What’s in a Word?

I have had this nagging thought bouncing around in my skull for a while now, I thought I’d try and write it down and give a good thinking over. Maybe this will be one of those things that kinda sorts itself out. If I’d just confront it.

What is the word of the day? Atheist. 3 syllables. My loose definition of this word would be: “a person, who through careful consideration of the facts, would deny the existence of a god or gods, because their simply isn’t any convincing evidence to convince one otherwise.”

I doubt many would take issue with that definition, some might I don’t know. Don’t care really. What I want to point out is the way the religious treat the word atheist. For the religious, atheist is a word that is usually spoken as a one syllable utterance, with a particular disgusting and venomous inflection. As if just saying the word speaks of the most vile and hated of society. There is no other word I am aware of except perhaps evolution, that would elicit this kind of response. I understand that evolution is a threat to religion. The many sciences that drive modern biology make no sense without it, and the other modern fields of science are constantly making the gaps for them to hide their gods in smaller every day. But atheist was a defiled word way before evolution came along. Atheist has been around for as long as the most popular religions today. All it means essentially is someone simply doesn’t believe in a god or gods.

What then drives this complete hatred of the word or one associated with it? What is it about an atheist that causes such a deep seated, brutish, animal like, caveman kind of emotion? How could one that does not believe in your gods be such a powerful threat? The atheists I know are probably the most well balanced, honorable, and trustworthy people I have ever met, in person, or on the net. They, we, pose no threat to them personally just because of a lack of belief. Is our lack of belief such a strong influence that it has some negative magical properties that I am unaware of? Does it mean that people who wear the badge of atheist are bad people? Of course not.

Like many things, it just doesn’t make good sense when I think about it, I can’t connect with the root cause of these reactions to to the word atheist. I surely do not respond in kind when I hear someone is religious. I may inwardly shake my head, and quickly look for an excuse to be somewhere else, because I really do not want to hear them rambling on about this (to me) stupid belief in things that do not exist, or those wondrous tales that never could have happened, unless you invoke lots and lots of magic to explain away all of the logical inconsistencies. It is a total waste of my time, when I could be doing something constructive. That is all. I have no desire to drink the friggin kool aid, thank you. But I do not hate and despise someone just because of the fact they may be religious. I would, and do, take an issue with the religious that would spread misinformation, lies, and B.S. about science, or evolution, or stating their personal beliefs as fact, and you will see and hear a lot of this. But I still do not hate the religious, just because they are religious. It takes many other influencing factors for me to even dislike or have reason to disagree with someone religious. I do not carry a deep seated resentment against theists. I think they should be allowed their beliefs and customs. I don’t have a hangup with that.

So I am still left with the question, what is it about the word atheist that gets the religious all worked up? I have to surmise it comes from some tribalistic, non tolerance of anything that is different from them kind of issue. I guess the mere existence of an atheist is a threat to them because it shows a chink in the armor of their own faith. It shows that there are people out there, not like them. That an atheist exists at all means they might be pulled into some atheist vortex if they get too close, that would turn them into murdering, raping, baby eating atheists that will rampage and loot, and burn the countryside as they go. This is such a silly and ill informed thought, it isn’t even in the same book that has the definition of good sense in it.

In the end, I am still left with more questions than answers. I often wonder about this phenomenon, trying to understand the negative impact of a word that simply defines one as a non believer in gods. It just seems like one of the many kinds of crazy that exist out there, that may never be reasonably explained.

12 thoughts on “What’s in a Word?

  1. To me, the word a-theist means only one thing, “A cannibal who feeds on the flesh of Christian infants.” Yum, yum, yum!


    • ๐Ÿ™‚ That is the typical kind of association the religious have with the word. Even I will sometimes make the joke you just did, just because theists make such far fetched accusations, you either need to make a joke about it, or shake your head and walk away. It isn’t worth getting angry over, so the joke is the common retort.

      …so are they better with BBQ sauce, or A-1? Sea salt and butter?

      Thanks for dropping in ACP.


  2. “What then drives this complete hatred of the word or one associated with it?”

    It represent an opposition to everything that they love. It does not surprise me that they hate it. I hate Fascism for the same reason.


    • That is the obvious and simplest answer, I admit it makes the most sense. I still can’t help but feel like there is a deeper primal emotion closer to fear that helps to drive their revulsion to the word. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I have been quite close to church goers, I used to be one (try as I might I just never could get it to take, the inconsistencies in the stories and obvious hypocrytical behaviors mostly pushed me away, I eventuall walked out and never looked back) I have been right there and seen/felt their reactions, yes I get that atheism contradicts everything they love, It just seems like the responses were over reactionary. I mean, I can disagree with some else’s perspective without resorting to hating them over it. I have seen x-ians react in a tone that would reflect a capacity to gun you down in the street for being an atheist. I have as much heard it said. Things like ’round em all up and shoot them” is it not possible to disagree with someone without resorting to this kind of behavior? Am I too damn liberal to be a x-ian? Hell I have heard as much the same kind of reaction to the word liberal. maybe I should move…


      • “I still canโ€™t help but feel like there is a deeper primal emotion closer to fear that helps to drive their revulsion to the word.”

        Xenophobic, perhaps? I think you are right here, and in all honesty, it’s probably a combination of both.


        • Ok, I can buy that. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for helping me think on this one Culpeper. It still nags at me a bit, not fully understanding this, but I can learn to live with it. Some things I guess we are destined to never really know for sure. Kinda like getting shot down by a girl or two in the past, no use asking why, you would never be satisfied with the answers anyway.


  3. I tend to lean towards more of what R.L. Culpeper said to begin with. First of all belief forges neural pathways in the brain, that when reinforced releases dopamine in the brain. Those who believe strongly enough and are less willing to change have become so used to confirming their beliefs and the pleasure it brings them that the thought of thinking any other way actually makes them physically ill. When you couple that with the fact that you are ask them to essentially tear down their entire superego by accepting even a part of what you say is true, this is too much for the psyche to handle. Because accepting they are wrong about something very major in their world view would make them question everything all at once. There is an article referenced in this blog post I made regarding belief and argumentation that you might find interesting about how strong arguments actually give you less chance of changing somebody’s mind. http://cloakunfurled.com/2013/09/01/game-set-and-match/


    • I have been aware of the drug addiction (dopamine release) issue for a long time. I understand how that would help foster a long term religious affiliation for the afflicted.

      Now the part about accepting they might be wrong about one facet of belief, that could perhaps create a domino effect…this would imply that at some level they might be aware that there are some contradictions ready to give way like a trap door if they allowed themselves to think that way, even for an instant…this would be fear. Which would explain a lot. Fear that they may be harboring belief that lies on shaky ground, might explain the over enthusiastic anger response.

      Have yet to read your link, don’t have time atm, will get to it tomorrow. Thanks for dropping by.


      • I agree. I truly believe that fear plays a role, although I am not sure that we make conscious choices necessarily in refusing to accept somebody’s argument. I think it is almost an involuntary response. I think that on some subconscious level are reason center realizes the validity of an argument, but the brain rejects it almost immediately when it causes too strong a change in thinking. I believe there is some neurological evidence to support this.

        I am enjoying your thought provoking posts thus far!


        • I tend to agree that the response lies somewhere between concious and sub concious thought. It appears to be embedded into a deep instinctual region. Such as fear, pain, comfort, discomfort, hot, cold, angry, at ease, etc etc region. Wherever that may be.

          It seems to me, and I am no scientist, that it is a tribal us or them thing. An evolutionary trait even. And consistent with the apparent location in the region noted earlier in this reply.

          If this reaction were located in area of concious thought, where it could be reasoned with, there would be fewer theists I suspect. ๐Ÿ™‚


          • I agree. It is also a function of time. If the brain doesn’t learn to question things early, one is more likely to lean towards the belief system. Yet we all use this system when we are young, because belief and learning are very tied together. Think of how many things you take on faith in your sponge like brain when you’re a kid. It helps you learn a lot of information that would otherwise be painstakingly slow to have to rediscover yourself. But of course it also leaves you as susceptible to misinformation as your to information. So an earlier emphasis on critical thinking in school would be a good thing. ๐Ÿ™‚


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