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 friend was one of the reasons I started really questioning my faith.

Does she know this?  Perhaps it would conflict with her generalizations about atheists if she did. 

Ooh, good point. I don't think she does. I'll bring that up with her, very carefully.

I see this but to the theist you have to be "angry at god" because they secretly believe that you do believe in god whether you claim to or not.

You should have told her that one can't be angry and not believe in god at the same time.

I actually did. I even used the Zeus analogy. I told her I just think we are alone. That doesn't make me angry at anyone. She just changed the subject, and very quickly.

I'm realizing she simply can't deal with this. I'm not fully out yet, and this makes me nervous for the future because I thought she was one of my safe friends.

There is a secret that few talk about. There is no such thing as safety. It is an illusion hoped for but an unwise belief, just as god is an unwise belief, or Jesus, or the bible. 

That is the bad news. The good news is you have today, you are awake and breathing and seeing and hearing and tasting, and smelling the fragrances around you and feeling. That is the thing that is so full of wonder! I exist; so do you. Now, what are you and I going to do with this great fact? Be mad, sad, afraid, guilty, ashamed, or grateful? 

It is curious, isn't it?  I was having lunch with a friend and mentioned casually in the context of our conversation that I've been a lifelong atheist, though I didn't always know that there was a word for it.  I thought that she was going to choke on her sandwich!  She asked, "How can you say that?"  I'd have been more impressed if she had instead asked, "Why do you think that?"

This is a dear and valued friend, though I've only known her for a couple of years.  She's a smart middle-aged lesbian, and fairly hostile to the church.  But she's a believer and even feels that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but that some churchmen misinterpret parts of it.  She was raised in a strict, backward, even abusive Southern Baptist tradition.  Though she rejects the church that rejects her, she can't get past the tenets that it instilled in her.  She's since quipped, laughingly, "Well, of course we're both going to hell anyway". 

I find it sad that a smart person that I care about is trapped by an imagined authority implanted in her mind when she was too young to reason and now is too hooked to break free (though I have hope).  As someone who grew up in the Jim Crow south and experienced the effects of the dominant Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, I understand how unexamined prejudices are perpetuated when left unchallenged, and often even strengthen when they are.  When I was a little kid one of my aunts slapped me when I mentioned that Great Grandma was a Cherokee.  Apparently, we weren't supposed to mention that!  Her father (my beloved Grandfather) had been denied an education because the county classified him as "colored" and his racist father wouldn't let him attend the "nigra" school.

And so we pass these knee-jerk prejudices across generations when we avoid stopping to think about whether they make any sense.  And in 2014 we still have good people who experience revulsion when someone identifies as "atheist".  I imagine them subconsciously imagining a horned, red skinned demon trying to snatch their babies, and this setting off an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance when that image attaches to someone that they know and like.

Me, I'm not "angry at God" any more than I'm angry at Hollywood.  I might be a little angry that pi can't be numerically resolved, but realize that such is an irrational :) prejudice.

}}}}

She's since quipped, laughingly, "Well, of course we're both going to hell anyway".

Yes, it's very sad that someone would take on the "you're bad" messages from their religion, for something innocent like their sexuality. 

I had a very Christian friend when I was in my 20's.  I made friends with him partly because I wanted what he had - although later I found it without taking on miraculous beliefs.  I was brought up in a non-religious family, so I didn't have that intense religious indoctrination that a lot of people on A/N have. 

But all the same, I felt like he was "good" and I was "bad", and he thought I couldn't be a good person without being religious.  It echoed the messages of wrongness and badness that I had been brought up with.  He was delusional - he believed that God was arranging day by day for support checks to arrive just when he needed them.  But even though I never believed this, I didn't put it to myself that way.  His "goodness" and my "badness" prevented that.  Looking back, his "goodness" vs my "badness" seems to have been created by the messages of his religion and my abusive family, not anything real. 

not anything real

And there's the crux.  We imagine these things into being and then torture ourselves over them.  What's the flippin' point?  Are we so removed from actual things about which to feel angst now that most of our Malthusian needs are met that we have to make up shit to feel ashamed about, and then project it onto others?  We're social animals like wolves and termites, and so need to feel that others of our pack are connected to us.  If we feel anxiety, it's comforting to think that our hive mates feel it too.  It's delusional to believe that we can will ourselves to escape these responses, but reasonable to think that we can recognize and moderate them in ways that make sense in a civilized society.  If we just ignore them, we leave open the door for those unconscious responses to adversely affect society, as with the current spate of 'religious freedom' bills in some states.  If we're to continue to evolve our social relationships we must accept that we respond emotionally and intuitively to change, and then try to rationally determine how to deal with it.

}}}}

We imagine these things into being and then torture ourselves over them.  What's the flippin' point?

The point of my parents scapegoating me as bad was to have a vent for their anger.  If people want to preserve a relationship but they're angry within it, they are very likely to take the anger out on something outside them.  Also they didn't want to feel bad themselves, and labeling me as bad helped them avoid that.  Then as an adult, I re-created that same feeling in the relationship with my Christian friend, without even realizing what I was doing.  That's what people who were abused tend to do. 

It's helped me actually, to see the challenges that atheists make to the "we are good" ideas of religious people. 

There's still good and evil without religion, but they don't seem particularly to align with religion.  Someone might legitimately feel bad or good about something they did, a feeling coming from their true values. 

Whew! Thanks Laura for that story.  I have a hard time relating with people who experienced abusive childhoods -- I just don't have an experiential correlate.  Oh Mom made me read the Bible (You needn't be pious but you shouldn't be ignorant."), and Dad was kind of an asshole, but they never even implied that they expected me to believe what they did, much less project their beliefs onto me or my siblings.  They, in their very different ways, felt that independent thought was more important than imposed belief, and I loved them for that.

It's good to hear that you ultimately benefitted from recognizing that attempt at indoctrination for what it was -- a desperate try by your parents to mold you as an idealized version of them.  This is probably far more common than I realize, and it makes me worry for the home-schooled children of my religious friends.

}}}}

a desperate try by your parents to mold you as an idealized version of them.  This is probably far more common than I realize, and it makes me worry for the home-schooled children of my religious friends.

That's what my father was doing, and he did home-school us - in addition to regular school, not instead of it! 

My mother more used me to take out her anger on, since she didn't want to be married to my father.  It's the same mechanism for a lot of prejudice - project the anger out when it would be a problem to change the situation.  The same way that Jewish people were victimized by the Christian majority, probably the same way that black people carry all sorts of negative stuff - literally, the black sheep!  It also motivates terrorism - blame the USA for a country's problems. 

I'm actually very averse to social dependency, being influenced by people, having had such horrible experiences with being under someone's influence - held hostage.  When I do get influenced it doesn't work out, since other people don't know what I need to do, I do! 

I suppose atheists serve in that same scapegoated-outsider role to religious people. 

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