Fear of the Devil – as an atheist

Question from Evelyn:
So I recently accepted being an atheist and I’m fine with it. But even though it’s easy for me to accept that there probably isn’t any God and I’ve been praying to dust this whole time, I still find myself panicking at the thought of Satan. I still have the same fears as when I was religious, and I find myself quickly making sure I didn’t commit blasphemy, or praise the devil. I figure it’s from all the fear techniques people from my religion used to get people to follow them. I wasn’t in any cult religion or anything, just Christian. But looking back the way it was fed to me was quite like the manner of a cult. Anyway, I just want to know if you have any tips for my irrational fear of the devil coming to eat my soul. Thank you!

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to faithdrawal, which is the best word I’ve ever invented.

This happens to a lot of people because fear of Hell and Satan goes beyond the intellectual. You’re not frightened of him just because they’ve told you he’s there, or else you’d have stopped being frightened when you became an atheist. Rather it’s been drilled into your subconscious to the point where your emotions bypass rational thought entirely and you simply behave as if there’s a devil. There’s no particularly insidious technique the religious use to achieve this, they just speak and preach to you as if it’s all true until you internalise it as an unspoken assumption.

Fortunately, this kind of conditioned fear needs regular reinforcement to persist at the same strength, and as an atheist you’re not getting that reinforcement anymore. (Some evangelists threaten atheists with hell in an attempt to reach lapsed believers with some last-minute reinforcement, and sometimes it probably works on individuals, but generally speaking it’s a futile effort.) It’s still bad now, I know, but it will fade over time until you calmly look back on your prior fear and see it for what it was, namely unjustified and needless.

If you want to try to speed up the process to save yourself some stress in the long term, equip yourself with a little ridicule. Satan has shown up in popular culture quite a lot recently (try this list), and in nearly every case some aspect of the concept of Satan is held up to the light and found to be silly in some way. There’s not that much media openly ridiculing all religious faith (yet), but criticising and lampooning specific ideas within specific doctrines is fine, and the Devil is a prime target. Go check out some different takes on the character. My personal favourite is Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, who makes a raucous but really quite robust case that he’s actually the good guy.

Finally, just take a moment of self-awareness whenever you find yourself afraid of something you don’t really think is there. The more you catch yourself at it, the less you’ll end up doing it. And don’t worry, because right now is worse than it’s ever going to feel again.

7 thoughts on “Fear of the Devil – as an atheist”

  1. I won’t venture so far as to suggest that you try praying to satan / the devil as well and see if any of your prayers get answered … but if you did do so, you’d probably see that the concept of satan is as made up as that of god.

    You could, maybe, talk to a few satanists – see what they believe in, their modes of worship etc. and judge for yourself how silly it all is. As kids we are made to believe that god and angels are beautiful while images of devils and satan show them as grotesque, monstrous, hideous. This probably explains why we fear the concept of satan more more than we fear the concept of god. God’s just a disciplinarian but is human looking. Satan’s a vicious megalomaniac and also looks like a monster.

    Both are fairy tales. One’s just more scarier than the other and impacts us more. To the extent that we feel a bit scared of satan even when we’ve woken up from religious slumber.

    1. Hello, your worries are very common. At ex-christian.net many of those breaking from christianity met with this fear. In fact, fears are the biggest things that lingered in them after leaving the religion/cult (go figure). You will get over it, in time, just like they did.

  2. Zero, while the overall message you are sending is more or less “correct”….I’m sure you can understand that after a lfietime of psychological mistreatment and promises of hell and torture, it might be hard to break away from the fear?

    Besides, fears aren’t always rational. For instance, my arachnophobia or fear of needles have very little basis.

    I’m scared of bungee jumping and sky diving even though I “know” that the odds are I will be ok.

    I’m sure you have fears that can be seen as silly too. We’re all human, and I don’t see any reason to belittle somebody because of their fears. Especially when they express them and are trying to move passed them.

  3. Yet,all you atheists will beg for God’s mercy on your final day
    .Man who don t believe in God, is just an empty shell..In the end,you will all see .

    1. Basic principle, Exor: you can’t scare someone by threatening them with something they don’t believe in. Kids have to actually think the boogeyman is not only real but cares whether they eat their vegetables, to eat their vegetables for fear of the boogeyman. You’ve got a lot of groundwork to cover before this threat will have any effect. Of course maybe you’re one of the folks who thinks atheists all secretly believe in your specific God, in which case making this threat does make more sense from your perspective but doesn’t make it any more effective in reality.

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