October 30, 2019

The Frankenstein Scenario

an eery monster

The Frankenstein scenario is how I like to refer to the irrational fear I have, as an atheist living in an extremely religious area, of the local Christians coming for me with torches and pitchforks on day. Do I really expect this to happen? No, I don't. I've already labeled this fear as irrational. That means I know it is silly and unrealistic. I do not expect to wake to find myself surrounded by a crowd of the local townspeople. But like any other irrational fear, it persists. Even though I know it is silly, I find myself affected by it at times.

The origins of this fear probably go all the way back to learning about the many atrocities committed by Christians against those they labeled heretics or worse. It isn't like Christians have a good track record of treating people who do not share their beliefs humanely. And so, the notion of being punished for not going along with their god-belief is not without historical precedent.

Unfortunately, my personal experience also confirms some of these fears. I have experienced bigotry, hatred, and various forms of maltreatment at the hands of Christians who learned that I was an atheist. My experiences, as well as the experiences other atheists have shared with me, make these images of the local Christians coming for me in the middle of the night seem somewhat more plausible. It isn't just ancient history; some contemporary Christians continue to demonstrate little tolerance for atheists. There's little question that many of them would prefer we weren't here, and some subset of those probably aren't beyond doing something about it.

There's also the matter of group psychology and what we have learned about what angry mobs sometimes manage to do. When anger combines with forces like deindividuation and heightened anonymity, individuals can lose their inhibitions and do some terrible things they would never otherwise condone. I have witnessed a few instances of this during protests and riots, and I've always found it scary. Even if individuals Christians pose little threat, a mob of angry Christians is a different story.

In the light of day and with a clear head, the Frankenstein scenario is laughably unrealistic. Some of the Christians around here already know I'm an atheist, and the worst they've done is stop speaking to me, spread harmful rumors at work, and commit minor acts of vandalism. The odds of them gathering with torches and pitchforks to come after me are probably comparable to those of me being struck by lightning. Still, that image does enter my mind every once in a while and is one of the things that leads me to be more cautious than I'd like about identifying myself as an atheist.

Here's wishing you and yours a merry JesusWeen.