It is a cliché to say that hatred is based on fear—but does that also apply to religious hatred? People may have different notions about God—God is this, God is that, God is nothing—yet they don’t look or act oddly from each other’s perspective. There is nothing obviously alien in the physiognomy, speech, or attire of the person with different beliefs. So why is there fear? Or does hatred arise from some other basis?
Do not doubt that seething religious hatred exists. I saw it in a sampling of the appalling hate-mail received by an atheist organization. Not all believers hate atheists; maybe only a minority do. But why are atheists the target rather than people who have other religious beliefs?
A hint to the answer is seen in the absurd claim that “Atheism is a religion” or a “belief system.” To believers, people with different beliefs are far more tolerable than people who don’t believe at all. Hence, they try to turn non-belief itself into a form of belief, and they make the oxymoronic claim that “It takes great faith to be an atheist.” Non-belief is terrifying to them. Those who hold other beliefs are simply wrong, but atheists reject the very concept of belief—not only in God but also in sacred books.
It is possible to argue to with wrong-believers on the basis of what the sacred book says, but atheists don’t accept the authority of the book at all. And that is an intolerable threat, because it is not directed merely at the content of belief but at the very basis of belief.
That is the key to religious hatred of atheists. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, but that they don’t respect the sacred book that believers depend on to provide the sense of assurance they desperately need. Atheism is not a disagreement about belief; it is an existential threat to belief.