Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Scared of Atheism

Something about atheism seems provoke fear and anger in people.

Just putting up a few signs with extremely mild messages like "Don't believe in God, you're not alone" have been met with waves of anger and resentment from a small but vocal minority of Christians, who are now working themselves into a frenzy against the imaginary assault against the Winter Holiday. Simply writing a book critical of religion will earn you the wholly inaccurate "militant atheist" label, the not-very-subtle equation of vocal, peaceful atheism with the evils of religious violence and terrorism. And sometimes, you don't even have to actually do or say anything to anger the wrath of the faithful - Senator Pete Stark was demonized by Christians simply for the crime of unbelief.

What is it about atheism that gets people so riled up? And by riled up, I mean throwing insane fits of rage.

Surely, it's not the atheists themselves: even at the devil's convocation - atheist meetups - there's scarcely anything more threatening than griping about creationism and calling religious beliefs superstitious (which, I hasten to add, is exactly what Christians believe about every other religion on the planet).

Perhaps a great deal of it lies in Christians' own fears and prejudices - doubt is a sin after all, and denying the existence of God is the only unpardonable sin. (Matthew 12:31-32) And since Christianity gives hope and meaning and joy, then atheism - the rejection of God - must be its opposite: meaninglessness and despair.

Believing that atheists are Satan's little helpers goes a long way to explaining it, but that's not the whole story. Non-Christians are not viewed with nearly as much apprehension, and they also disbelieve Christian dogma. Ah, but they believe in supernaturalism - in gods and spirits - and chances are, they also believe in faith. Surely, some Christians take comfort in the fact that the world prays (and believes in prayer), even though the religious beliefs are not the same.

I think that's the main source of the animosity towards atheists - not only do they not believe, they don't believe in belief. And if that's the case, then no amount of diplomacy will ever work with these people - simply being an atheist is threatening to them, and they'll fight any attempt to get the word out, now matter how mild the billboard's message. They simply cannot be reasoned with. And in some ways, I feel sorry for the people engaged in pious hysterics, people like Rep Davis and Knute Berger: they're prisoners of their own hate.

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