“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”
After an excessive number of political rants, I’m going to take a break and tackle a less sensitive topic: religion. I promise to be just as insulting, if not more so.
I’m not going to try to argue whether God exists: if you have enough brain matter to fill a pudding cup (and I am talking about the ridiculous little kiddie-size ones that only serve to remind you how good pudding tastes) you can tell that God is either dead or asleep at the wheel. “Intelligent Design” is the dumbest theory ever invented to support God’s existence; a better one would be “Malicious Idiot Design”. If you’re one of those who believes that an obscure nomadic tribal deity created the entire universe in a week six thousand years ago, deliberately designed it to look much older than it is, created trillions of galaxies for the sake of one tiny planet, peopled it with creatures who can’t help sinning and tormented them for being sinners, and then murdered His only child because it was the best excuse He could think of not to burn every single human being in Hell for eternity – and, furthermore, that this is a good thing – then you might as well not read any further. You’re not the kind of person I’m trying to piss off right now.
If on the other hand you are one of those who believes that you have the right to not only believe whatever you want, but to rub your superiority in the faces of the majority you despise, demonize them, and not be subjected to recriminations and the odd death threat, you are right in my crosshairs. (My political rants don’t count because I don’t mind being hated by greentards, randroids, and other trash, and besides, I’m always right.)
Of course I am (like all intelligent people) an atheist. I think that people should have the right to believe whatever they want without being penalized for it, and not be forced to participate in or subsidize any religion at all. People should not demand tolerance from those whose beliefs they mock and despise, when they are unwilling to grant the same tolerance themselves. They should not have the right to demand that every visible trace of conflicting belief – even atavistic Yahweh-worship – be expunged from public life. If the right of the majority to hold and express its beliefs is not protected, can we expect that the right of the minority will be?
Lawsuits over a Nativity scene at a county courthouse, over the Boy Scout’s use of the Pledge of Allegiance (even after the brats in question were excused from saying the words, “Under God”!), over public postings of the Ten Commandments; controversy over a period of silence in schools – these are reflections of an obscene petty narcissism, not any concern for liberty. Even if the people who instigate such things truly have no better problems of their own to address (which I heartily doubt), they should be reviled for causing pointless disruption to others.
The separation of Church and State (which does not actually exist in the Constitution) is no justification. In our modern world, where government is directly or indirectly involved in every aspect of our lives, there is no possibility of practicing religion without impinging in some way on the public sphere. Churches are going to be zoned differently than whorehouses, people are going to drive to them on taxpayer-subsidized roads, and our Great Annual Shopping Holiday is always going to be called Christmas. We don’t really need protection from this kind of persecution. We need protection from mandatory tithing, enforced church attendance, imprisonment, and burning at the stake. Yes, atheists have suffered such things in the past for their beliefs. So have Christians, and in far greater numbers.
There are some people who like to get all in your face with their religion, but 99.9% are content to leave you alone if you leave them alone. If you get all offended because some well-meaning person says, “God bless you”, you are an asshole. Why should everyone have to tip-toe around the atheist to avoid pricking his fragile ego? If you want to have beliefs that are your own, and not parroted from the herd, you have to be willing to be different; you can’t expect everyone else to change to accommodate you. If you can’t handle being reminded that you are different, you do not deserve to have your own beliefs. You can’t escape the herd while remaining a herd beast. If you call yourself an atheist because you want to make some kind of statement against religion, you are not an atheist, you are a twit.
I am an atheist because the idea of God is absurd – even the remote, passive God of Deists or Pantheists, let alone the anachronistic mythological chimera of Christianity. I am not an atheist because I think that religion itself, or religious people, are a curse on society (as some loud persons would have us believe). It’s easy to list numerous evils perpetrated in the name of God; some of them, perhaps, were even sincerely motivated by religion. But what about all the good and selfless things that people have done to please the imaginary Man in the sky? They may not be as spectacular, but they are undeniably numerous, and anyone who pretends otherwise is just being stupid. For every Jerry Falwell, there are millions of Christians who give to help out complete strangers – even atheist strangers. If they want anything in return, it’s a chance to save your soul. Condescending? Sure, but so is telling a Christian to move out of the Dark Ages, and I’ve never heard of anyone offering them a free meal in exchange for listening to it.
Some people claim to believe that religion is not a real motive for generosity – that religionists are simply doing what they would do anyway. Well, if religion is the cause of all the crimes ostensibly motivated by it, then surely it can motivate good deeds as well? Either religion has the power to influence behavior, or it does not, and it’s ridiculous and self-serving to pretend, in the absence of any evidence, that it can work only for evil and not for good. I think it is clear that religion can do both, and I’m far from certain that it does more harm than good (excepting Islam, of course).
It’s impossible to say whether Christians are more generous or less prone to crime than atheists, partly because the great majority of Christians are quite insincere in their beliefs – in fact, I suspect the majority of them are just directionless agnostics with a purely social attachment to a church. Atheists are more likely to have a moral character simply by virtue of the fact that one almost has to have some measure of character to be an atheist at all – the herd beasts stay in the herd, but it’s debatable whether they should be counted as Christians.
Clearly, atheists, like Christians, can have good moral character (or very bad moral character), and religion is not a necessary motivator for morality. But I have to wonder whether religion has some utility in transmitting ethical standards from one generation to the next. Sure, there are atheist parents who do this quite effectively. But the average atheist is much more intelligent and better educated than the average person. Without the simplifying framework of religion and the reinforcement of its aura of authority, would the average parent – overworked, unaware, and barely literate – do as well? I have my doubts. Better that children learn their values from Sunday school than from television.
People who are obnoxiously proud of being non-Christian usually style themselves atheists (unless they are into Wicca or some other form of pseudo-occult pseudo-pagan “religion” that exists solely for the purpose of giving dipshits an excuse to conflate their D&D characters with real life). Often such people are really agnostics, especially if they are pressed on the issue, because they don’t have the the personal integrity to maintain atheism or the intellectual capacity to defend it. An atheist believes something, an agnostic does not. Pretending that atheism is “lack of belief in God” is a dodge – the etymology of the name notwithstanding, a real atheist has a definite belief that God does not exist, and this is what the name has always meant. Those who claim otherwise are doing real atheists a grave disservice by pretending that we do not exist, and implying – by refusing to defend it and denying the value of doing so – that the belief of atheism cannot be defended. Someone who doesn’t claim to know whether God exists is an agnostic, or even a theist struggling with a crisis of faith, not an atheist at all.
In the end, a genuine Christian and a genuine atheist probably have more in common than either does with an agnostic. The latter avoids the consequences of knowledge by denying its existence. He may not believe in a life after death, but he is not absolutely certain that death is oblivion. He may not be absolutely certain that God has no will for his life, but he can disregard the possibility. But someone with a real belief must accept the consequences that it has in his life – he has to live with what he knows. This demands an integrity that agnosticism or phony-Christianity does not.
There is not much integrity displayed in the behavior of those loud atheists and pseudo-atheists who are so proud to have made so many enemies, who pretend that frivolous lawsuits represent the desires of all non-believers, who snivel hypocritically about intolerance while raining down wholesale defamy on billions of people who are, for the most part, no worse than they. Let them look to the log in their own eye…