You've all heard the claim that we aren't really atheists, we are just mad at god. (Or you will see such things as "so and so claims to be an atheist.")
Today, though I saw an argument in chat with a theist, and someone else's account of an argument they had out in public, and I stopped to wonder if maybe we aren't sometimes encouraging this line of bullshit, albeit unwittingly.
What happened in both cases was the atheist began recounting all the sorts of horrible things Yahweh is portrayed as doing or believing or commanding. In one case, I saw the atheist say "why should I love god when he won't love me back?"
The problem with this sort of thing is we usually don't take care to phrase our remarks to make it clear that god is a character of fiction. When discussing the misdeeds of Yahweh we tend to fall back on a convention we use when we talk about a fictional character in a book. We refer to him by name and talk as if the guy was real and the book was not fiction, for example, "In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith was arrested for thoughtcrime," not, "In George Orwell's 1984, the character Winston Smith..."
We know what we mean, because we both know Winston Smith (or god) is fictitious. But they don't know god is fictitious.
Talking this way with someone who believes the fictional character is real might cause him not to understand you are just following the convention. Your phrasing sounds to him like you accept god as real, he "knows" god is real, so he assumes at some level you think god is real.
What I am suggesting here is that you ever want to bring up how nasty this being is, you make it clear that you don't think he exists, make sure you put "fictitious" (or equivalent) in every other sentence at least, and not let them think for a minute that you assume the existence of god.
Yes I know that when you just said you were an atheist this shouldn't be necessary, but obviously many of these people don't understand atheism in their guts, so don't let their paradigm default you into a "believer but mad at god" box.
I have actually thought this out before. Usually I will introduce my concept of a god by stating it like that. i.e. "If there were a god..." It helps to introduce my point of view through rhetoric rather than enunciation.
"You are just mad at God", has nothing to do with anything we as atheists may say or do or imply.
Recent brain studies have revealed the many religious fundamentalists literally cannot even entertain the thought that there might not be their god -
And even that they literally cannot even imagine simply not believing in their God.
Literally cannot, as in: their neurons and synapses cannot create the thought, even willfully. They are hardwired, usually as a result of their environment growing up, to "know" God exists.
They honestly think atheists, of course - along with everyone - also know there is a God and can feel Him too; thus, the only logical explanation to them for what we say is that we are impetuously rebelling against Him.
Amazing! I have tried to conceive of a 'god', and can do it, but then I start asking these little nagging questions like:
How does this being have an existence without a material brain?
Where did it come from?
Why is it interested in human beings?
How can it love?
What is it made of?
There's a rather longer version of this post available over here (7th paragraph, starting with "To us it seems absurd" [a very useful phrase when discussing religion!]) where I do allude to this possibility.
But now you are making a much stronger claim than I am, claiming there are even studies to support it (I'd be interested to see citations). This is a VERY strong claim; we can on our side imagine being wrong; why can't they?
However, I think even if you are correct about many of them, there are probably some who can conceive god's nonexistence (or lack of belief in god's existence) with effort, and we don't help them do so with figurative phrasing where we seem to be contradicting ourselves, our literal statements being, basically: "There is no god and he is an asshole." This person is not being challenged to think outside his box so he probably won't, and it won't occur to him we are being figurative talking about god being an asshole; rather they will take us literally... and conclude we are just mad at god.
And for those others you are talking about, who just cannot process the thought... well I just don't want to make it easier for their brain to short circuit. It's got to be slightly harder, if even on a subconscious level, for them to blank out someone whose every literal word is consistent with atheism, than it is someone who makes atheist claims but then talks about god's personality in such a way that sounds like he/she accepts god's existence. Or to put it another way: why feed these guys "evidence" they need for their conclusion? They then go along solidly convinced they are right, and they can quote what we said as evidence, because we unwittingly helped their confirmation bias operate.
For myself, I mostly do not let on I am atheist, or that I think we are facing global warming and mass extinctions due to rising temperatures, or that we need to rethink our culture to adapt to our changing environment, or that some corporations need their policies examined, or that religion needs to take a full back seat to the sciences.
In my family, few of them have a clue as to the sciences, or even their impact on the environment. If I actually challedged any of them, I would be discounted as some know- it-all extreamist, and a fist fight would ensue.
For some, ignorance is pursued as an ethic. I wonder how tight ignorance can be pursued, before it becomes deeply disfunctional.
Well I am assuming you've made the decision to engage the theist. There are oftentimes very many good reasons NOT to do it, and none of what I said applies there.
For example, I don't dare go "out" at work.
A few thoughts. One is just as you said. We talk about deities as if they exist for illustrating purposes, but the believer thinks we're 'admitting their truth' by doing so. It's hard not to do this, but it's rampant. I grew up in a very religious home and when I see videos of even the prominent atheist speakers, like Richard Dawkins or John Loftus, I filter what they say in a dualistic way. In one way I see exactly what they mean, but in the other I interpret what, say, my mother would 'hear'. And for the second, even though I know they're not saying what might be interpreted, the wording is such that it helps confirm the religious fantasies about atheists. Another example is Robert Ingersoll's lectures from the 1800's. They are so powerful yet hilarious too. But when he says 'I defy this god,' it could be interpreted as implicitly saying, 'I agree this god exist but he is so horrible I choose to defy him.' When only he is defying the concept of the god.
The other thought is that it's extremely frustrating when my roommate, who is one of the oddest christians is some ways and I've met a lot, says things like, 'You must have fallen away from god because you never saw real christianity,' or ,' I think you hate christianity.' And even when I say, 'no, I don't hate christianity, I just think it's incorrect,' I get the response, 'Oh I think you do.' How arrogant can you get?
I'm used up from being considered un-American just because I'm a very much self-outed atheist and have been for the past 25-years, and before that I was a hyperactive agnostic after being a skeptic since early childhood.
May I heartily recommend "Society Without God" by Phil Zuckerman where one will learn the Scandanavian nations are well on the way to establishing that utopian no-god dream. I want to move to Denmark!
"Well, I used to get mad at God and Santa Claus, but that was a long time ago."
I wish we had a like button sometimes!
Honestly, the ones that are too stupid to get it aren't the ones we are talking to. They are lost. So don't lose any sleep over it
I feel that rather than unwittingly promoting their, "don't you just hate God," it's actually just pointing out they aren't even capable of assuming disbelief. In general I assume that this person isn't worth talking to any longer.