In 2010, I used my newspaper bully pulpit, now defunct thanks to humorless Alabama pensioners and their registered local agents, to mischievously bait prevailing intolerance in the community. The column below appeared on December 23, and predictably, the Clere Channel groupies immediately descended upon me not unlike piranhas on a stray Boston butt, resulting in this blog wrap-up: "Beer Money" fan mail pours in ... that's nice ... is it time for a beer yet?
Beware, yuletide oupistidophobes. I’m watching.
Phobias are among the most fundamental of psychological phenomena, and I feel for anyone who suffers from them.
I have a few phobias, including a mild fear of heights (acrophobia), and a bit of taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive, as in a grave. These lurk in the murky background of my subconscious, bubbling to the surface every so often to wreak discomfort.
As an atheist, I’m sometimes accused of hagiophobia, a fear of holy things, but the naysayers are the ones with the problem: They’re suffering from phronemophobia, a fear of thinking. Granted, unbelievers aren’t preferred dinner guests this time of year, so how is a fear of atheists and atheism described? One source suggests atheophobia as truest to the Greek origins of the idea, while another offers oupistidophobia, literally “no-faith-phobia.”
I mention oupistidophobia because Christmas truly never fails to inspire intemperate attacks on atheists and atheism. The closer we get to the biggest day on the Christian festival calendar, the more phobic frothing about an insidious, irreligious conspiracy of militant atheists, who although insignificant in numbers, remains intent on attacking the faith of vulnerable, pious Christians – themselves comprising more than three-quarters of America’s population.
My favorite recurring seasonal set piece is when Christians, easily the beneficiaries of the most pervasive and relentless propaganda machine in the history of mankind, express outrage whenever miniscule dollops of free thinking manage to elude the leaden grip of the mandated American theocracy, and suddenly pose an Ebola-like threat to the hegemony of Christianity’s indigenous edifice.
A couple years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation erected a sign on the capitol grounds in Washington state:
“At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
(As an aside, the wording is largely superfluous past “prevail.” A theist believes in something, and bears the burden of proof, while those absent such belief cannot logically be expected to explain why something does NOT exist.)
Assuming one accepts the desirability of an open, pluralistic society beyond the bare fundamentals required to freely make piles of money for buying Chinese plastic trinkets, what’s so bad about equal time for opposing viewpoints?
The lawn in question abuts a building constructed by adherents of a non-religious political system that purports to represent all the residents of a secular state, not just the believers.
Alas, simplicity seldom is a part of this discussion. Just this past weekend, a local contributor to the Tribune bemoaned the current state of “Christless Christmas,” closing with a typical dose of seasonal alarmism:
“I feel strongly that we have lost much in our move to a Christless Christmas. It shows in our disregard for the value of human life. It shows in our fractured family relationships. It shows in our reluctance to form close ties with our neighbors as our grandparents did. Back then it was accepted, and rightly so, that this was a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values. Our laws are based on the Ten Commandments after all. No one was (and still are not) forced to attend church or worship anywhere. People were, and are, free to be of any or no religion. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists were as free to practice their religions as Christians were theirs.
To me, this implies that if only Americans of differing creeds would grow up and cede the inevitability of Christian “truth”, choosing to play-act in public by embracing a beige uniformity that never once existed in reality … and if these non-Christians, including atheists, would meekly worship (or mock religion, or use peyote) without publicly challenging the purely Christian nature of the Republic … then this apologetic acknowledgement of Christianity’s pre-eminence would enabled the constantly threatened Christian majority to grudgingly tolerate, as opposed to respect, otherwise errant theological convictions … and voila!
All our societal ills would magically disappear, just like that.
I repeat: Really?
It’s always the same historically inaccurate ruse: In spite of those inconvenient Constitutional quirks, the United States must be touted with flexed muscles as an overtly “Christian nation,” with requisite displays of piety for outward show, especially at Christmas, and yet, even as they stare malevolently at a winter solstice sign in Olympia, Washington, Christians also quickly remind us that Christmas “exists in our hearts,” a place utterly impervious to the alleged wickedness of the outside world, where faith cannot ever be dislodged.
If that’s true, what’s the point of appearances, anyway?
The mere presence of other viewpoints hardly stands to bring Christianity to its knees. I've never understood why those of religious orientation (another one of those “chosen” lifestyles, eh?) are so insecure when it comes to considerations of alternative worldviews.
Maybe it’s Satan, the same imaginary force for “evil” once held responsible for heretical notions of cell structure, gravity and interplanetary exploration, as well as other scientific findings that caused the heads of so many learned fellow Christians to roll down bloody cobblestoned streets, their death warrants signed by you know who.
Oupistidophobia or not, it seldom matters to me until religion crosses the line, and given the global history of persecution and mayhem administered from a religious perspective, I'll say just this: There's a much greater chance of an atheist being harmed by religion than the other way around.
Just remember the Inquisition as you fill your stockings this holiday season.