As the conflict between Israel and Hamas gets uglier and more violent, I was struck with the realization that I’m glad to be an atheist. The current conflict is rooted in religious strife between Jews and Muslims. There’s even a sub-set of that strife: Hamas is a Shiite Muslim group and most Palestinian Muslims are Sunni. Then there’s all the Jewish sects many of which want to transform Israel into a theocracy.
For many years, I called myself an agnostic. It was an exercise in manners: why offend well-meaning people with the more inflammatory word atheist? Unfortunately, there are fewer well-meaning religious people all the time. Apologies to those of you who are.
Not long after I moved to Baton Rouge with my first wife, I found myself in a group of people my own age discussing the churches they attended. I was silent until I was asked what church I belonged to I said, “I was raised Greek Orthodox.”
My parents went to church; my mom even taught Sunday school. But they weren’t exactly pious. My father went to schmooze and hang out with other Greeks. My mother was raised Lutheran, which meant that she knew her Bible verses. It made her a religious skeptic, but my parents were conventional people and conventional people went to church every Sunday.
The Greek Orthodox church we attended was more sedate than that. The services seemed as long as Lawrence Of Arabia but not as exciting.
My budding agnosticism as a young’un was fueled by reading Gore Vidal’s novel, Julian. The title character was the Roman emperor who tried to roll back Christianity in the empire. He believed that religious absolutism led to conflict in a diverse realm. In the end, Julian failed but it’s a ripping yarn.
I picked up several terms from Julian: Charnel house for church, Galilean for Christian, and Sky God for you know who. I’ve only used the last term and only when something deeply stupid happens such as Pat Robertson blaming everything bad on those who haven’t bathed in the blood of the lamb. Sounds messy to me.
As an adult, I continued to call myself an agnostic. I was often reluctant to let my atheist freak flag fly except among friends. I have a running gag with my buddy Silent G who is an ordained minister and professor of theology. I call him my personal minister, but he doesn’t preach at me, he’s in on the joke.
FYI, I dislike organized atheism as much as organized religion. My atheism is strictly disorganized…
Another reason I’ve had atheism on my mind is a marvelous article in the WaPo by Kate Cohen: America Doesn’t Need More God. It Needs More Atheists.
I identify with Cohen’s struggle to free herself from the bonds of using agnostic to describe her beliefs:
“Being an “atheist,” at least according to popular culture, seems to require so much work. You have to complain to the school board about the Pledge of Allegiance, stamp over “In God We Trust” on all your paper money and convince Grandma not to go to church. You have to be PhD-from-Oxford smart, irritated by Christmas and shruggingly unmoved by Michelangelo’s “Pietà.” That isn’t me — but those are the stereotypes.
And then there are the data. Studies have shown that many, many Americans don’t trust atheists. They don’t want to vote for atheists, and they don’t want their children to marry atheists. Researchers have found that even atheists presume serial killers are more likely to be atheist than not.”
You don’t have to believe in a Sky God to be an ethical and moral person. I once had an argument with a Catholic relative about why the church was losing adherents. She said, “I think it’s because they removed the mystery by abandoning the Latin mass.”
I disagreed with a pithy two word phrase: “Pedophile priests.”
Most of the worst things on the GOP agenda are fueled by religion. It’s nauseating given their fealty to the Kaiser of Chaos who some regard as the second coming. Second coming of what?
I worry about the collapse of the wall of separation between church and state as does Kate Cohen:
“You don’t have to be an atheist to worry about the structural integrity of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church & State.” You don’t have to be an atheist to think that religion should not shape public policy or that believers should have to follow the laws that everyone else does. You don’t have to be an atheist to see that Christian nationalists are using “religious liberty” to perpetuate much of the discrimination Americans suffer today.
But atheists can do one thing about the country’s drift into theocracy that our religious neighbors won’t: We can tell people we don’t believe in God. The more people who do that, the more we normalize atheism in America, the easier it will be — for both politicians and the general public — to usher religion back out of our laws.”
In my opinion, despite many pious people who do good deeds, religion is the cause of much suffering and strife. It’s not just a Middle Eastern thing. It’s a Sky God thing.
That’s why I’m glad to be an atheist.
The last word goes to Traffic: