Beware, yuletide oupistidophobes, ‘cuz I’m watching you


(This guest column first appeared in December of 2009 at the former New Albany Tribune. It has been updated and lightly tweaked.)

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, or 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 to me it’s the naysayers who are the ones with the real problem; after all, they’re suffering from phronemophobia, a fear of thinking.

Granted, unbelievers aren’t exactly 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 the Christmas season never fails to produce intemperate attacks on atheists and atheism. The closer we get to the biggest day on the Christian festival calendar, the greater the frothing about an insidious, irreligious conspiracy of militant atheists, who while supposedly insignificant in numbers, remain intent on attacking the faith of vulnerable, pious, humble Christians – themselves comprising more than three-quarters of America’s population.

That’s hardly a “persecuted” minority, eh?

My favorite recurring Yuletide set piece is when Christians, easily the beneficiaries of the most pervasive and relentless propaganda machine in the history of mankind, express outrage whenever wee dollops of free thinking manage to elude the leaden grip of the American theocracy, and consequently pose an Ebola-like threat to Christianity’s dominant edifice.

In 2008 the Freedom From Religion Foundation was granted permission to erect a sign on the capitol grounds in Olympia, Washington.

“At this Season of the Winter Solstice, let 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 & 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 selling plastic trinkets from Chinese sweatshops, what’s so bad about equal time for opposing viewpoints?

The FFRF’s capitol lawn in question fronts a building constructed by adherents of a secular political system that purports to represent all the residents of a diverse state, not just the believers.

Alas, simplicity seldom is allowed to be a part of this discussion. Consider this comment from a local contributor to the former New Albany Tribune (circa 2009) bemoaning “Christless Christmas” and 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, cognitive spasms like this suggest that if Americans of differing creeds would merely cede the inevitability of Christian “truth”, choosing to be team players and play-act in public by embracing a beige uniformity that never once existed in reality … and if these non-Christians, including atheists, would subordinate their own points of view and meekly worship publicly, acknowledging the purely Christian nature of the Republic even while their fingers are crossed behind their backs … then this apologetic play-acting acceptance of Christianity’s pre-eminence would enable the constantly threatened Christian majority to grudgingly tolerate, as opposed to respect, all the otherwise errant theological convictions … and voila!

All our societal ills would magically disappear, just like that.

I repeat: Really?

It’s always the very same historically inaccurate ruse: In spite of those inconvenient Constitutional quirks, the United States must constantly 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 are quick to 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.

Well, which is it? Public or private? If faith exists in the heart and cannot be touched, then what’s the point of worrying about outward appearances, anyway?

Why are the public displays even necessary?

The mere presence of other viewpoints hardly stands to bring Christianity to its knees. I’ve never understood why those of a religious orientation (another one of those lifestyles that are chosen, as opposed to being driven by DNA) are so insecure when it comes to considerations of alternative worldviews.

But 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. As such, let’s remember the Inquisition as we fill our stockings this holiday season.

As for me, the last time I felt a twinge of potophobia (fear of alcohol) was during the administration of Gerald Ford.

Luckily, the feeling soon passed.


EXILE ON SPRING STREET: In defense of godlessness in everyday life