Wednesday, May 06, 2015

New study says that Atheists terrify believers because "they threaten the comforting narratives that make the thought of death bearable."

Courtesy of Pacific Standard:  

Even as an increasing number of Americans declare their disbelief in God, the nation as a whole continues to hold a dim view of atheists, in large part due to non-believers' perceived lack of morality. However dubious its premise, the assertion "There is no good without God" reflects a widely held mindset. 

But it turns out that's not the whole story. Newly published research finds another dynamic driving antagonism toward atheists: They threaten the comforting narratives that gives meaning to so many people's lives, and make the thought of death bearable. 

Humans instinctively search for ways of "mitigating the potential terror arising from the uniquely human awareness of death," writes a research team led by psychologist Corey Cook of the University of Washington-Tacoma. Atheists "pose a fundamental threat" to the belief systems that perform this vital function. 

Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the researchers report "hostility toward, and mistrust of, atheists is particularly pronounced when existential concerns are involved." Even more tellingly, they also find that "among believers, the mere contemplation of atheism can arouse intimations of mortality."

In other words the very idea that there are those who are living their lives fully aware of their own mortality, and requiring no comforting stories of an afterlife in order to function, anger and frighten those who require those comforts in order to get through each day.

I have actually seen this myself.

I have, at various times in my life, introduced myself to religious people as either an agnostic, an Atheist, or a Taoist.

If I say I am a Taoist they are usually put at ease and express interest in learning more about my "faith."

If I claim the label of "agnostic" they become parental and imagine that I have merely lost my way and suggest that if I read the "good book," or attend services, I will return to faith.

However if I mention that I am an Atheist, even in a non-threatening offhand manner, they immediately demonstrate suspicion and will often finish the conversation quickly and walk away, or aggressively challenge my "ignorance."

To be honest that last one has not happened in more than a decade. I am an excellent debater and can leave my opponents bloodied and mentally exhausted.

That of course is why I feel it so important to always identify myself as an Atheist.

Not only is it completely disconcerting to the faithful, but to do anything else would demonstrate a lack of courage on my part.

In my opinion the Atheist is the most courageous human on the planet.  A man or woman who walks through life fully aware that the sands of time are running out on their existence, yet rising each morning to greet day, not with despair for how little time remains, but with hope in their hearts for all they might accomplish before the end, is someone to be admired.

How can one argue that the Atheist soldier is not far more courageous than his Christian counterpart who believes that God watches over him, and that his death will merely usher in the beginning of a better existence?

Or that the non-believing firefighter who runs into the burning building, and knows if he is trapped will never see his loved ones again, is far braver than the man who believes his family will some day join him in heaven?

For every heroic person who has impressed us through the years, imagine how much more heroic they must have been to take such risks knowing that they were risking, and possibly losing, the only life they will ever know.

That is why I proudly stand up and claim the mantle of Atheist.

And if by doing so it makes the faithful fear for their mortality, that is no fault of mine, but rather a flaw in their own character.


  1. Anonymous4:31 AM

    Altho my father was agnostic until the day he died he still couldnt deny his experiences after mom's death. then night after she passed he had gone to bed. he was asleep when something shook him firmly by the shoulder. he awoke to a bright white object standing next to his bed. he was Fully awake. he knew it was his wife. even after moving to another city to be near family she appeared twice more. *she always loved to travel.

    1. Anonymous5:28 AM

      I agree that experience is comforting but as a logical thinking person I know after difficult times your mind can play tricks on you. In stressful times dreams can seem real. I have had the floating dreams,where I was convinced I was wide awake and floating around the room.

    2. Anonymous5:37 AM

      doesn't mean there is a heaven, just mean her energy is in another form.

    3. Anonymous5:51 AM

      the other two times she appeared he was fully awake. my father had the i.q. of a genious and was a rational man. he also had all his marbles even at 93. only relating what he told us.

    4. Anonymous5:59 AM

      when my mom was passing we slept in her hospital room to be close to her and comfort her. during the night the room filled with the scent of roses. there were No floral arrangements in the room. * her mother raised roses.

    5. Anonymous6:10 AM

      yes.i agree. we are energy. point being energy remains after death. nothing to do with religion, gryph. religion is man made to control the masses...nothing more.

    6. Anonymous8:21 AM

      One of my relatives appeared to and spoke to another relative after her death. The appearee was unaware that the appearer had died. So I do believe human consciousness survives death. I just don't believe it is then judged by a harsh God in accordance with ancient ignorant beliefs. As far as atheists being the most courageous, ha. Try being raised as Catholic and taught that if you manage to avoid hell after you die, you'll still most likely spend eons in purgatory, which is hell without the devil, before you're deemed cleansed of your sins enough to go to heaven. As an ex-Catholic, I guarantee you that that does NOT give you ANY comfort whatsoever about facing death.

    7. Anonymous8:24 AM

      When my mother passed, I was on an airplane and definitely physically felt that she was leaving this earth.

      I described the experience to someone who had a friend who described the passing of her mother in almost identical terms to my experience.

      I know what I felt, and there is no denying it.

      I am not religious, but it confirmed my views of being a spiritual person, as in I am a part of this universe, and there is a connection between a mother and daughter, and she was letting me know she was leaving.

      And as others have said, it had nothing to do with religion.

    8. Anonymous9:33 AM

      my sister lives in Virginia in one of the historical homes. she has explored many different religions and pretty much has settled with Karma.much like myself. when my nephew was killed in a car accident she had gotten the call about the accident. she was cleaning her adult daughters room who had left for. college and laid down her bed. nobody else was home. my nephew appeared to her with a type of what she could best describe as a white glowing light to him. he had a single tear in his eye. after that she heard thumping and wrestling in the hall that moved into the room. as she laid on the bed it seemed whatever these things were...evil energy or whatever,were physically pushing and shoving her around the bed.. I remember when she was doing government work over in frankfurt germany. there was a man that would appear dressed in clothes from another time. he would move around the room just looking at things. this happened several times and it was always the same man. as said, my sister isn't tied to any religion. but is a very good person who believes in Karma. she believes one earns their rewards in life and death much like reincarnation.

    9. FrostyAK10:04 AM

      To the best of our current physics knowledge, energy can be neither created nor destroyed.

      Religiolists are so scared of dying, that they choose to fervently believe our energy 'goes to heaven'.

      We are mere mortals on a very small planet in the infinite reaches of the universe. How we can rely on Stone Age texts to supply the answers to the universe is beyond me.

  2. Anonymous5:18 AM

    Great article Gryph.

    The average human lives 18000 days. As an atheist I appreciate every single day. I don't spend them waiting and thinking about next life. I'm in tune with the here and now. And I sure as hell don't spend them telling other people how to live their lives.

    1. Anonymous5:38 AM

      AS it should be...thanks. I try as well.

    2. Anonymous9:13 AM

      No, but you're clearly spending it feeling superior to them, LOL.

  3. Anonymous5:21 AM

    So true. I would add it makes the thought of life bearable my sister says, she has to believe all the shit in this world is worth it if there is a reward at the end.

  4. Olivia5:35 AM

    Most believers that I know have an erroneous knowledge of Atheism. They can't seem to understand that it means the absence of belief in a supreme being and are compelled to assign dogma to it. They have been taught in church and even at home that Atheists are devil worshipers, murderers and whatever. As a Catholic child I was taught that other religions were bad and you would go to hell if you joined them but the absolute worst belief was Atheism. What would happen to Atheists was indescribable and worse than hell.
    It took a very long time to work my head out of the garbage I was taught as a child about Atheism.
    Clergy who teach about Atheism this way are afraid that the idea of living a life without fear of eternal damnation and silly rules will be very appealing to people who can think and they will lose paying members.

    1. Anonymous5:40 AM

      I was fed the same shit as a kid...but i was smart and told my mother if she was born in China she'd be a devout member of a chinese religion. They can't all be right.
      Then she told me my intellect was" of the devil " lol!!!

    2. Given my Catholic upbringing and schooling I can also testify to the machinations of the Catholic curricula. I got an excellent education in other subjects but when it came to the "one in three gods" crapola you didn't mess around.

      I am not sure what I am-not catholic, nor religious. Guess I'll find out when my number is called. :-)

    3. "The Catholic religion is the one true religion." That's what I had drilled in me too from grade one to grade six, before the move out of parochial school. That's when they have to get you, when you're young, highly suggestible and unquestioning of what you're being told. Back when you're also still writing letters to Santa Claus.

      Never did I hear a nun or priest state, "but other people believe their religion is the one true one, and we have to respect that." They don't dare teach that. To do so is to plant a fatal question inside the presumed and proclaimed infallibility of the religion you're trying to shill. Somewhere therein too is the pilot light to every war in human history.

    4. Anonymous7:30 AM

      Wow, no one to suck dick or butt fuck anymore.. To bad...
      Reminding them that "it is God's will" and that they all "will be forgiven" Hah!

    5. Anonymous8:17 AM

      As a non-Catholic, I find it extremely offensive that Catholics think their religion is the only true one, and that others are less-than.

      I had an x who's mother felt sorry for me because I wouldn't ascend into heaven right away after death for the simple reason that I am not Catholic.

      How extremely arrogant!

      I'm not religious now, but I am glad that the religion I was brought up in was respectful of other religions.

    6. Anonymous9:25 AM

      8:17 am; are you pretending the Protestants are sweet-as-honey about non-Protestants? Many of them won't even believe that Catholics are Christians--the first Christians as a matter of fact. (Disclaimer; I am Buddhist and an Atheist. Yes, they're compatible.)

    7. Anonymous10:59 AM

      Most Protestants believe Catholics are "pagan worshippers” and Jews think non-Jews are not “The Chosen” and nearly everybody now thinks most people in the Mid East belong to some thuggish religion. And we all know what they think about all other religions in non-Western cultures.

      Is there any wonder I am an atheist? The arrogance of religious groups astounds me.

    8. Anonymous11:07 AM

      @9:25: 8:17 here- I don't believe I named the religion I was brought up in.

      I said that I am glad my religion was respectful of other religions. I never learned to disparage other religions. Period.

  5. After a long life, and everything science can do to extend it, Cheney and Bush will one day die comfortably in their own beds. They'll go convinced they're about to enter a paradise they incredibly believe they've earned. We know they won't, but neither will they face a judgment we also know they vastly deserve.

    Atheism also means giving up the belief of wrongs righted in some next world, another reason it requires greatest bravery to embrace than some religion that promises score-settling.

    1. Anonymous9:37 AM

      and in the next life they will come back as a tortured animal..perhaps something like a Cockroach.

  6. Anonymous6:27 AM

    I was not raised in any religion per se. We did not go to church. My parents were Christians but not overly so. In spite of all this, I had trouble admitting to myself and others I was an atheist. Why? Because I thought to even question the thought there was no God would send me to hell. That's pretty crazy since that thought was never drilled into me by my parents. It was the culture I grew up in.

  7. Anonymous6:41 AM

    I believe in Karma . what goes around will always come around. screech is a good example. Karma rilly Bites..huh Sarah!?

  8. Maple6:45 AM

    I find it much easier to tell people that I'm a non-theist -- it seems less threatening to them and doesn't "reek" of the evil that the religious folks have had instilled in them.
    As for "the reward in heaven" -- that has simply been the way the clergy have tried to keep everyone in line. And many people can't seem to accept that the thing which makes them unique will simply cease to exist. My parents died many, many years ago. They continue to exist in my memory. That is how all of us will continue to exist -- not in some never- never-land of heaven or hell, but in the memories of those still living.

    1. Anonymous8:52 AM

      I really don't care if my saying I'm an atheist makes them feel threatened, because them being threatened or feeling threatened isn't logical.

  9. Randall6:45 AM

    "There is no good without God"

    "There is no God without lies - like that one."

  10. Anonymous7:28 AM

    Bob Marley said it best ...

    "You see, most people think great God will come from the sky
    Take away everything and make everybody feel high.
    But if you know what life is worth, you would look for yours on earth. Now you see the light, stand up for your right."


    1. Anonymous8:46 AM

      I've listened to this song so many times and never picked up on these lyrics. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous8:41 AM

    As an atheist, I believe in taking responsibility for all my actions and thoughts. That is a VERY high bar. There is no instant forgiveness, no "do-overs," no mulligans. In that perspective, the pressure to "get it right" tends to out weigh guilt and the possibility of punishment.

  12. An European Viewpoint8:56 AM

    I've stopped claiming I was an agnostic when the religious have pushed their ignorant and blinded brethen into the streets to protest gay marriage. Now I'm a proud and out atheist.

  13. Anonymous9:15 AM

    Honestly, I am a Christian, once an agnostic and I don't care at all if you are an atheist or whatever. It doesn't threaten me psychologically at all. I believe we are all capable of making up our own minds about our beliefs. My problem comes when people go too far trying to convert others or when the religion is so radical it really hurts others. People that try to legislate religion into politics are just incredibly ignorant. I object to that. There are many stupid people claiming to be Christian that ruin the message of the religion for everyone else. Most fundamentalist Christians today would not even like Jesus, who preached love and acceptance and didn't go around judging others. Yeah, they would hate Him.

    1. People who try to push their religious beliefs on others are incredibly selfish. Remember to tell them that, the next time the JWs and the Mormons come calling.

  14. Anonymous10:13 AM

    I cant tell you how many times ive shut my door on the Mormons noses. Stay Off My Grass!!

  15. Anonymous10:22 AM

    I really didn't need a study to tell me this about religious people.

  16. Anonymous12:33 PM

    google jim jeffries dead babies, it hits it on the head
    Sorry, I don't have the link, blame god

  17. Anonymous2:10 PM

    Just as the word "agnostic" should not be capitalized, neither should "atheist."

  18. Anonymous4:40 PM

    I recently attended my aunt's funeral, she was a devout Catholic, her sister, two daughters, and a couple of nieces are evangelical "Theater Style" church goers. One niece met, and married the owner of a large home building company. Everytime we get together, they feel this need to covert me and have tried every tactic in the book.
    As an atheist, going to my aunt's funeral services was out of respect and reverence for her humanity and kindness. And a heavy dose of respect.
    Well, the evangelical cousin who married rich gave all the glory to Jesus, all she does is mentions expensive earthly goods and how good Jesus has been to her. She explained to me that what I see in the coffin isn't my aunt, it's her vessel. She's not dead, she's just sleeping.
    Really? Why have her embalmed and buried? I sleep, take naps and as far as I know, I'm not dead. Not to get too gross here, but I don't understand the "logic" when it comes to death in this country and in some religions.
    Maybe part of me is jealous, she lives in a multi million dollar house, wears the best clothes, drives nice cars, but wasn't Jesus for the poor, disenfranchised, etc according to the Bible, or does St Pete take inventory and once you reach a dollar amount, the gates open? Thanks but no Thanks.
    Paradise is here and it's as good as it gets, then I die.

  19. Anonymous6:23 PM

    a rich man and a poor man were standing at the pearly gates waiting to enter Heaven. the rich man entered first. a big party was thrown for the rich man. then, the poor man stepped thru the pearly gates. there was no big party for him. confused,the poor man turned to st. Peter and asked " why did the rich man get a big party,but I didn't?" st. Peter replied,"because we get people like you all the time".

  20. Anonymous6:24 PM

    bless you,gryph. thanks for sticking in there for us.


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