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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they sometimes top and sometimes bottom.

Can't say I've been in either position and while I don't see—off the top of my head— an easy way to find alternate terminology, I would recommend it—from the bottom of my heart.

And the top of the morning to you.

I have always been interested in the poor of a population. I guess it was because my family was at the bottom of the heap after the Great Depression started when my grandfather lost everything, business, machines, trucks, home and retained only their furniture and clothes. I was born into this. My father and mother couldn't find work, until one day Morrison Knudson came to the small farming community where we lived and recruited able bodied, farming, young men to work to build a railroad across the southern tier of the U.S. so they could transport men and material across the country in preparation for the coming war. Mom and Dad and a lot of my uncles and aunts jumped at the chance and our family moved to the site in Nevada where the railroad was progressing. We lived in migrant worker camps and there were families from all over the country. There were Oakies, Arkies, quite a few from the northwest and midwest. A lot of Mexicans were in those camps.

The men would come into camp after work, covered with sweat, dirt, and went into the common shower where they sang robustly, laughed hard, and we heard the POP when someone snapped a towel on the other. 

We kids all played together, sang and danced to the music of the spoons, kettles, and a few horns and string instruments. We kids all ate in each others's camps and tasted a wide variety of delicious food that was very different from my eastern Washington state foods. We laughed and cried and bonded as very good friends. 

All of us were dirt poor, we had to wear hand-me-downs and shoes with holes in the soles. If anyone had something, we all shared. They all wanted a better life and were willing to work for it. We kids all knew to behave because our parents worked so hard and didn't have time to put up with nonsense. We all had our work to do and no grumbling was allowed. 

So, when I see a poor person, who seems depressed, helpless, hopeless, down and out, with head hung low, I remember times when my parents and the men and women of the labor camps felt that way. The poor who see no hope of any improvement give up trying to improve their lot. Some turn to drink and drugs and slide farther down into the black hole. 

Sure some are permanently poor because of attitude. With no jobs, a failing safety net, few opportunities they either don't know about or don't want to know, they don't pull their lives together. What is a society to do in such events? 

Some try to get out of the hole, and a lot of them miss opportunities when they come by. Some don't get a free public education when they could; others don't learn skills that need to be done to maintain a lifestyle; many are too old, young, sick, or handicapped to be able to care for themselves. What is a society to do such events? 

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I like what Hubert Humphrey said:

The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life -- the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.

My mother disliked my father's sister's family intensely because they were poor and not well-mannered. She did nothing against them, but she kept me away from them. My father's sister and her husband died in their 50's from breast cancer and alcoholism.

My grandmother raised the remaining three of their six children and my father helped without ever telling my mother. When my father died, they all came to the funeral and I caught up with their stories. They had all turned out well —hardworking family people with good values and kind hearts. They were enormously grateful to my father for what he did. I was glad to know them at last.

It doesn't always turn out badly for poor people. Many go on to good productive lives even though their origins are not promising. It only takes one or two people who care and help them.

Allan, that is a lovely story, and I am certain that their appreciation of your father felt valuable to you.

No, it doesn't always turn out badly for poor people. When people are down, sometimes it is because of something beyond their control. An illness perhaps, or accident, and sometimes political conditions are such that many have trouble making a living. All the great depressions of the past 200 years were events that ruined innocent people, financially. Many were able to recover in their generation, many were not. 

The fact that your grandmother and father were able to raise those children is an example of a family being able to pick up the loose ends. Does not government have a role in providing a safety net in such circumstances? 

And it did in this case too. Their father's death entitled them to Social Security benefits accrued during his time working. It wasn't much, but it was a great help.

What is a society to do?

Some of us vote for too-stingy Repubs and some of us vote for too-generous Dems, so society alternates between policies that are either too-stingy or too-generous.

With belief systems, aka ideologies, many of us protect ourselves from feeling the results.

Empathy is sometimes a heavy burden.

Yes, Empathy hurts. Life hurts. There is within most of us a spark that feels joy and pain with another. It is deeper than compassion, it is feeling with another. Isn't that one of the gifts of our nature?

In the days before government social programs churches and neighbors bore the burden of caring for those who could not care for themselves. When a whole community suffered a disaster there wasn't much help from anywhere else and people suffered and died.

If an atheist waited for a church to step in and help us we would starve to death.

I like your story Joan.

Atheism is taken by some as a total rejection of a whole system of values which they believe gives meaning to their lives. In many cases they themselves suspect that the traditional beliefs are not true or even sensisble, but they don't like to be put in a position where they have to recognize that suspicion. It's like telling someone their spouse is having an affair. They may know it, but admitting it requires them to act on their knowledge and they are not quite prepared to do that.

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