Don’t take this the wrong way (Don’t you love sentences that start that way? They state something that’s already pre-ordained: “Don’t take this the wrong way” means “You’re about to take this the wrong way;” “Nothing personal” means “You are about to hear something personal;” “No offense” means “You are about to be offended;” “We should start seeing other people” means “I am seeing other people.”
I forgot what I was talking about…oh yeah!
Nothing personal, but you’re an atheist.
And we’re not talking mealy-mouthed, just-to-be-sure agnosticism, that flaccid go-to for fence squatters. We’ll get to those bitches in a minute.
No, I’m talking fuck-you atheism; The heaven sent, hellbent, And the New York Times said God is dead and the war’s begun-level non-believing. The kind that gets you a reservation at The Satanic Suites in Hell’s Motel 6 (what, you were expecting The Wynn?).
That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news: You’re in great company! Stephen Hawking is an atheist. So was Confucius. Though scholars debate whether Lincoln converted in his final years, his disdain for a creator was front and center in a letter he penned after the death of his 11-year-old son Willie: “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years,” he wrote. “And I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” Theists like the idea of Abe switching sides at the 11th hour, which is odd; look at the thanks he got.
But wait, there’s more!: The transition won’t be nearly as tough as you think. You already are an atheist, just with one exception. Consider: There are 4,300 religions worldwide, according to a 2017 Pew study (did they get the irony of their name?). That means, even if you do consider yourself a believer, you’re an atheist when it comes to the other 4,299 poor, misguided belief systems.
Here’s a simple test you can take at home or the office to see if you’re an antichrist: Say, for instance, you are shot and survive (it happens 222 times a day in the U.S., according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence). On the way to the hospital, the paramedic asks you: “Would you like to go to a hospital or your place of worship?”
Here’s the odd thing about that obvious question: The answer is a matter of faith.
Take it one step further. Say you’re in an auto accident (there are 6,301 a day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). On your way to the hospital, you’re told your doctor is an atheist. Would that bother you? While we’re strolling there, might as well stop on this cerebral tack: Would you even want a physician who is convinced snakes can talk and the dead come back to life and every biological species known to mankind once shared a boat ride?
Make no mistake, there are U.S. citizens aplenty who accept only the lord as paramedic. We call them Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They formally reject, for example, blood transfusions and traditional surgery. So if you’re in those fringe groups, my apologies for the blaspheming. And best of luck praying that tumor away.
Which brings us to that special breed of American coward, the agnostic. This is perhaps the most stupefying manifestation of belief, the I’ll-say-I-believe-just-in-case approach to faith. If I were god, I’d be more pissed you thought me such a chump.
And the agnostic fail safe caveat, “I don’t know so I can’t say for sure,” is just as disingenuous. Life is based on probabilities and assumptions. When you cross a street, you are committing an act of faith — that the motorist won’t mow you down. From the air you breathe to the food you eat, a staggering percentage of our daily choices rely on assumption and chance. We reject agnosticism’s wavering in every other facet of life. Accept that you believe in something. Pick a side and suit up.
Finally — and most importantly — we atheists need face this inescapable truth: Atheism is a religion.
Take Hawking, the apostle of non-believers. When he tells us there exists in the heavens something called a “black hole,” where light cannot escape and time fractures and the rules of physics no longer apply, we accept it. And quote prophets like Hawking and Einstein and Newton as if we were reading from Corinthians. Even though we will never see a black hole, we assume it’s true (and sounds an awful lot like Hades, minus the sunburn).
So why believe Hawking’s black hole and scoff at god’s Hell? That’s easy.
Because science has a better track record of running corrections, like a newspaper with a misspelling. Flat earth? Sorry about that; turns out it’s round. Hurricanes? Oops, that’s not Poseidon’s wrath. Center of the universe? Um, scratch that; we’re not even the center of the solar system (which isn’t at the center of things, either). Science is like journalism in the midst of a fierce newspaper war; your raison d’etre is to find the truth first. And if the competition gets it wrong, bust their balls for inaccuracy.
Religion doesn’t have a similar stopgap. You could find, literally, thousands of textbooks that begin with science’s earlier misunderstandings of this world, from misjudging Earth’s shape to mistaking its earliest inhabitants.
Name a single religious text, in the history of histories, that begins with acknowledgement of an error. You see, the texts aren’t wrong. Your reading of them is.
Fuck that. Time for atheists to concede that our skepticism is as much faith as their certainty. We need Saturday services (not on football Sunday) in which we replace sermons with half-hour Ted Talks on the mysteries of life and the universe.
We just need a catchy moniker. L. Ron Hubbard already claimed Scientology, which would have been a kickass name. And The Simpsons took The Hell’s Satans and The Christ Punchers.
It’ll come to me. The secret to divine inspiration is to ponder a problem and and then forget about it, letting it settle to near nothingness until there’s a big…BANG!