Above: Matt Bors illustrates atheismophobia. Click to enlarge.
Fear seems to be wasted a great deal on things which are not at all powerful or horrible. People fear things as abstract as the redefinition of marriage or the disintegration of Western society. There is a lot of legitimate fear about losing one’s job or dying of a disease, obviously; I am more concerned with the illegitimate fears, because there seems to be a lot more of it going around. The personal fears are kept locked up in people’s brains, but the illegitimate fears are bandied about and spread like venereal disease.
A good example I’ve written about lately is the fear that determinism will be widely accepted. I think most people would agree with me that this is a pretty abstract fear, as are the claims that human life will be devalued or that Western society is under threat. What would be the concrete results of determinism being widely accepted? I don’t think those fundamentalists have even tried to imagine what a deterministic society might be like, or is likely to look like.
Another one is the fear of Hell. Many otherwise convinced atheists live with that fear for a long time. This is because Hell and its dramatic images live in their imaginary, not in their rational faculties.
Or take a more mundane example, like “Stranger Danger.” Now, we all know that’s a damn lie, and a dangerous lie. But it appeals to the widespread narrative of strangers lurking in the dark waiting to kidnap and rape children. Again, it appeals to the images that have been engraved in our imaginary, it is pre-rational, it is insidious and a form of indoctrination.
The main feeling that parents experience, I think, is not contentment or happiness, but fear. Everything they do to their children seems to have a component of fear to it, fear that the child will grow up “wrong.” What “wrong” actually means in this case is “maladapted to this society,” which in practice means that the child must be mentally broken in order to fit in our bizarro society.
In addition to a human being which is, in emself, complete, a child is also a potentiality. There is no obvious way to predict how a child will grow and mature. But a parent, through their ownership claim, seeks to control the child, so there is a fundamental tension there; they seek to control a child’s future but they really cannot. So there is a constant fear of a terrible hypothetical future for the child if ey “fails to adapt” to our dysfunctional society.
In all cases, we are talking about fear emerging from the imagination, the fear of a disastrous hypothetical futures, because we can always imagine greater threats in the future than the ones that actually exist in the present. A maxim is “better the devil you know.” Uncertainty triggers insecurity, insecurity triggers anxiety, and anxiety demands a remedy. This is true in all spheres.
Radicalism is a good way to stimulate people’s fear reflex, because it is innately counter-culture, and therefore summons up an uncertain future. Atheism triggers fears of the chaos of a world without the dogmatic, relativist morality of religion. Anarchism triggers fear of the chaos of an egalitarian world, devoid of obedience and submission. Antinatalism triggers fear of the chaos of a world without human life. Radical feminism triggers fear of the chaos of a society without gender roles. In all cases, fear is motivated not by arguments (although arguments may be used as rationalizations) but by the realization of radical difference.
But there is a deeper correlation between fear and chaos, between fear and counter-culture. We already know from observing society that fear makes people flock to hierarchies (“order”). The kind of hierarchy depends on the kind of fear: for instance, fear of death pushes people towards religion.
The explanation given is that people who feel threatened fall back on the culture and values of the groups towards which they feel allegiance. The contrast to the “chaos” of radicalism, obviously, is the “order” of hierarchies, where everyone knows their place and everyone has a role to play. Hierarchies represent a security blanket because they give you easy answers about how to organize society: there are inferiors and superiors, the superiors deserve their status (for whatever ridiculous reason), and the inferiors should obey the superiors in exchange for their lives or livelihood.
The fact that these answers fail time and time again, or the fact that hierarchies are not really a form of order and egalitarianism is not chaos, does not prevent the believer’s fear, because this emotion in based in the imaginary, not in rationality.
It is not, I think, a lack of imagination as much as a fertile imagination unbounded by rationality. The fact that people imagine all kinds of disaster scenarios in this fashion kinda proves that point. This indicates to me that the best way to combat it is by presenting an alternate and more credible narrative (such as my reframing of anarchism) and by presenting an alternate future.