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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I admire my believing friends, and I've chosen them as friends for their character, not their beliefs.

Kathleen, those words brought back a memory. Catholicism (12 years in Catholic schools and churches) caused me so much pain, that when I quit (while in college) I resolved to leave so completely that fear of uncertainty would not drive me back. This took a while and I wondered if I would find people I could trust.

Agnosticism met my needs and in time I learned to trust myself. This enabled me to reverse the damage Catholicism had done and I became able to evaluate whether I could trust the people I met. After 50-plus years of happy agnosticism, I came out as an atheist.

How do I deal with xians?

Research I've seen says a "tit-for-tat" exchange resolves conflict quickly. The assertiveness it requires leaves me feeling good.

Polite xians hear a polite response, usually "If I hadn't been in Catholic schools for 12 years I might still believe there's a god." They understand.

Impolite xians hear a usually polite "Religion is the world's biggest fraud!"

Kathleen, we said somewhat the same thing but in different words.

...I've chosen [believers] as friends for their character,....

I wondered if I would find people I could trust.

I grew up in an occasionally violent home; what follows might not apply to you.

Feeling unable to trust non-Catholics made a wary distrust necessary. Some political activity in the 1970s helped me learn the self-trust I mentioned above. About 20 years later (at 70) I read about post-traumatic stress and realized that my wariness had been like the hyper-alertness that is the mildest form of pts. My hyper-alertness has given me the energy to continue my activism. There are some wonderful people working against the corruption in the two parties.

I'm still a bit confused, Tom. So are you saying your hyper-alertness makes you suspicious of the sincerity or goodness of every religious believer?

But just because someone believes something that is not true, do you think that makes them corrupt personally?

I'm not arguing. I'm truly interested.

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.


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