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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No I haven't shared my story, not yet. Thanks for thinking it might be interesting.

You've made thoughtful observations about deconversion already, that's why I thought the whole story would be interesting.

I was thinking how utterly ridiculous it was for me to believe that I had a personal line to any god that could be capable of understanding the distances, much less creating the mass of the universe!
The funny thing is, I don't find that belief ridiculous. Once Dawkins in a video said something similar - like, look at how huge it all is, and that God would be watching over believers' credit card balances or their spiritual state or whatever, is ridiculous ...

And to me that statement went thunk.  Because consciousness really is special.  That the universe, in us, would have become self aware ... That is incredible!  Conscious evolved beings may be very rare in our universe.  And the physical laws of our universe that make consciousness possible, may also be very rare. 

This is one of the reasons it's so hard to deconvert. It's just so damn embarrassing!

Not at all, Kathleen :)  I and probably other people, think more of people who can change.  Especially doing that in your 50's rather than as a teenager when people are expected to change.  Most people crystallize into their adult form and don't change much after that.  It means you haven't stopped thinking. 

I guess that's why A/N is a good place online:  because a lot of the people here are people who have changed, by dropping a religion. 

I've changed my mind a lot.  Just recently I blogged about how eliminating so many foods I was allergic to may be a lot of why my allergy problems have become so terrible in the last 10 years.  While helping myself, I may also have been harming myself.  I don't feel embarrassed about the idea, actually hopeful that it's true. 

Thanks Luara, that's encouraging. Changing your whole worldview in middle age, after you have invested a lifetime and raised your children in that worldview, is the ultimate U-turn! For me, it actually led to a type of mental and emotional meltdown over a period of months.

I'm doing better, but I'm still not ready to pay the full price - the upcoming pity and misunderstanding of religious friends and family, including the inevitable distance it will cause between us. That is one of the reasons I'm not fully out yet, and why this site has been helpful to me. I feel safe here. It's like swimming in reason.

The friend I mentioned at the start of this discussion was one of the few people in my life that I thought would accept me and understand!

The friend I mentioned at the start of this discussion was one of the few people in my life that I thought would accept me and understand!

It sounds like she is reacting to the "angry atheist" stereotype - the guy (usually a guy) who goes around trying to corner believers with Bible contradictions, who hates religion, talks a lot about pedophile priests, etc. etc. 

That stereotype is different from just saying that you don't believe in God.  If you had told your friend you had been to a meeting with some nonreligious people, likely that would have provoked no reaction from her.  There are lots and LOTS of people who don't believe in God, who don't fit that stereotype. 

It isn't so much about what kinds of people are atheists (=nonbelievers) in other words.  The stereotype is about people who call  themselves atheists, for whom being atheist is a large part of their identity.  People who are anti-religious rather than just not believing. 

I don't mean to pass judgement on anti-theism.  A/N has a lot of anti-religious talk as you've probably noticed :) and I don't categorically disagree with it.   

So your friend may still continue to be your friend and may not be casting judgement on you.  After all, you don't seem much like that atheist stereotype either :)

Haha thanks, yeah I usually don't fit in anybody's stereotype.

I think I'll start using the label "nonreligious" at least around certain people. That is definitely less threatening. The word "atheist" somehow connotes the idea of aggressiveness to some people, even though I know better.

It's frustrating to have to watch my wording so that someone doesn't jump on me. I'm not very good at it.

So do you feel angry about it?  Was anger part of your meltdown? 

Sometimes with a religious friend, they are hoping to convert you and they go away once they give up.  So I guess you might have to brace for tons of chaos and disruption. 

In some situations - e.g. when I'm teaching - I say that I'm a humanist. People could work out from that that I'm a horrible atheist, but they never do. They're content with the label I show them.

"Because consciousness really is special.  That the universe, in us, would have become self aware ... That is incredible!  Conscious evolved beings may be very rare in our universe."

I just read a "ex-timony" just this morning by Steve Locks on the Leaving Christianity website. He speaks of the idea of consciousness as adding to his road out of religion. You might enjoy this:

It struck me suddenly that to be such a deeply conscious aware human being in life and then to "not exist" is a far more powerful thing than an afterlife or anything God could do. The heroism and tragedy of human life which is so marvellous and yet is capable of ending had a very big impact on me. It was partly the feeling that the universe had created something greater than itself - conscious, aware, striving man who is doomed after a short spell of the miracle of awareness to complete oblivion. The power and impact of such a thought (this is the important bit of the experience that really got me thinking) was completely lost if God existed, or was even thought to exist, which really struck me as remarkable.

Steve Locks' full story HERE.

YES!  I am angry with god! I'm also angry at Santa and the Easter Bunny.

While quitting Catholicism in college I visited the student atheist club and heard people saying they "knew" there was no god. I was majoring in math, and for me "knowledge" required evidence. They had none and I chose agnosticism.

Fifty five years later I realized that no thunderbolts had provided evidence and I climbed down from what some people (militants, I suppose) call a fence. I'd been too busy and too happy to concern myself with what anyone called it.

I had come to see both major political parties as about equally corrupt and so was an independent voter. In 1974 I ran in a Republican primary for a legislative seat. I did well but the incumbent won. When President Reagan invited xian fundamentalists to join the Repub Party, I resolved to not vote Repub again until they left. I became, and still am, a church/state separation activist.

Someday, but not during my lifetime, religious education will be seen as child abuse and made unlawful.


Just say the word A THE IST! Isn't that a beautiful sound. Notice how the lips form a smile at the beginning with the A, a pleasant tongue to the teeth with THE, and a delightful sssttt sound at the end with the ist! 

It sounds like a beautiful word, a great word to say first thing in the morning and the last word from a mouth before sleep. 

May you each have an atheist day!

Very zenlike, isn't it. 

What's the sound of no hands clapping?

It is a beautiful sound Joan, and a beautiful thought.  Thanks you.  I'm saving it.


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