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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Kathleen, I don't see argument; your questions move me to think carefully and write clearly. And to use boldface to mark the important words.

As a result of my experience with Catholicism, I see believers in any religion as victims and religious leaders as swindlers.

The dictionary persuades me that when religious leaders teach what they believe is not true, they are swindlers.

My hyper-alertness is another issue and I've written of it in short memoirs.

I learned of it 10 years ago when I read of PTSD. It's said to be the least severe of PTSD's symptoms. Nightmares are said to be PTSD's most severe symptom.

My parents' violence resulted in decades of hyper-alertness.

My parents' violence, Catholicism's demands, and a dream that I was a parent of a large family resulted in one wake-up-scared nightmare.

Quitting Catholicism and resolving, if I married, to have no children kept this nightmare from becoming a reality. I married a woman who, for different reasons, also wanted no children.

About 30 years before I read of PTSD and hyper-alertness, I became active in politics. I didn't know I was using the energy my hyper-alertness gave me. When I finally spoke of it with a therapist, she told me my activism is a good way to deal with it.

I'm also hyper-alert, because of having been abused as a child.  I have the exaggerated startle reflex of abuse survivors too. 

I never got into alcohol but it seems like a big temptation, as a way for chronically keyed-up people to calm down.  I was afraid of becoming an alcoholic so I didn't get into the habit of drinking.

Thanks, Tom. I think we are on the same page. I was confused because when I mentioned having pastors and missionaries in my family, you added nuns and priests and said:

"I'm mighty glad I have none of the above in the family, immediate or extended. I'm free to regard such people as con artists, swindlers, etc."

I thought you felt that all religious leaders are insincere. But I see the pastors, missionaries and Sunday School teachers in my family as true believers, self-sacrificial with their time and money, just to spread what they really believe is "saving grace."

So you would see some religious leaders and teachers as victims too, unless they secretly know better, right? I agree. Religion really is a virus, which makes otherwise good people unknowingly spread fiction, and makes them teach their students to not think.

But at the same time, I'm finding that there are a lot more insincere religious leaders than I thought in the past. I'm wondering, especially in more hierarchical churches, how many at the higher levels really believe at all.

So that's why I was asking what you thought. How can we know? Maybe it doesn't matter anyway. We just have to keep exposing untruth no matter where it comes from: sincere people or swindlers.

I see the pastors, missionaries and Sunday School teachers in my family as true believers, self-sacrificial with their time and money, just to spread what they really believe is "saving grace."

Yes, and isn't illusion part of the human condition? Everyone has illusions, atheists as well as religious people.  Are the religious people wasting their lives - if so, what does it mean to not waste one's life? 

Most I've met who get offended by the mere mention of an Atheist are the types that beat themselves up over "sin". I think it's because of our complete lack of having to feel like we need to live our life according to doctrine that we'll be judged against after our deaths. We're more free than they are in a sense.

There will be little relief in this matter. As an atheist I have accepted that I will have far less friends than the believers. An atheist perhaps should also acknowledge that there will be unjust distrust, dislike and outright hostility and even retribution from believers. The reasons are not merely intellectual, nor only cultural, but clannish and genetic.  We have been bred to believe. very disturbing. my view perhaps, but better a truth without friends than a popular lie. 

Yes, I agree. There is so much more going on than just religious beliefs. It's definitely a tribal type you-are-one-of-us, or you-are-not-one-of-us thinking. I'm not sure people can really help it, unless they recognize it for what it is. It seems to come from our evolutionary past, and some deep part of our brain.

I've always been an independent thinker, but I still felt like "part of the Christian tribe." Facing the loss of that has been one of the hardest things about deconverting. When I first recognized my own delusion, I use to wake up almost every night in a sweaty panic. I would have repeating nightmares about my Christian friends standing around in a circle, angrily staring at me. In my dream I knew I was being "kicked out of the tribe." I was as panicky as someone would be alone out on the savannah, completely vulnerable to predators.

In real life, the Christian friends I've confided in so far (just about loss of faith) have been much more accepting than I expected. But they probably think it's a phase. I haven't come out completely and strongly yet. That will be the real test. I'm expecting that even if my friends try to be "nice," I know it will never be the same. And truthfully, I don't feel the same way about them either.

It's taken me a while, but I have accepted that I will have a lot fewer close friends from now on. That's okay. I love truth enough to sacrifice!

I think a lot of religious people don't literally believe in their religion.  They view the stories etc. as metaphorical. 

They may hope it's true and believe while they're in church or praying - but otherwise, they may admit they don't know if it's true, they can't prove it. 

The real difference between such religious people and atheists doesn't seem to be what they actually believe - but rather, how much they're willing to conform along with other religious people and pretend they believe it, sing the songs etc. 

So it seems like the process you describe of being de-tribed from Christianity is the essence of "becoming an atheist" - at least, for a person who starts out being religious in that "metaphorical religious" or "going with the social flow" way. 

Of course there are also religious people who are seriously convinced, they Know Know Know it's true.  Those people tend to be louder about their religion, so they get noticed. 

Trust me. Your friends do indeed believe that you are going through a "phase." Time to view "dumb things that christians say" on You Tube and be prepared for what follows.

Idk.It does seem perplexing.

Throughout grade school, i was raised a christian. And of course, we were taught that t godless, and t gays and such were all going to hell. The bible is big on having no other gawds befor Jehovah. That dictate seems to assume that even idolators believe in some gawd. That anyone wouldn't have any god seems beyond their ken, except that I know that at least once, t bible calls all us unbelievers fools for not believing in any god.

And, if I recall,Sam Harris did some mri imaging study where he saw that some people's god beliefs are almost as central to their core identity as any belief that they have.

The negative image has largely changed for gays. I assume it will change for us asp as our numbers are growing so fast so long as enuf of us are open and out of t closet about our atheism.

Did you tell her atheists are not "angry at God" but at the susceptibility of many people to believe he exists? I have believer friends who know I am an atheist and when they pray before a meal titter at the notion a heathen is in their presence. It does not bother me. I only smile and let it go. In fact, when they meet for holidays and pray before the big meal, they do a hand holding thing and I join in just to be polite. I do not think about the prayer or even pretend to be praying. Sometimes I glance at their 11-year-old girl and she smiles at me. It makes me wonder if she's in on the joke. More and more people are in on the joke. It's going to take a few generations, but we will be caught up with Europe by the 22nd century I think.

"More and more people are in on the joke. It's going to take a few generations, but we will be caught up with Europe by the 22nd century I think."

I think it might be faster than that. The internet, with all the online lectures, discussions, research, and books that are so easily available, is a game changer.

I was the last person who I ever thought would give up my faith. I'm in a Recovering from Religion group and we all feel that same way. It's the really serious believers who find out first that it's all a house of cards. I've also found out in discussing my "doubt" with Christian friends, that a lot of believers are secretly teetering. I think it's going to spread faster than you think.

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