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Monsters Under the Bed
The Boogey-Man used to live in my closet. When I was a child I was afraid of a lot of things, I also believed in a lot of things that I now see as being unreal. I remember coming to my parents afraid that ghosts were haunting my room, that monsters were under the bed, or that I was going to be abducted by aliens. And my parents would do their best to allay those fears by saying things like "there's no such thing as ghosts" or "Monsters aren't real". The most curious thing of all were the attempts to bury my irrational fear beneath irrational courage with comments like "nothing can harm you, God has given his angels charge over you."
When I was a kid I had a guardian angel, or so I was told and that guardian angel answered to God and thus could never fail to protect me. Most people who defend religion against anti-theistic atheists like myself make claims about religion offering comfort and hope. When I was a kid I was instilled with that false courage, or at least my parents tried to instill me with these irrational beliefs about angels and a God protecting me. Despite their attempts I was still afraid.
I look back and have to laugh and yet I shake my head in disappointment. Countering one mindless superstition with another. Anyone who's spent more than a few years in reality knows beyond a doubt that there is no such thing as a guardian angel. Bad stuff happens all the time. Maybe it doesn't always happen to you but if you go to bed after watching the news believing in angels I firmly believe there is something wrong with you. How many hungry children will die tonight wishing that such beliefs were actually true? How many children are lulled into security because their parents taught them that nothing bad could happen because of angels.
For the most part my parents didn't want me to be afraid and for that I cannot fault them. No loving parent wants their child to fear the imaginary... Unless of course that imaginary thing is God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom I was always told. I was never sure why I was meant to be afraid of someone who loved me unconditionally. To be scared of someone who dispatched battle-hardened angels to protect me from Satan, to protect me from everything. That's where Hell comes in.
Yes Hell. My parents were sure to inform me that Hell was real but the boogey-man in the closet, there was no such thing. The aliens coming to wipe my memory and perform experiments were just figments of my imagination manifest by one too many episodes of the X-Files before bed but Hell, a burning fiery place of never-ending torment, that was real. Maybe most modern Christians escape childhood without having to fear God but for me there was no such luck.
The irony is so glaring that it's laughable and yet as I grew older I grew out of all sorts of beliefs. Santa, who I only believed in briefly as a child, was the first to go, for like the boogey-man and the aliens my parents were sure to explain that Santa wasn't real. A supernatural being associated with December 25 who would punish the naughty and reward the nice and who could perform miracles - who would believe such nonsense? No, in my house Santa took a back seat to an even more implausible denizen of December 25th, Jesus Christ and my parents made sure that he was portrayed as absolutely real while Santa went the way of the boogey-man.
There was Heaven to and for a child the only thing scarier than Hell is Heaven. You're already knew to the world and just gaining an understanding of all that goes on, of all you will be obligated to do as you grow up. On top of that you have an obligation to get into Heaven and once there you'll be happy. I was never happy with the idea of Heaven though, it sounded scary, it sounded foreign and cold. Streets of gold and walls bejeweled and giant mansions for everyone to live. As a child I would stare up into the sky afraid that God would return and whisk me away. I was perplexed when others around me rejoiced at the prospect of flying through the air, getting heavenly bodies and going to a heavenly city to spend FOREVER doing whatever the hell it was people did in Heaven.
I am happy to say that for well over a year now my closet has been free of boogey-men and not just the ones your parents tell you are fictional but also the ones they unwittingly lie about. My mind is swept clean of imaginary friends and thus all that fear, all that anxiety and all that dangerous false courage and faux hope is now a thing of the past. People often ask why some atheists even bother discussing religion and belief in God.
Consider us the ghost busters, we're here to sweep the world of ghouls and gods and in the process leave it better equipped to face the real world. Quite frankly I've grown tired of being told I'm wrong, rude or insulting just for informing people that magic men in the sky are imaginary. At times I've even been polite and asked for evidence, asked people to show that their deity is real but despite all their coaxing all they can offer is logical fallacies, anecdotes and apologetics. Like a kid desperately trying to explain to his parents just how real the monster he thought he saw under the bed was who makes excuses when they both peer under the bed and see nothing.
"Of course he's not there now, the light is on! Monsters can't come out in the light!"
I might have argued something like this to my parents and in general many religious arguments aren't more sophisticated than this though they generally take the form of
"Of course he won't appear to you, YOU don't believe."
This may sound insulting, this may sound arrogant, this may sound like I'm patronizing you believers out there, but shut the light off and go to bed, your Monster doesn't exist.