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Even Atheists Fear the Word 'God'?, Study Suggests

Posted by on May. 1, 2013 at 10:15 PM
  • 6 Replies


Even Atheists Fear the Word 'God', Study Suggests

Research suggests that even for committed non-believers, it’s difficult to totally erase the powerful idea of God from one’s psyche.

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This article first appeared on Pacific Standard Magazine

The heads and hearts of atheists may not be on precisely the same page. That’s the implication of  recently published research from Finland, which finds avowed non-believers become emotionally aroused when daring God to do terrible things.

“The results imply that atheists’ attitudes toward God are ambivalent, in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response,” concludes a research team led by University of Helsinkipsychologist  Marjaana LindemanIts study is published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion.

Lindeman and her colleagues describe two small-scale experiments. The first featured 17 Finns, recruited online, who expressed high levels of belief, or disbelief, in God. They read out loud a series of statements while skin conductance data was collected via electrodes placed on two of their fingers.

Some of the statements were direct dares to a deity (“I dare God to make my parents drown”). Others were similarly disturbing, but did not reference God (“It’s OK to kick a puppy in the face”). Still others were bland and neutral (“I hope it’s not raining today”).

The arousal levels of the believers and non-believers followed precisely the same pattern: Higher for both the God dares and otherwise unpleasant statements, and lower for the neutral ones.

Compared to the atheists, the believers reported feeling more uncomfortable reciting the God dares. But skin conductance data revealed the underlying emotional reactions of the two groups were essentially the same. This suggests that taunting God made the atheists more upset than they were letting on (even to themselves).

Of course, perhaps it wasn’t the presence of God, but rather the subject matter of the statements (such as the death of their parents) that caused the atheists’ emotional arousal. The second experiment was designed to test that hypothesis. It featured 19 Finnish atheists, who participated in an expanded version of the first experiment. It included 10 additional statements—variations on the God dares which excluded any mention of supernatural forces. For example, in addition to “I dare God to turn all my friends against me,” they read out loud the statement: “I wish all of my friends would turn against me.”

The results: The atheists showed greater emotional arousal when reading the God-related statements than while reading the otherwise nearly identical sentences that omitted the almighty. To the researchers, this indicates that “even atheists have difficulty daring God to harm themselves and their loved ones.”

“There are at least four potential explanations for these findings,” Lindeman and her colleagues write. The simplest and most provocative is that “atheists’ explicit beliefs may differ from the implicit reactions that exist outside of conscious awareness.”

But other possibilities are equally plausible. Atheists “may have found using the word God stressful because others, possibly their friends and family, do take God seriously,” they note. Alternatively, they may have found the idea of God “absurd or aversive,” leading to the heightened emotional response.

Finally, the researchers note, “although atheists did not currently believe in God, they may have been influenced by their own previous beliefs.” They point to research from 2006 that found three-quarters of American atheists were once believers.

Perhaps the emotional response measured in this study is an echo of that previous belief. If so, it suggests that even for  committed non-believers, it’s difficult to totally erase the idea of God from one’s psyche.


http://www.alternet.org/belief/even-atheists-fear-word-god-study-suggests

by on May. 1, 2013 at 10:15 PM
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-Celestial-
by Pepperlynn on May. 1, 2013 at 10:25 PM
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I'm not an Atheist. I'm a believer by default. I was raised in a southern baptist family, whose grandpa was the deacon of the church. At church and home there was plenty of damnation and oppression going on. I am now 34 years old and have ran from any and all religion, but because I was raised with the fear of hell for not chewing my food the right amount of time. It stays in my mind constantly.

That's why I will NOT encourage religion on my children, I will not make them afraid of things they can't see or describe, its like the boogie man in a morbid fairy tale.

flika
by Bronze Member on May. 2, 2013 at 8:12 AM
1 mom liked this
My 21 year old told Mr at age 12 that what he learned in ccd class was absurd and he realized there's no god. I respected his views and I started to open my eyes then but the fear you are taught as a kid can be very strong so when I had my 2nd child and she was born with a cleft, i baptized get before her first surgery.
My aunt told me it was punishment from god.I always wonder punishment for what? And that idea scared me more.
Then seeing how the country was turning so godly it seemed to me at the time, I was more scared and everything made me move far from god, church and followers.

At the time I continue to pray.

Eventually, I kept leaving but I can see how inside of me, I keep that fear.
I then decided I wasn't going to teach or talk god to my dd. I now have a little boy and he had no clue yet. I refuse to even say god in front of him. I'm so afraid he will learn that fear and he won't be completely free. I feel my 2 oldest are free they don't have the constraints of fear and brain washing! I wish I was as lucky add them.

I ran from Christians,bc they want to convert me, take me to their churches and safe me!


Quoting -Celestial-:

I'm not an Atheist. I'm a believer by default. I was raised in a southern baptist family, whose grandpa was the deacon of the church. At church and home there was plenty of damnation and oppression going on. I am now 34 years old and have ran from any and all religion, but because I was raised with the fear of hell for not chewing my food the right amount of time. It stays in my mind constantly.

That's why I will NOT encourage religion on my children, I will not make them afraid of things they can't see or describe, its like the boogie man in a morbid fairy tale.

jessilin0113
by Platinum Member on May. 2, 2013 at 8:17 AM

This makes sense. I wasn't even raised with a strong sense of religion and every now and then I catch myself sort of being nervous, like maybe just maybe god is watching.  I can only imagine what that can do to somebody who was raised with a very strong religious background, especially one that preaches hell.  Everlasting damnation is a powerful image.


You know, I can kind of agree that teaching that is child abuse (referring back to an older thread).  

SuperChicken
by on May. 2, 2013 at 9:26 AM

It makes sense.  Childhood fears linger.   I know that boogeymen don't exist either, but that doesn't mean my gut doesn't clench when I have to go down into a dark basement, especially one with dirt floors because everyone knows that boogeymen like dirt floors.    I'm shuddering just typing it! Shudder.

Raintree
by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2013 at 9:34 AM

I think this is a positive about being raised Adventist.

1- No fear that your dead loved ones are staring at you from heaven.

2- No fear of ever-burning hell.

When I realized that the reason I'd always had little faith was because I had none, haha, I didn't have fear, I had more of what could be described as an 'aha' moment. It was interesting and freeing and exciting.

The end.

Honestly, I think this is more about hell and the fear of punishment- I wasn't raised with that.

dawnie1
by #1 Raider fan on May. 2, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Or maybe it goes back to the old billboard about atheists "had better be right".

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