we do it just fine. And at some point or other, they have to be asking themselves just WHY they bother with all the folderol.

Ironically, I was raised with the claim that Christianity was based totally on truth and evidence and could stand up to any amount of honest scrutiny. It took me decades to realize that this wasn't true. I can't believe I was that brainwashed but I was! Most Christians just accept this claim without actually doing any testing.

I'm noticing more and more that religion is like a big shortcut. If you just have faith you can automatically feel like you are a good person. There is then no need to do the hard work and thought it takes to be a truly virtuous person.

I'm hoping to show my believing friends that I can be a truly happy and good person without any faith in supernatural powers. I think this will be both more threatening, and more convincing, than any logical argument.

I like your summary: "And at some point or other, they have to be asking themselves just WHY they bother with all the folderol."

If only, huh?  Usually I feel more like a spider with two legs. 

Maybe we ARE two-legged spiders, ...imagining we are humans living on a web with a BB origin.

Thank you, Michael. This is a perfect coming out pic for my writers group in a few hours.

Oh yes - people are scared of that word - sorry you had to go through that. Maybe you can help your friend understand.

Oh and once I did tell someone and they said they didn't believe I was atheist - so I have had that happen too.

Idk what is up w your friend. Tho a couple of things come to mind.

First off, if i am recalling this correctly, someone, Sám Harris, I think, did FMRI studies that showed that an individuals religiouse believe are held in t brain in a location about as close as possible to ones central core being. Us rationalists hold rationality close and seat, i suspect. So for someone to attack their god believe might be like someone trying to convince us that two plus two doesnot equal four and such.

Or maybe your friend is one of those atheists that still cling to t notion that we should keep quiet about our atheism and continue to show resect to religion even if we dont actually beieve in it ourselves. Personaly i dont understand this position věry well. But, i think, it might be based on t belief that religion is a force for good even if it is untrue. I think such atheists figure that they can continue to live a moral non suiciding life w/o religion. But that it is just too much for others. So we ought to just keep quit about it for their benifit. These atheists believe it is not our place ro tell everyone else that Santa is unreal

Fuck 'em! I say we should tell everyone that Santa is unreal. They messed up my life by preaching that mofo to me from the beginning!

I recently told my mother that I was an atheist and she reacted kind of funny. I didn't pay any mind though. She is religious, but she will not get angry or turn her back on me. Partly because I am her only son. 

However, anytime I discuss anything with her about me being secular, non-believer and my findings of ridiculous dogma fanaticism in the bible. She gets quite. Like very quite. I don't go out of my way to attack people's religion. I don't have a problem with it.

However, I do have a problem when people force their beliefs into my space of tranquility. Yeah, when that word is brought to light, people do weird out. It's very strange.

Social cohesion depends on people giving at least lip service to common beliefs. Many who claim to be believers are in fact beset with serious doubts about one or more elements of supernatural theology, but suppress their skepticism in the interest of belonging. Many do not accept eternal punishment, the existence of Satan, or an afterlife, but never say so explicitly. What atheists do with their open skepticism is make these supernatural delusions much less reasonable, and challenge the social cohesion on which they rest for most.

Of course it's not possible to be angry with a God whose existence you don't accept, but that is the theistic explanation of atheistical denials. Attirbuting it to rational examination of the story gives too much credence to skepticism.




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