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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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.

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