Why are the religious folks disturbed by non-believers?

I was wrong. I used to think that ignorance of the scientific origins of the universe, life and mankind was behind the faith of the believers. And I used to recommend to my fellow atheists & Secular humanists that they should read the introductory literature on cosmology, astrophysics, evolutionary biology, anthropology & Evolutionary psychology so that they can convince the believers of the natural causes of origins (Universe, Life & Man) & hence persuade them to stop believing in these imaginary gods.

But I have now discovered that it is not so simple.

Realize what it is you do when you attack religion. Contrary to what it seems, you are actually not attacking somebody’s view of how the universe, life & man came to exist. In my experience most believers like my beloved wife Prema, are not that curious about how the universe happened, whether it was produced by the Big Bang, by some Gods or by the fart of some giant cosmic turtle. As long as they are here, alive and kicking and full of hope, all is well.

Fear of Death & Oblivion
What you are actually telling them when you criticize their religion and the existence of their God is that they will not survive their own death. You are proposing another model in which they die into nothingness at the end of the story. This is totally unacceptable to them. Each time I hear scientists talk about God and the universe or the absence of God in the universe, it’s always to debate how the universe started. Never to wonder whether or not ‘little me’ will survive my own death.

A believer’s problem is not so much “no God, no universe” but “no God, no soul, no afterlife, I fade to eternal blackness, end of the party, my party”. What you attack when you attack people’s God is not a God that created a universe. You attack the God that will give them eternal life. What is at the center of religion is really the survival, forever, of the believer. No religious person would worship a God who created a universe in which humans did not have a soul that survived death.

That’s why religion is always off limits for discussion. You can argue as much as you want about astrophysics and how the universe came into being. But you simply can’t go around telling people that they don’t have a soul that survives death and that they will end into nothingness.

Need for community & social support
Also, despite their differing creeds, all religions are alike in that they give their adherents a sense of community, of belonging, and of identity: a social support structure, if you will. Atheists have nothing comparable, and this is easily interpreted as a statement that people may not need the structure of religion to survive in this world.

This is what angers and upsets believers who encounter atheists. They have devoted so much of their lives to their support structure, and their identity is so intimately bound up with it, that meeting a person who needs none of those things is naturally threatening to them, because it suggests that all their effort was unnecessary, even wasted. And from there, it is only a small step to the conclusion that atheists must think them deficient in intelligence not to have seen the better way, if there is one.

In my experience, even people who care nothing for dogma and doctrine, who disagree with their religious leadership on virtually every issue, often react with anger or incredulity to the suggestion that they leave their religion, because they have been brought up in it and participated in it for so long that it has become an indispensable part of how they see themselves.

This hypothesis explains why believers are generally not offended by the existence of other believers: even if two groups of theists differ drastically about their actual beliefs, each can see that the other group provides its members with the same kind of social structure that their own religion provides them. In its way, this is a tacit affirmation that belonging to religious groups is normal and desirable and is how human beings are meant to live, and therefore reassuring.

But the existence of atheists threatens to wreck this whole gentleman's agreement, and so it is no surprise that theists mistrust and fear us. They are offended and angered not so much by what we say or do, but by what we represent.

End Note
So it is not the lack of literacy in the above cited scientific domains that creates gullible believers but lack of self-reliance, inquisitiveness & the raw courage to face life's vicissitudes and its trials & tribulations without the help of sky daddies & mommies. All these traits become a part of our personality if we were lucky enough to have had parents who encouraged us to be curious & didn't discourage our questioning, nurtured a sense of self-esteem & self-reliance in us and didn't discourage independent thinking. But the sad reality is that most parents are too preoccupied with their own careers, health issues & interpersonal conflicts to be role-models for their kids. Hence the limited number of contrarians in our society and the proliferation of credulous believers!

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Comment by Joan Denoo on June 5, 2017 at 2:54pm

Loren and Richard, I very much like Loren's responses; he explains belief powerfully and how it is beneficial to religions' cause to indoctrinate children beginning at an early age. Adults hear the stories of human's relationship to god, the hellfire and eternal life of suffering. I especially like Loren's statement, "they’ve been fooled most or all their lives by the truth-speak peddled by the charlatans in robes, starting the cognitive dissonance between dictate and reality inside them"!
Another thing I like about Loren's response is his calling attention to "control." Religious institutions and individuals have the mandate to recruit new members. Using fear as a control mechanism is only one of the methods used to recruit others into the fold. "God loves you' touches that lonely spot that many people experience.
I don't "try" to change anyone. I live my life in ways that seem appealing to others, and some join me in life's journey. Some leave and go their way. I have no right to control anyone except myself.

Comment by Joan Denoo on June 5, 2017 at 1:37pm

"how do we convince the believer what has been ingrained from early youth?"

Richard, do you want to be addressed by this name or do you have another one for friends?

As to your question, I always write my response before reading others' because I want to know if my point of view matches or conflicts with others. If there is a difference, we have a chance to discuss the differences. My goal is not to win in conflicts, but to find common ground. 

Now, back to your question. You don't! You live your life fully aware that you have differences and the goal is to find common ground. Agreeing to disagree is a satisfactory answer. Sometime I change my mind and am grateful for being able to get better clarity with more information. Sometimes, others change their mind. Remember, this is not a win/lose situation; a win/win means everyone had their say in the matter, everyone has common information, and each is free to think about it, and follow his or her best wisdom. 

Comment by Loren Miller on June 5, 2017 at 7:54am

Pardon my "holding forth" here but, considering the question, there's something I wrote back in my nascent atheist days of 2010 which may help illuminate things here a bit:

Among the other things which have been discussed here regarding the negative connotation associated with atheism, I think there is one more which hasn’t yet been mentioned.  One of the terms we like to use in lieu of “atheist” is “free-thinker.”  Consider the implications of that term.  Not only do we disavow belief in any deity, we also disavow the propaganda promulgated by said deity.  We are not under the influence of priest, pastor, rabbi or imam.  We don’t subscribe to their dictated morals or even to any portion of their holy books.  We reject their pat answers as simplistic and incomplete.  Indeed, we prefer to get our own answers.

The magic word here, in my humble opinion, is “control.”  We are not in the thrall of someone pretending to either speak for a deity or correctly interpret his/her/its holy writ.  To use one of Guy Fieri’s favorite terms, we’re “off the hook” … which must confound those who are so used to being ON that hook … and disconcert the crap out of those who may presume to exercise that control with their sermons and homilies.  We’re rogues, revolutionaries, and iconoclasts to that mindset, and what we’re about borders on inconceivable to them.  Further, some of their number may, in some corner of their minds, begin to recognize that there may truly be something to what we espouse, that they’ve been fooled most or all their lives by the truth-speak peddled by the charlatans in robes, starting the cognitive dissonance between dictate and reality inside them.

That doesn’t just make us oddballs or eccentric in their eyes.  It makes us a threat to them, to the artificial belief and authority which is the entire structure of what makes their religions work.  That we are and that we do not believe as they do threatens to pull a comforting reality down around their ankles, and that scares the whee out of them.

We’re DANGEROUS … and they don’t like it.

Comment by Loren Miller on June 5, 2017 at 5:48am

Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death. This leads to endless invention of religions.
-- Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

The above certainly is a truism, but it doesn't state the entirety of the case.  What Heinlein doesn't mention is FEAR, most particularly fear of death, of the end of existence.  Out of that fear comes the desire to perpetuate human existence past the grave.  In large portion, THAT is what spawns religion, and with it, even MORE fear.  Now, though, we're talking about fear of the very thing we created to avoid the foundational fear: fear of god, of displeasing him, of his punishment and, of course, of hell.

The additional problem is that none of these fears make any sense to someone who has their intellect engaged, who sees the lack of evidence for the god or his machinations and calls bullshit.  This necessitates indoctrination before the ability to reason comes to dominance, which is why religion is drilled into children at an age sufficiently young to supposedly insure its maintenance within the human psyche.  The environment still manages to provide plenty of sources of cognitive dissonance to challenge this brainwashing, mostly in the form of a marked dearth of evidence for the proposed god and the existence of other belief systems which, in places, disagree considerably with the local superimposed faith.

Most if not all of us already know this, but it bears repeating, because irrationality feeds off of more irrationality, and that is the cycle which must be broken if people are to be led out of it.

Comment by Richard M. Thomas on June 5, 2017 at 12:44am

I remember Epicurus dealt with this. I took a class called Human Destiny at OU when I was in college. Death being Human Destiny. It was a philosophy course. Very enlightening. There was a Christian girl who dropped the class I remember, she asked the professor Dr. Im, if we were going to talk about God, and he said "Oh you mean the triple-O God," as in the letter O. He continued and said how he found the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent God to be boring. The poor girl started crying. Anyhow, later in the course Dr. Im, who I became friends with, he was 10 years older than me, -He lectured on what Epicurus said that since death is the cessation of existence you shouldn't fear it. Perhaps, the Christian girl might have learned this if she would have stayed. Oh well:)

Comment by kathy: ky on June 5, 2017 at 12:17am
I've always maintained that it's fear of death. What I don't understand is why believers fear it? Fear of hell keeps many pretending to believe. Fear of the unknown keeps others.
Religion,imho, is nothing but a power and money grab. That's the way religion started and the way it continues.
The most puzzling aspect, to me,is why death is looked on as such a horrible thing. We get old. Our bodies wear out. For many of us our brains cease to function correctly or cease to function completely. I find the thought of death more comforting than living with Alzheimer's or dementia with a body that refuses to work.
Comment by Richard M. Thomas on June 5, 2017 at 12:10am

i wrote a poem about 20 years ago called Rite and it says that I am an atheist Christian how religion tattoos a child, I think what I meant was that it is instilled through fear at such a young age that it traumatizes you not to believe anything else outside of it. Anyhow, I enjoyed your blog. The question I want to ask people is how do we convince the believer what has been ingrained from early youth? I think we just have to keep the conversation going and include the believer wherever and whenever he or she can be persuaded to the truth.

Comment by Paul Michaelson on May 24, 2017 at 6:47pm

I believe you are correct about the fear of death. What amazes me is how arrogant the idea of non-terminal life is. Why when we live in a universe with constantly increasing entropy that has an arrow of time should we live forever when nothing else does? Even the universe itself will probably die in the heat death or the "big rip" as it is called. It may be eternal but why should an individual organism be eternal? When I read the bible it screams fear of death to me. The fear of death is a human trait. That is easy to see and easy to demonstrate. I feel sorry for theists. They are all afraid. It's a horrible thing to live in fear. It easy to say but they should just give it up.

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 24, 2017 at 2:40pm

Why are the religious folks disturbed by non-believers?

Posted by V.N.K.Kumar on May 23, 2017 

My Notes: 

A believer’s problem is if there is “no God, then there is no soul, no afterlife, One dies into eternal blackness, end of the party, my party”.  

When I attack the God that will give them eternal life, the survival, forever, of the believer, I create a situation that no religious person wants, a God who created a universe in which humans did not have a soul that survived death.

“Religion is always off limits for discussion." 

I can argue as much as I want about science, geology, biology, and how the universe came into being. But I simply can’t go around telling people that they don’t have a soul that survives death and that they will turn into nothing. 

Nothing: “vital intangibles at the very heart of reality, a grand triumph for nothing”*.

Brian Greene, Nothingness: Why nothing matters: Our pursuit of naug...

My End Note

Life circumstances made it necessary I question attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions, and values of my family, religion, education, and community. I learned how to think critically and independently.  I learned how to step out of the role of being woman in a male dominated society. I needed skills of independence, self-reliance, courage, and power. Oh! how the institutions of my culture resisted my changes!

Comment by Michael Penn on May 24, 2017 at 7:27am

I think I can agree with just about every word that you have written here. Deep down theists might agree also but they cannot allow themselves to admit it. Too many continue to see everything as an "either/or" situation when it comes to faith issues.

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