How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
If you’re not afraid of heights, riding to the top of the Empire State Building isn’t bravery. Facing someone else’s fear because it doesn’t bother you doesn’t mean you’re courageous. It’s when you confront your own fear, and it looms above you like a giant, horned demon, that you truly understand what it means to be a hero or a coward.
In the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Fear Itself,” Buffy and the Scoobies wander through a frat house during Halloween, encountering cobwebs, spiders, and knife-wielding skeletons. But then the fears start to get real. And personal.On Halloween, a holiday that celebrates superficial terrors, it’s easy to forget that deep-seated fears—the ones that cause us to run and hide—require both self-awareness and courage to confront.
Xander becomes invisible and unheard, because he’s afraid his friends don’t care about him and are moving forward with their lives while he’s standing still. Oz starts to turn into a werewolf even though it’s not a full moon; he runs away from Willow because he’s afraid he’ll hurt her. Willow conjures a light to show her the way out, but the spell backfires, harkening to her fear of being useless. Buffy fights vampires that erupt from the ground and tell her she will forever be alone.
On Halloween, a holiday that celebrates superficial terrors, it’s easy to forget that deep-seated fears—the ones that cause us to run and hide—require both self-awareness and courage to confront. They are often associated more with anxiety and personal baggage than with physical objects. The Scoobies’ fears all have to do with relationships; this makes sense, since we’re made to be in relationship with each other—according to God, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
I can look at the Scoobies’ fears and not bat an eyelash at most of them. I don’t feel invisible (I have blue hair). I’m not afraid I will physically hurt those closest to me (I’m a weakling, after all). I don’t think I’m useless (I do stuff!). I’m not frightened by bunnies (all right, this one is weird). But that doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with their feelings, because I have my own issues; my deepest fears are also associated with the people closest to me.
I relate to Buffy’s fear of being abandoned when I need someone most. She faces literal demons by herself on a regular basis, and has trouble letting herself get attached to people or allowing herself to rely on others to help her. Trusting others is hard, because it means being vulnerable. I’m afraid once I allow myself to trust someone completely, they won’t think I’m worth sticking it out with through the difficult times. (Buffy’s also afraid the people around her will get killed, which, thankfully, I’m not so worried about.)
When I’m afraid of something, it eats away at me through anxiety. Even though I believe the advice in Isaiah is sound—“But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (8:13)—it’s hard to have faith when I can’t see the future.
At the end of the episode, Buffy accidentally summons the fear demon that’s been causing all the ruckus in the frat house. Gachnar rises out of a misty light, accompanied by rumbling, groans, and screams. As he raises his horned head, Buffy and company stare down in confusion. He’s only three inches tall.
Buffy: This is Gachnar?
Xander: Big overture… little show.
Buffy easily squishes him with her foot, and the gang finishes the evening relaxing at Giles’ house with a bowl of Halloween candy.
I imagine that’s how God sees my fears—tiny and squishable. “Letting him be my fear” means that nothing else compares to His power and influence over my life. This doesn’t mean my fears aren’t real; I very well may be abandoned by someone close to me (and I have been—hence why it’s a fear in the first place). But that doesn’t mean I won’t survive it. That doesn’t mean trusting others isn’t worth the risk.
Our culture constantly tells us to listen to our hearts. But when our hearts tell us to run out of fear, maybe it’s not such great advice. Doing what feels good in the moment results in a society that has no backbone, that’s selfish, that runs from difficult situations. But when we face those fears, we can look back and see they were worth stepping on. Unless they’re bunnies. Don’t step on those.
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