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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Hey everyone, I was discussing this with another non-believer, and she asked me if this friend (from my original discussion question) watched Fox News. I thought that was a strange question, but now I think she may be on to something.

Even though my friend is basically secular, she is quite conservative politically, and she has been getting more so as she gets older. So maybe her reaction is not because of any religious beliefs. Maybe she sees atheists as political foes. Atheists do tend to gather on the left.

Do you think that could have fed into the strength of her reaction? If so, that would make me feel a little better. Most of the friends that I'm not fully out with are not so political.

FOX is absolutely atheism's biggest opponent.

Like this is a surprise?  Fox is in bed with the GOP.  The GOP might as well be owned and operated by the Religious Reich.  The Religious Reich is convinced that atheism and its proponents are worse than the antichrist.

You might as well say the sun rises in the east ... unless some Fox commentator says otherwise!

Atheists do tend to gather on the left.

But there is a significant right-leaning libertarian contingent in the "movement" too.

Some time back, Brittany A. Cox wrote a post on A|N similar to this one (sometimes there IS no new thing under the sun!), and I offered my own $0.02 on the issue.  Rather than reproduce the whole thing here, I'll offer links to that discussion and my answer as more fodder for discussion.

Thanks Loren, I did read your linked answer. Well summarized. I think you are right, even though when I was a believer I would have denied it. I think most religious people, at least most evangelical Christians, "feel" free. They do not recognize that they are in thrall to anyone except "Truth" and their own "Creator." This may be why, when we criticize their human leaders, they skip right over and assume we are criticizing God himself.

They are stuck in that king/servant framework, with their particular God on the throne. One of their defenses against atheists is to see us as simply prideful, wanting to "put Self on the throne instead of God." One of the reliefs for me becoming a philosophical naturalist is that I recognized that there is no king/servant framework and therefore no "throne." I'm relieved to realize that we are all just biological creatures doing our best.

I also agree that there are those believers who sense that they are depending on a house of cards and this is why they overreact. I like your line "...that we do not believe as they do threatens to pull a comforting reality down around their ankles..."

That being said, the friend from my original discussion question is not a religious believer - or so I thought. I guess it doesn't take much religion (or much politics) to make someone overreact!

It seems like belief in God involves (to some extent) giving one's inner voice a vast authority, and it has that in common with other kinds of delusional thinking. 

When someone is exploring their own psyche and their emotions, their inner voice does have vast authority.  Not otherwise.

Kathleen, have you shared your deconversion story?  It seems like it would be interesting. 

No I haven't shared my story, not yet. Thanks for thinking it might be interesting.

The only really interesting thing is this: how on earth did it take me so long to see things clearly? I'm 57 and it's only been about a year and a half since I "saw the light." I've always been a questioner, a voracious reader, and not a follower by nature. I'm a true testimony to the strength of religious brainwashing!

And you are so right about believers giving authority to their inner voice. That is such a great way to say it. Believers really do live inside their own head. Their inner voice can feel so real and so wise, and come up with ideas that they think they would never come up with on their own. Part of the delusion is not recognizing their own inner voice, and thinking they are hearing from the creator of the universe.

The ironic thing is that Christians have it drummed into them to avoid and reject "human wisdom" and instead trust in "God's wisdom."

When I first broke through my delusion, it was on a day I had just watched an astronomy special. I was thinking how utterly ridiculous it was for me to believe that I had a personal line to any god that could be capable of understanding the distances, much less creating the mass of the universe! After years of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, I had an instant worldview switch to naturalism. It actually felt like "my brain broke."My first thought was, "You mean I've been talking to myself for 50 years?"

This is one of the reasons it's so hard to deconvert. It's just so damn embarrassing!

Kathleen Z. I'm 10 years older than you and I identifiy with your every word! In my case it means I was deluded 10 years longer than you were.

Ha thanks Michael! You make me feel better. I think we old deconverts are few and far between.

When I came out to my very religious daughter, who is now 26, she said, "Mom, you are supposed to do this kind of thing in college!"

I'm one of the old escapees also.  I was 55 when I finally overcame the last vestige of fear and became an atheist.  I'm  72 now.

No I haven't shared my story, not yet. Thanks for thinking it might be interesting.

You've made thoughtful observations about deconversion already, that's why I thought the whole story would be interesting.

I was thinking how utterly ridiculous it was for me to believe that I had a personal line to any god that could be capable of understanding the distances, much less creating the mass of the universe!
The funny thing is, I don't find that belief ridiculous. Once Dawkins in a video said something similar - like, look at how huge it all is, and that God would be watching over believers' credit card balances or their spiritual state or whatever, is ridiculous ...

And to me that statement went thunk.  Because consciousness really is special.  That the universe, in us, would have become self aware ... That is incredible!  Conscious evolved beings may be very rare in our universe.  And the physical laws of our universe that make consciousness possible, may also be very rare. 

This is one of the reasons it's so hard to deconvert. It's just so damn embarrassing!

Not at all, Kathleen :)  I and probably other people, think more of people who can change.  Especially doing that in your 50's rather than as a teenager when people are expected to change.  Most people crystallize into their adult form and don't change much after that.  It means you haven't stopped thinking. 

I guess that's why A/N is a good place online:  because a lot of the people here are people who have changed, by dropping a religion. 

I've changed my mind a lot.  Just recently I blogged about how eliminating so many foods I was allergic to may be a lot of why my allergy problems have become so terrible in the last 10 years.  While helping myself, I may also have been harming myself.  I don't feel embarrassed about the idea, actually hopeful that it's true. 




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