There is plenty to fear when it comes to the word atheist. It’s just not what most people think. After all, it’s just a word. It simply describes someone who denies the existence of a supreme being or deity. Atheists don’t tend to be scary people. Actual fear of physical harm from atheists isn’t what the strong reaction against atheism is about.
Fear has to do with an emotion aroused by impending danger. The problem is, fear shows weakness. Anger is often a safer emotion to express than fear. Anger feels stronger, less vulnerable. Anger is what is often expressed toward atheists.
When I was a devoted member of the Unification Church my life, my political views, the music I listened to, the way I dressed, my community, my new “family” all held my life together in a neat little package. My pride as a human being was tied up in how close I felt I was to this thing called God.
I suggest that those who fear and/or loath atheists are not really afraid of the person claiming to be an atheist, it is instead that little voice somewhere in their own brain, where reason exists, that whispers…what if there is no God. That is what’s scary. That is what causes the anger. The stronger the angry reaction, the more afraid of the possibility that there is no God they may be.
It gets scarier when pride gets involved. Those screaming the loudest are often those who have the most to lose, especially when they have proclaimed publicly how close to this thing they call God they are. They have built their community around it, they have taught their children to fear this omniscient, omnipresent being named God, they have built their pride as an individual around their devotion to it. Imagine the disgrace of a leader in his or her community having to admit that God might be no different than a child’s invisible friend. Now that’s scary.
It takes a big person to admit such a big thing, to themselves and more so, depending on the size of the pride involved, to those they have proclaimed their belief to. The bigger the enmeshment a person’s life has to a belief in God, the harder to speak of the tiny voice of reason that plagues them.
It is important for atheists to empathize as opposed to ridicule.
Atheists often point out the irrational elements in far-fetched, often amazingly ridiculous belief systems – like the one I was completely dedicated to. It is important to continue to expose these often harmful belief systems, in spite of the resistance and anger often evoked. It is also important, however, to be kind, patient and to remember that the angry fearful person attacking atheists has a complex meme system affecting their cognitive processes, a memetic virus. That virus is supported by a memeplex, often running through most aspects of their life, that is very difficult to free oneself from.
The fear is very real. In many cases the person’s life, as they know it, will fall apart if they seize their efforts to block out anything that would get in the way of protecting the God meme. The word atheist is scary because deep down, the person screaming loudest may be one.