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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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.

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.

That sounds true, but where did you get this observation from? 

What an awful position for someone to be in - a real mindfuck.  And it seems like it could mess with someone's sense of reality in other ways. 

Actually from personal observation—conversations over the years with different former believers, admittedly not the evangelistic, ultra-conservative types. I wanted to know how they came to reject their previous creeds and often they told me they had gone through a long period of avoiding thinking about the discrepancies because they wanted to hold onto something. I don't have a survey to cite, but it would be an interesting subject for one.

People do that on all levels: e.g. someone tells you there are insects in your wardrobe. You know you should act quickly, but you're busy, so you try not to see the problem, or you explain it away.

It's not peculiar to believers, we all act like this at times.

Religion is a mindfuck unless you're running a country, in which case it's useful.

Yeah, there's a bit of plagiarism there.

Rich folks know the truth of Bonaparte's words.

Metaphor-warning: In what follows, the term "height of the fence" is a metaphor for the many ways of protecting real property or those who live on the property.

According to a story in the San Jose Mercury-News several decades ago, this is the reason you can often estimate wealth by the height of the fence around a residential property. The story resulted from a reporter's visit to a prosperous community near San Jose.

A sociologist once told me a purpose of the middle class: it protects the upper class from the lower class  In the US of A, another form of protection is the increasingly militarized police forces described in recent news stories.

Atheists angry at god?  I would have sent her a link to Greta Christina's Skepticon talk about "why atheists are so angry".  And explained to the person that it's hard to be angry at something that we don't believe exists!    Our media really does a number on people by redefining terms and repeating lies over and over until, in some peoples eyes, they become the truth. Like the "atheism is a religion" thing?!?! They have redefined that word and many others to become trigger words. They use them over and over and associate negative ideas, stories and visuals with them. Then as soon as they are spoken, like you said mimicking Pavlov's dog, the intended reaction occurs. For many years, the highest paid consultants in media, advertising, HR, government, and intelligence have been psychologists.  Research Edward Bernays (Freud's nephew) and Walter Lippmann and a BBC special, you can now find online, called Century of the Self.

Deidre, that is so very true!

...the world with its bigotry, oppression, wars, greed, etc...you wonder where are all these religious folks who should be striving to end all of that?

Those religious folks use various beliefs to protect themselves, such as the belief that folks are poor because they have been sinful.

I might be wrong but I understand that to be a Presbyterian belief. The Hindi(?) belief that people can improve their lot in successive lives serves a similar purpose.

It's one of Catholicism's advantages that its apologists have had almost 2K years to develop explanations for such phenomena, and why it's so hard a religion to quit on solely intellectual grounds.

I know a few "really-odd" aged Catholics.

One of them teased me with the line "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic." I told him I had heard the line "Once a priest, always a priest" but I'd never heard the line he used. He wouldn't quit so I decided to observe him more closely, a task made easy because we were both officers in a Toastmasters club.

In a short time his behavior showed me a reply, "Once a Catholic, always helpless." I laid it on him and he stopped using his line.

Gut reactions of theists at large. What? You are an ATHEIST! Well you have to believe in "something!"

One of my favorite arguments, which keeps coming up over and over, is something like this:

You believe there's no God

Therefore you have belief.

Therefore you have faith.

Therefore you're not really an atheist.

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