September 25, 2008

"You're Not Really An Atheist, Are You?"

Sigmund FreudImage via WikipediaNothing like a visit from the family to remind me of the power of denial. It is quite remarkable how people can "forget" what they don't want to know in the first place regardless of how many reminders they might get. I had an interesting interaction with my parents recently that illustrates this well and which may sound familiar to my atheist readers.

After commenting that my bookshelf left no question about my political and religious leanings, the following brief interchanges occurred:
"You're not really an atheist, are you?"

"Um, yes. Yes I am."

"Oh. How long have you been an atheist?"

"Since I was 16."

"I thought you were just an agnostic..."
I do love the "just an agnostic" phrase! Agnostics clearly aren't as threatening as atheists. I suppose this is why so many atheists prefer to call themselves "agnostic." But the denial is what really gets me.

I've made no secret of my atheism. In fact, I was quite a pain in the ass about it between about 16 and 19 (no comments from the peanut gallery). Not sure how the family could have forgotten, especially since the topic has come up at least once during virtually every visit we've had since I moved to Mississippi 8 years ago.

Instead of simply forgetfulness, this seems to be a case of denial. So strong is the desire for me not to be an atheist, that all the evidence to the contrary is ignored. Sounds familiar, doesn't it. Yes, I really think Freud was on to something about religious belief having quite a bit to do with wish fulfillment.

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