Fearing a Supernatural Boogeyman

I’ll resume my Christmas series on Monday, but I wanted to take a moment to look at another issue. Those Christians who hear that I am an atheist often ask “but how can you live without God?” A few months ago I realized an important response: Being an atheist isn’t just about living without God, it’s also about living without Satan. I’ve mentioned this before, but wanted to take a moment to expound upon it further.


As a Christian, I believed that God was all-powerful and that Jesus had conquered sin and death. I don’t want anyone to think that my faith was one of constant fear – it wasn’t. I believed that Christians would ultimately be victorious, and that I would go to heaven for eternity. However, Christianity comes with its own built in boogeyman, and the fact that that boogeyman is destined for defeat doesn’t change that he exists.

It is only since becoming an atheist that I have been able to sleep in a room alone without being afraid. Nighttime was always the worst as a child, and even in college, because it was then that the idea that demons could appear before me at any time became most real. Even in college I was afraid of them. Any noise in the night could be that of a demon. I would close my eyes tight and will the night away, pray for sleep, and wish my roommate were in so that I would feel safer.

Today, I no longer fear hearing or seeing demons in the night. Sure, when I’m the only one in the house I sometimes fear buglers, but I don’t fear that imaginary beings will jump out and get me, because I don’t believe such beings exist. It’s really amazing what a difference this makes.

No longer believing in the supernatural means not fearing supernatural bad guys are out to get me. This is a critically important point. As a Christian, I believed that demons were out to get me. Ever read C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters? Ever listened to Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s Father Gilbert mystery series? Ever read This Present Darkness? Try reading or listening to these believing that while fiction they are very much representations of reality, and then try going to sleep at night. Sure, I believed God had ultimate power, but I also believed that he allows Satan and his minions power on earth in the present and this meant living with the very real possibility of being attacked, spiritually, mentally, or even physically, by a supernatural bad guy.

Someone pointed out on a previous thread that she was afraid of wolves at night as a child, and that all little children will be scared of something. Well sure. I was also scared of wolves. We used to hear them at night and I would imagine them climbing the house to my second story window and breaking in. The thing is, my parents assured me that this was impossible. I knew that this was my imagination run a muck, and could NOT really happen, and that helped keep the fear under control. Not so with demons. My parents assured me that they were real and could actually seek to lead me astray or even appear to me. I absolutely believed that they were real, and this gave me no way to check my overactive imagination. And the result was fear.

Everyone fears something. It’s just that today my fears are of things in the natural world, not the supernatural. Today I’m fear things it makes sense to fear, like buglers or rapists, and even then I’m aware that the chances of running into them are low and that they have only human powers and abilities. I’m no longer afraid of supernatural bad guys who can teleport, defy the laws of nature, and read my thoughts. And I have to be honest: that makes my life a whole lot less scary.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    First off, this is a great post about the problems caused by unreasonable fear. Personally, I was always afraid of very slender intruders hiding behind my dresser. And of course the doll that comes to life and strangles people with her hair.But I'm sorry… I think your misspelling was hilarious. Bugler:http://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&hl;=en&source;=hp&biw;=1182&bih;=591&q;=bugler&gbv;=2&oq;=bugler&aq;=f&aqi;=g10&aql;=&gs;_sm=e&gs;_upl=1523l2252l0l2392l6l6l0l0l0l0l149l651l0.5l5l0Burglar:http://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&hl;=en&source;=hp&biw;=1182&bih;=591&q;=burglar&gbv;=2&oq;=burglar&aq;=f&aqi;=g10&aql;=&gs;_sm=e&gs;_upl=1432l2650l0l2802l7l7l0l1l1l1l186l878l1.5l6l0

  • Anonymous

    Observing some fundies and evangelicals, that way some of them carry on and on about Satan, they make Satan & demons sound practically as powerful as God. The way they talk, you wd think that no matter how 'good' and 'faithful' a Christian a person was, any tiny teensy slip could cause a demon to come roaring in & wreak all kinds of havoc.Strikes me as quite a bizzare and destructive belief system. I feel sorry for the people locked in it – they live in a fearful and cruel world of their own making.

  • Anonymous

    THANK YOU for this.I grew up in a fairly liberal, albeit very devout Catholic home ), but I still had similar thoughts and fears.Some of the first fears I remember having (i.e. in the "I can't sleep,I'm afraid!" kind of way) were that my Mr. Do-Bee (from "Romper Room") doll was going to come to life and Sting Me, the Skeletor (From "He Man") was chained up in my basement and going to escape, that the floor would collapse in underneath of me because my bed was too heavy, that the clown from "IT" (which I had only seen in commercials) would suck me into the sewers, and that crocodiles were hiding under my bed waiting to eat my feet. When I shared these fears with my parents, they assured me that none of those creatures were real and that my situation-based fears were impossible. One day at my grandma's house, I found an old children's prayer book from the 1960s that used to belong to my aunt, and happened to turn to a horrifying illustration of Satan tempting Jesus in the Desert. Satan was depicted as a green, winged, dragon-like creature with a grotesque human like face. Very, very scary for a six year old (or anyone really…). I asked my Grandma what it was, and she just said it was "the devil." I went home and told my mom about it and asked her if she would tell me about the devil, she said that she would, but that she didn't have time at the moment. For about a week, I kept bugging my mom to "tell me about the devil," basically, I just wanted her reassurance that like Mr. Doo-Be and Skeletor, he wasn't real.I was almost positive that that's what she was going to say, I just desperately needed to hear her say that.About a week or so later, we were having dinner at McDonalds, and I asked my mom to please tell me about the devil. So, she started to tell me the story of Lucifer and St. Michael and the war in the Heavens and so on, and how the devil/Lucifer had lost and was now in Hell, and that people that were very bad would go there when they died, but most people would go to heaven to be with God so I didn't need to worry. Ha! Not worry? I couldn't understand it, this horrible monster was REAL? It took me years to realize that I didn't have to believe this. If I ever have children and anyone tries to convince them that hell and the devil are "fact" they will have one pissed off mama to answer to.-Kat

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Wow, I'm sorry you had to have so traumatic cildhoods. Everybody as something to be afraid off when they are young but as you have said you get it's an irrational fear and get over it… if you were to feel it's real… a "Supernatural (the TV show)" kind of world sounds absolutely terrifying.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04848458622058432379 Arachne

    I grew up in a very strict/devout catholic house and I've also grown up with the fear of supernatural evil. When I was in my teens mom and dad got more lax on the rules so we could wear jeans and watch tv if they approved of them beforehand, and my mom liked watching movies with a religious bent that blamed satanists for evil(From Hell, Bless the Child, The Exorcist…). These movies freaked me out. And my mom would insist during the movie, this stuff happens! Because demons are trying to attack us! I don't believe in that anymore, and it is freeing. I recommend the book "The Lucifer Effect" by Phillip Zombardo. It's an amazing book that opens up discussion on the human progression from good to evil. However, I still hate watching horror movies with the supernatural evil spirits, or possessed children, or just plain creepy children put in as a stand in for the devil in the plot. I still have hang-ups in my imagination and it takes a few minutes when I wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare to reassure myself it is and never was real.

  • Anonymous

    I knew what you meant about buglers. : )It interests me as I read blogs of how parents have taught their children about the Bible, God, Jesus Christ and the supernatural world with a heavy hand of do's and don'ts. And then reading what the adult children come away with, thinking the way they were taught is what being a Christian is all about. Being a Christian for me, the past nearly 50 years is nothing like you, Libby, describe your home of origin teaching. I have found my God of the Bible to be reliable and His promises to be true, including the comfort He sends through the Holy Spirit. I don't have the idea I have to follow a list of do's and dont's in order to be "saved" or to earn his love for me. I learned salvation is a gift. Even though I believe Satan is real, he gives me no fear. I never came to Jesus or God out of a fear of hell. Rather I have learned how much God and Jesus love me and then in turn I wanted to know more of them and their love for me. The more I have learned through life, the more confident I have become in my faith. I don't believe it ever works to jam God down someone's throat, as many parents try to do with their children. When the child is out from under the "jamming", they will decide for themselves what they want to believe. Beverly

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    "When the child is out from under the 'jamming', they will decide for themselves what they want to believe."If said child makes it "out from under the jamming", but yet, as an adult they still have the supernatural aspect of their indoctrination embedded deep in their psyche, then yes, perhaps they will "decide for themselves what they want to believe". On the other hand, for those who are no longer able to believe in the supernatural, there's nothing to "decide", since, when the "supernatural" goes, the "jamming"(if any) is usually close behind it.One cannot simply decide to start believing in that which one finds unbelievable. Non-belief isn't a "choice"

  • Meggie

    My bugle is locked up in my music room and I promise never to play it when you are around. Lol.

  • lucrezaborgia

    My near-death experience exasperated my Christian friends because I didn't have a newfound faith because of it

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14097266657351609701 Jerusha

    Yes, yes! I lost my belief in Satan before I lost my faith in God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    No one is more scared of "hell" and its "devil" than those who actually believe in them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06049357117023462480 K.

    Wow! I am just realizing that it has been so long since I've worried about the supernatural in a fearful way! When I lost the belief in Hell as a literal place of torment, my childhood fears began to fade, also.Thanks for this post.

  • Jenna

    Totally agree. We were big fans of This Present Darkness and I always believed that demons were real. One time, as a kid, I heard a demon possession story where it caused someone not to be able to swallow which totally freaked me out. Still to this day I have this phobia of suddenly not being able to swallow and if I am just sitting around and can't coordinate my muscles to do it right away, I get panicked for a minute.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for posting this!I was terribly afraid of the dark as a child, and would have what I now realize were genuine anxiety attacks many nights of my life. I was petrified of the dark.It didn't get better with age and quoting scriptures to myself did not help.I am well into my 30's now and just this year my fear of the dark has suddenly vanished, right along with my belief in the super-natural. I haven't talked about it with others because it seems silly and I didn't really understand the link.My wife shared this post with me and we started talking about it. I'm really grateful I wasn't the only one in the world like this!

  • Vivi

    Reading this, I just had a lightbulb moment about why children are always scared of the dark in American TV and movies. This never seemed to jibe with my own experience, or that of my childhood friends. But then, we were all raised relatively free of religion.So, thanks for explaining.

  • Aemi

    I believe demons exist, but I do not fear them. The Holy Spirit is guarding me, and evil cannot come near.

  • Amy

    Just read this post and it really resonated with me, being raised in a Pentecostal household. Fear of demons attacking me was unfortunately a large part of my childhood. Like you though, I feel much more comfortable in life knowing that "spirits" don't exist!


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