Victoria NeuroNotes

Into the Gray

New Study — The Unconscious Reason Atheists Are Feared


I know, I know, you’re starting to see a pattern. This isn’t the post I planned to publish next, but I wanted to share this new study because I think it really sheds light on what, most likely, is the core reason for disdain towards unbelievers.

Apparently, on an unconscious level, atheists threaten beliefs about the nature of existence itself. Atheists serve as a constant reminder of death because they deny that there is a god (or gods) who regulate human affairs and promise immortality to the faithful.


Here’s what the researchers found: thinking about atheism increased thoughts of death in believers – to the same extent as thinking about death itself. Check out the article.

Fear Of Atheists Is Fueled By Fear Of Death

Interesting, wouldn’t you say?



Author: NeuroNotes

Victoria predominately blogs about religion, the psychological techniques used to indoctrinate, and the brain's role in religious-type experiences and attachment.

156 thoughts on “New Study — The Unconscious Reason Atheists Are Feared

  1. The Oscar Wilde quote is brilliant, Victoria. And thanks for the article link.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very good article. I’ll add this to it, in regards to myself. Theists, christians in particular, fear me because, as an atheist, my lack of morality forces me to eat their infants. I know, kinda gross, but, god damn! do those tiny little buggers taste yummy! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that does make sense. If Terror Management is as strong as we think it is, then the atheist does, in fact, strike at the very heart of the individuals greatest fears.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Speaking from my very limited contact with religious fundies (almost exclusively on the internet), I can say that while there is much merit to this report, there are several other factors at play. The biggest one that I see constantly trotted out, is that atheists “corrupt” things, whether it be the youth or the “truth” or something else. I have noticed that the degree of fundamentalism and devout religiosity is in direct proportion to the degree of despotism and tyrannical behavior one exhibits. They don’t like having their authority questioned, they don’t like having to explain themselves, the don’t like any kind of question that casts doubts on their claims and they certainly don’t want a questioning atheist gaining any traction amoung people who haven’t completely swung over to the fundy side. This is true of all tyrants throughout history, religious, political or otherwise. So they censor, silence, intimidate and smear atheists any and every chance they get. This is certainly true in middle eastern countries where writing an atheist blog is enough to get you a 10 year prison sentence and 1000 lashes or worse (execution). In fact, things are going so well for them in the smearing department, they’ve managed to enlist the help of their non-religious and “I’m an theist but..” counterparts to aide them in conflating Stalinism and Maoism with “fundamentalist” atheism. The more people tolerate and make excuses for this kind of behavior, the worse it’s going to get.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it’s certainly true that there is a lot of money to be made by religions that promote immortality, and clearly fear of hell is used to keep large numbers of people under religious rule. But what I find interesting is that this fear, as noted in the study, is unconscious, and it may, in fact, be directly linked to the reason why people make up lies about atheists. I certainly was fed the lies when I was a Christian.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That is such a brilliant article. Atheists are a problem everywhere

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, it does make sense.

    I often encounter what I consider a very emotional response to my stated atheism and have often wondered why. I think this study helps me to identify the root. In other words, it’s not personal (theist: “I’m sure there are many very n ice and even moral atheists”); it’s just business. And that business is managing life believing there’s a divine safety net in place. Threatening this model threatens the feeling of security supported by it (even if vague), which translates I think into a unspecified sense of fear.. if the atheist is correct. And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see this as huge, but how it plays out will be interesting. Death anxiety is real, we know that. So, if people use religion to help them cope with it, then I don’t have a problem with it. What I do have a problem with is the fallout caused by these beliefs, which is toxic to the whole of our species.


  7. I’m not at all surprised. It’s really sad. I’ve come to think that only by embracing our mortality can we fully embrace life. That’s hard to do when you believe in the hereafter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • +1

      And that’s why I think religion tends to provoke so much antipathy towards living life autonomously and responsibly. I have been accused forever of being unable to be as moral as a theist because I do not believe in some objective moral code authored by some godly Dear Leader. My response has always been that I do not think anyone can be a responsible moral agent without accepting the full burden of autonomy. Those who give over/submit one’s moral autonomy to some notion of a divine overlord are morally immature and permanently stuck being so. I have not gathered a fan base from the theistic community for my argument but have been accused as surely as day follows night of being far too rude unjustly attacking the character of the Faithful. My reward has been being banned from dozens and dozens and dozens of religious sites that talk about the lack of atheist morality.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more Madalyn. I am reminded of something Phil Hellenes said in his video Through These Godless Eyes

      Phil: "On a jet, at night, in a storm, just before landing, being violently thrown from side to side, I turned to my friend in the window-seat to see if he was as frightened as I was. He was laughing, pointing over his shoulder at the silhouettes of the treetops passing by at 200 miles an hour. I asked why he was laughing. He said "Why not?". They say, and I have reason to believe, that we are at our most alive when facing the prospect of our own mortality. Maybe if we convince ourselves that we will live forever, we never really feel alive at all."

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Atheists don’t scare me- fundamentalists with guns and in Congress scare me lol
    Good point though about why *most* Christians fear atheists. 😉😄

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Totally agree with Madalyn. Hell if I hadn’t got distracted, I could have said it first.

    But to be serious, when you are frightened of dying, and WANT to believe in never never hereafter, or thereafter, then someone just knocking that on the head is most unhelpful. And the other issue, is the atheist acceptance of death as finite, however it arrives. Which leads to, needing to make the most of this life, living for every day, moment, and making the most of it we possibly can. It’s a very different mindset. It makes for a fuller, rounded and more experiential life.

    We can’t change death. It’s quite sobering to look at dead people at the undertaker’s. In my case with my father it was helpful. But I didn’t see dancing stars above him with his ascending/descending soul. There was just no more life in him. Sad but true. Belief in sempiternal life is delusional.

    And that article had more links in it than you post!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Very interesting. I think the most important thing I can take away from this article is that I don’t spend near enough time dressed as the grim reaper. If I’m going to bring about the fear of death, I may as well do it right! Where did I put my cloak and scythe?

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This study does make a lot of sense, although I do think there is some truth to what Ashley said above as well. Throughout history, it doesn’t matter whether it is just atheist, but other religions, races, cultures can all be seen as an existential threat to a groups way of life and thus fear can be spread, laws can be passed, wars can be waged etc. At some fundamental level I don’t necessarily see a fear of atheism much different than fearing the integration of a race into one’s society. And so to echo Ashley’s sentiment for the fundamentals who feel they know truth, they are right, it’s a Christian nation, and chaos will ensue without everyone loving God the way they do, whether it’s Muslims, Mexicans, or atheists it’s all a threat to their way of life.

    That being said I do think that fear of death makes sense as a reason to adhere to a religion that promises a life beyond the physical death. I don’t think I ever feared death, but I certainly feared not living. I mean death is going to be a major interruption to my life. I kind of like my life. 🙂 It’s weird, and it sounds selfish I suppose, but when I found out we were having a child it was comforting to me because I thought there is going to be somebody there at my side when I die to say goodbye to me. But now that I have a son it seems unbearable that at some point I will have to say goodbye to him, and to never say hello again. I don’t think I’d ever tire of knowing him. Saying goodbye to those you love is only bearable because of meeting new people to love. At least for me. But there will come a time where I will only say goodbye and that will be it. That being said I can accept the truth, that the end is the end, but I can honestly say that I wish it wasn’t. I don’t fear death so much as I am annoyed that existence feels so short. When I hit my mid-30’s I felt like I was just starting to get it, and quite honestly would like to preserve this state of being as long as I can. Of course in wishing for a longer life, I would never divise such a ridiculous notion of punishment and reward as heaven and hell, but I guess what I’m saying I wouldn’t mind living until I was ready to go instead of it being out of my hands. I would like to believe that at some level we all know how precious existence is compared to non-existence and thus mankind has strove to provide a solution to escape the natural order of things. It has always struck me that some should find theism so natural, when in reality it is religion that seeks to escape the reality of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. For me the key has simply been to find beauty in what is, and to take comfort that I will go the way everyone must go, which is into oblivion and non-existence. I take comfort in the fact that my molecules will feed new life though. I take comfort in the fact that while I am in this plane of existence I my make at least some small mark and that the seeds that I plant may come to fruition in unexpected ways in some distant future and it mixes with the rich tapestry of all the other life that is also trying to make it’s mark in this universe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nicely stated Swarn. It’s interesting what you said — that you don’t fear death, but you do fear not living. I can remember when I was a child have that fear. I’m don’t feel that way now, and I don’t fear death either. I do, however, fear suffering before death, and most of us will experience it. I also agree with you that it’s a comforting thought that we might see our loved ones and friends in another life. However, I do think that mentality can makes us take for granted the time we have with them in the here and now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Victoria. I wouldn’t say it’s so much of a fear anymore, but rather an annoyance. lol I don’t want to live forever, but I would like the power to choose. To say I’m done, and end existence on my own terms. I mean I guess you could say that suicide would fulfill that wish, but 80-100 years is too short in my opinion. I embrace change, and there I change that happen on scales beyond human life, and I would like to experience that longer sense of change. Maybe that’s one reason I appreciate geology is because it is the story of slow change.

        You’re right if there is anything I do fear it is suffering, either at the end, or in the next 5 minutes. But I do think about that moment, that moment where you are about to die. What if it’s terrifying and painful? I hope that there is a sense of peace. I don’t know if you read about it, but apparently they’ve isolated some part of LSD that gives the euphoric hallucinations and used it on terminally ill patients and those patients say that they feel so peaceful and happy. I have no problem drugging myself up in those dying days should it come to that. 🙂

        And I agree about how knowing existence is finite does help one live life to the fullest. It certainly has made me happier since becoming an atheist. I appreciate every good thing so much more. But I think it’s an important philosophy to live in the moment. The present is the only thing we can be sure of, and if you maintain that philosophy, then whether there is an afterlife or not is immaterial, because if your consciousness moved on you could still live in the moment. Appreciating existence (whatever plane of existence you might be on) is something that I think is very important. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Another excellent comment. You wrote: “but I would like the power to choose. To say I’m done, and end existence on my own terms.”

          Ditto. Should I find out I’m terminal, and get to the point where the suffering is not only causing great hardship on me but also my family, I’ll take up residence in Oregon.

          You wrote: ” I don’t know if you read about it, but apparently they’ve isolated some part of LSD that gives the euphoric hallucinations and used it on terminally ill patients and those patients say that they feel so peaceful and happy. I have no problem drugging myself up in those dying days should it come to that.

          Yes, I have read that, and I think it’s something I hope will become standard protocol for terminal patients who request it. I saw my step-mother suffer horrifically from pancreatic cancer before she died. We tend to be more humane toward animals and afford them their dignity.

          You wrote: “It certainly has made me happier since becoming an atheist. I appreciate every good thing so much more.”


          Liked by 1 person

  12. Great article and considering we all come into this world as atheists we have just continued our innocence having survived religious parents and religious teacher indoctrinations or discovering the fallacy of religion later in life.

    If you want a read that are similar to some of the points of this article read this first

    Then read this to find out exactly how warped this so called Christians thinking is.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a more direct link to an open letter to Christians the first one sorry about that.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: On death | Random thoughts

  15. very interesting study. I have found that the mere existence of atheists is a threat to theists, for we are that which they are sure can’t exist since everyone must acknowledge their god; it says so! if atheists exists, they may be wrong and very few of them have ever considered that possibility.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Love the Oscar Wilde quote. Sounds like fun. 😀
    Why people fear death, I have no clue. I fear the time before death. Hopefully I will just die in my sleep and in no pain. I wish that for everyone. To suffer or see someone suffer before they die, is no fun.

    Excellent article hon. If theists would only realise that there is no hell or heaven and when you’re dead, you’re dead. Why worry where you ‘think’ you’re going to? LOL! Also, I think the greatest fear are of those who make money from the believers. With no believers, there will be no money. They are the ones that make the theists believe that us ‘unbelievers’ are a threat to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. “Hell, it’s rare for me to even wear a bra. ”
    I’m out there Jerry! And I’m lovin’ every minute of it!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. That’s interesting, really interesting. There are always new thoughts out there to learn about. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. “I’m wearing my birthday suite.”
    :O !
    Blogging in the nude. There’s an interesting concept. Is that like the episode where Peggy and Stan come up with Ad ideas while working in the nude? (Madmen) Does that work?!?!
    If so, please send me a detailed description with photos so that I may optimize my own process.
    Ha ha ha ha ha


  20. Oh my goodness! I do dee-clair-uh!
    It’s getting awfully warm in here!


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