Two pieces in the last three days have opened my eyes to a new reality.  Being opened to a new reality doesn’t happen every day, probably because as you get older there are fewer realities that are actually new.  Just things you have forgotten that seem new when you rediscover them.

One article which was good enough to repost in its entirety came from Jacques Berlinerblau, who often says wise things and should be heeded when he does.  Jacques has commented frequently on the need for secularists and even atheists to learn table manners and not rely simply on the assumed rectitude of their position while trying to influence people and win converts.

They could learn a lesson from that old time religion, Christianity, where instead of just shouting at people, like John the Baptist did (and look what happened to him), St Paul professed to become all things to all men in order to win souls to his cause.  Eventually, that strategy made Christianity the majority faith of the Roman empire.

Of course, the atheists old and new don’t believe there are souls to be won.  But there are political values at stake, and elections, and demographics which atheists and “seculars” do claim to care about.  But so far Americn secularism hasn’t had the savvy to know how to preach its gospel in a way that (really) ups the numbers.

For Berlinerblau, this has something to do with an historical incompetence at every level of the secular movment: Without naming names that could be named, he cites

“…a colossal failure of leadership and strategic vision. Those who advocated on its behalf in the 1970s and ’80s had little understanding of who their irate, coalescing adversaries actually were. In the secular mindset these “Fundies” were just a bunch of yokels, sitting on their front porches, cleaning their guns to the musical accompaniment of Pa strumming the gutbucket. In reality, however, the movement had scads of charismatic and savvy, if not incendiary, leaders. …Secular leadership, by contrast, was static and moribund.

Which brings me to the second piece, by E J Dionne, a truly liberal soul.  The always bluff Freedom from Religion Foundation, which sees itself as a “radical” conservator of First Amendment rights, has outed liberal Catholics for being hypocrites and challenged them to do the right thing: leave the Church.  Writes Dionne:

Recently, a group called [the FFRF] ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

Yes, it does sound just like the nun who told you to give up looking at dirty magazines during math class. Or maybe I have given away too much of my eighth grade year at St Joseph School.

But there is a pattern here that displays itself, as in neon lights, through the shouting.  I have commented more than three times on this site about the ugliness of the American Atheists’ (and others’) billboard campaigns and the way atheism itself is promoted by using a strategy that depends, basically, on repeating one hundred times the mantra:  “Wake Up Stupid: Nobody is at Home Up There.”

This is supported by the infinitely reasonable proposition that if there is no Santa Claus, no big bad wolf, and no such thing as ghosts, there is no Sky Fairy either. Anyone who says there is is just using up the oxygen that smart people need to grow brain cells.

But guess what?  Many people who would call themselves religious–like E J Dionne, and even the resoundingly secular Jacques Berlinerblau–are not at all stupid.  And they wonder why the advocates of freethought and secularism don’t get that.  Why is a secularism that flows from principles of religious tolerance more suspect than a secularism that flows from atheist suppositions?  It is a good question, because in those countries where a dogmatic atheism has been imposed from the top, tolerance has not fared well.  Restrictive practices based on the godlike perfection of the state–witness Chen Guangcheng– have.

And that leads me to conclude: there is a troubling religiophobia going on here.  The shouters and ultimatum-givers are not just in favor of separation of church and state, or freedom of (or from) religion, or secularism or the right not to believe in God and say so openly.

There is profound stress and anxiety about religion in these movements.


Is this a teenage anger pathology that comes from a passive fear of the gods? A bad church experience that stems from the awakening that Pastor Bob (or Sister Mary Therese) lied to you about…everything? The possibility that despite social approval of your atheism, your private doubts sometimes clash with that approval and put unreasonable and seductive thoughts in your head–a hankering for a ten o’lock sermon or a quick Mass at St Aloysius?

Probably none of the above.  It’s probably more easily explained as your anxiety over the existence of what you have come to believe is SPS–Stupid People Syndrome:  your feeling that the co-existence of atheists and believers has only been paralleled in human history by the brief co-existence of Neanderthal and modern humans.  And it would, after all, be so much easier if social disapproval could be generalized and society were rid of religion once and for all–its lures and seductions driven from the world and the gods into the fiery pit.   Maybe then you could get some sleep.  And stop being so Angry.

Homo Religiosus

Until the day that happens and the First Amendment is repealed, which is what the solution would require, reading Seneca and a little Marcus Aurelius or Lucretius on the gods would help:  They had this phobia mastered long before Christian thinkers like Boethius took up the question.   The gods are lazy blighters who don’t care about you. They only care about themselves. You are on your own.

The point is, religiophobia leads to aggression and aggression often manifests itself in stupidity and rash behavior.  I am not certain, given the religious perspective that God takes care of everything, that religion exhibits fear in quite the same way–which is a poor way of saying that fear of the gods (theophobia) is different from fear that there are no gods (religiophobia).

Oh, I know: you atheists out there will tell me I am making things up and that every atheist has the courage of his convictions and isn’t afraid of the big bad wolf or the big old sky fairy or any of those things.  And I say: Good for you, Pinocchio.  Then stop worrying about what goes on in the heads of religious women and men, or their being hypocrites for believing some of the things you no longer believe.

–And read some Seneca.

30 thoughts on “Religiophobia

  1. As always, a thought provoking piece, for which thank you. I would however take issue with your last paragraph. AS an atheist I have absolutely no problem with those who choose to adhere to one or other religion, and I see no reason why what goes on in their heads should frighten me. But in a civilised secular society, I am troubled by the sometimes none too subtle way that many try to influence the legislature to favour their religiously inspired view of the World, when it flies in the face of 21st Century values shared by the majority..

  2. Marvelous post!

    I have taken St. Paul’s words to heart (1 Cor. 9:22) therefore, as an Evangelical, I have amazing conversations with the philosophy professors at the college I am attending. One recent comment was, “Usually Evangelicals are so defensive…” I find that in these discussions I learn more about how to answer questions of my own, while trying to answer the questions posed to me by Atheists.

    God bless!

  3. Fascinating how so many of the comments on this site praise you and your writing. But that’s because you relentlessly censor those who take issue with your poor reasoning and soporific writing.

    • Poor Jeffrey, Fascinating that your own erroneous comment is evidence of your bitter and malicious envy. Not only this but you’re hopelessly incompetent and while you feign an impression of daring and courage, reality exposes you as pitifully foolhardy. I suggest that Professor Hoffmann has many appreciate readers who have a more sophisticated understanding of life, an ability to think laterally and relish his wit, eloquence and incisive accuracy.

      As Martin Luther wrote, in ‘Rebaptism’ ironically, “you are like butter in sunshine …. or spittle.”

    • Atheists love to adopt people who can think critically, imaginatively and creatively, as their own. Poor Jeffrey the atheist, despite his jealousy, is uncontrollably compelled to try and claim Professor Hoffmann as part of the gang. Martin Luther says, condemning Jeffrey’s erroneous, dull, empty and slanderous misrepresentation of Hoffmann which Jeffrey is compelled to type bold fearing otherwise of exposing his own feeble insignificance and fear and slobbishness, “He does nothing more than latch on to a small word and smear over with his spittle as he pleases, but meanwhile he does not take into account other texts which overthrow he who smear and spits, so that he is up-ended with all four limbs in the air. So here, after he has raved and smeared for a long time… like the ostrich, the foolish bird which thinks it is wholly concealed when it gets its neck under a branch.” (Against the Heavenly Prophets)

  4. “in those countries where a dogmatic atheism has been imposed from the top, tolerance has not fared well.”

    In those countries where ANY ideology has been imposed from the top, tolerance has not fared well! And the most common historical examples one can find are those of religious ideologies imposed by governments.

      • I’m sorry, Mr. Hoffman, but your response is simply not true. You cannot deny, that most governments throughout history have been theocracies, largely intolerant of other ideologies.

  5. The real problem with this silly treatise is that the phobias, angers, and intolerances that Hoffman is projecting on New Atheism, are vastly more prevalent in religious groups.

    Matthew 7:5
    Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

    • Thank you for quoting Matthew: would you think it might be applied to the atheist critique of religion as well, or was it just a favourite of yours from you Church of God in Christ days when the devil bit you?

      • In fact, you’ll find that the toughest critics of atheists are other atheists.

        It’s just ridiculously clear that all you accuse atheists of – spreading their ideology by billboard, aggressive behavior towards other ideologies – the religious in this nation are far, far more guilty of.

      • I do deny this because it is false; if your major premise is that all governments in history have exhibited intolerance, I might agree, or that governments that have been theocracies have been intolerant–sure. But that is not what you are saying. By historical standards, ancient Rome was neither tolerant and in some was was theocratic, at least during the empire. Your categories are askew.

      • I am also interested in atheists who care about atheism not repeating the idiocies of the born again. And I do not see a great deal of internal critique going on within the atheist community–or if there is, you should welcome mine.

  6. “Then stop worrying about what goes on in the heads of religious women and men, or their being hypocrites for believing some of the things you no longer believe.”

    If what went on in the heads of religious women and men, stayed in their heads, there would be nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, what goes on in religious heads floods out into the public arena:

    into legislative efforts to put creationism in science classrooms
    into efforts to ban/impede stem cell research
    into impartial political interference in the middle east
    into ridiculous attempts to legislate morality

    to name just a few areas.

  7. Pingback: All Things to All Men

  8. “They could learn a lesson from that old time religion, Christianity, where instead of just shouting at people, like John the Baptist did (and look what happened to him), St Paul professed to become all things to all men in order to win souls to his cause. “

    I’m sure Paul shouted plenty. He threatens the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:21) and says “How do you want me to come? in love? or with a stick?” I wonder how he ended up going. Probably he went with the stick and beat their brains in for their behaving morally and thinking they should live right rather than just be saved by faith alone. What a douche that Paul.

      • Actually I have expressed my Paul mythicism many times. I believe he was a mere literary character created by Marcion and that the original epistles were written by Marcion in the name of this fictional character, and that when the Catholics finally accepted “Paul” about 160 or so, they edited those epistles of this fictional “Paul” to make them more orthodox and created the pastorals and the book of Acts to historicize this fictional character.

      • @Reyjacobs: I applaud your mythtic consistency. Let me test your tactics: Confronted with the following text which is dated around 95 and doesn’t usually get a lot of attention except by evangelicals and fundies who think bishops were invented after Satan took over Rome, what do you say:

        1Clem 47:1

        Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

        1Clem 47:2
        What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel?

        1Clem 47:3
        Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas
        and Apollos, because that even then ye had made parties.

        1Clem 47:4
        Yet that making of parties brought less sin upon you; for ye were
        partisans of Apostles that were highly reputed, and of a man approved
        in their sight.

        1Clem 47:5
        But now mark ye, who they are that have perverted you and diminished
        the glory of your renowned love for the brotherhood.

        1Clem 47:6
        It is shameful, dearly beloved, yes, utterly shameful and unworthy of
        your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the very
        steadfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians, for the sake of one
        or two persons, maketh sedition against its presbyters.

        1Clem 47:7
        And this report hath reached not only us, but them also which differ
        from us, so that ye even heap blasphemies on the Name of the Lord by
        reason of your folly, and moreover create peril for yourselves.

        Even if poeople accepted my early dating for Marcion (and most don’t) he would have been about 10 years old when this was written. or do you think he wrote it? or that a nameless forger wrote for no reason? To “create” Paul? Why would anyone do that? And if it is an epistle from the end of the 1st century, and as it suggests the failure of Paul’s mission to Corinth, of which there is earlier literary evidence, and as the author seems to know a bit about the letter and the mission (but doesn’t seem to have the text in front of him), how do you construe that? Applying Occam’s razor to evidence doesn’t mean slashing the neck of common sense; and frankly, the view that Paul is made up is merely silly and not even provocative. Give me your own scenario that would explain the necessity for the Paul myth–I know several and want to see if yours is an improvement on the whole sorry lot.

      • Ah 1st Clement! This Clement guy is writing to Corinth from Rome to admonish a bunch of unruly youngsters to obey their bishops. And he decides the best way to keep the attention of the youth is to spend 30 chapters yammering on about things totally off topic, and waste all his time quoting every passage from the Pauline corpus he can possibly squeeze in. By the time he gets to the matter at hand, the youths have already put down his “letter” and so he accomplishes nothing. Well, nothing except convincing credulous moderns that orthodox ministers in 95 utilized the Pauline epistles! Come one, this “letter” is obviously a forger. In fact, scholarship in the early 1900s (or was it the late 1800s?) said as much. But then fundamentalists entered scholarship and reversed the decision for no other reason than that they need to false letter to prove that Paul wasn’t made up by Marcion! Anyone who knows the history of scholarship on this letter knows that, even if they (like me) can’t remember precisely any more whether it was in the late 1800s or early 1900s that the scholarly consensus was that it was spurious.

      • Reyjacobs: “… this “letter” is obviously a forger.” Of course, just like Paul is made up. You have future as a young earth creationist given the way you do science by tossing all the embarrassing rocks aside. I know a teensy bit about Marcion; please solve the mystery for me, as I asked: when did he make Paul up and why? Was it so that mythtics could say that Paul’s silence proves Jesus is a figment?

      • Not that it matters but you may be thinking about 2 Clement, which is almost universally regarded as later and by a different writer, just as 1st Clement is regarded as authentic by almost everyone. Why do you not answer my question about Marcion being about 10 years old when it was composed, that is, if my very early date for Marcion is correct? And you say he quotes–he almost never quotes–which is one of the reasons the epistle is dated early. He “alludes” to historical situations at Corinth he seems to know first hand, and historically, which means that while he knew what Paul was up against, he doesn’t seem to have a complete text of a Corinthian letter and he doesn’t know Paul’s solution to the Corinthian controversy–which Marcion certainly did. Bloody hell, you are ready to make pronouncements on these things and show no evidence of ever having read them. Have you?

      • If you know as much about Marcion as you think you do then you know why he would create the Paulina and invent Paul. He needed a source of tradition different from and independent of the 12, and since it didn’t exist, he created it.

        As to Marcion only being 10 in 95, obviously when I said 1st Clement is a forgery I meant it was written much later, probably about 160-170 in point of fact. And no I’m not confusing 1st and 2nd Clement.

        You’ll find a fairly decent and humorous explanation of why Paul’s epistles are clearly forged here :

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