June 21, 2009
Confessions of a Lapsed Atheist
Do you believe in God? Really? And you're willing to admit it in public?
Oops. Sorry, for a moment I slipped back into the arrogant Atheism of my youth.
Before my parents had children, they decided to raise their kids in a secular home. We had gifts at Christmas time and chocolate covered matzoh during Passover, but there was no religion and certainly no God.
When I was in grade school, God was just a kind of nondescript character who popped up in Little House on the Prairie books from time to time. He seemed like a decent enough fellow, but was more or less a bit player who didn't have much to say.
After my grandfather died when I was seven, his Baptist minister lifted me up in his arms and told me, "It's all right, Grandpa's with God now." At that moment, I could feel my dress was hiked up in the back and all I could think about was pulling it back down. But later, I asked around and discovered that God was our Heavenly father, whatever that was supposed to mean.
I figured, who better to ask about my Heavenly father than my earthly father, but when I did he laughed.
He wasn't amused in a "kids say the darnedest things" kind of way. He was laughing derisively at the idea that my mother's family believed in God. And thus began my introduction to Atheism.
There are people who call themselves atheist who are simply nonbelievers, and then there are the big "A" Atheists for whom Atheism is almost a religion. This quasi-religious doctrine isn't neutral on the existence of other religions; rather, Atheism is a virulently anti-theistic creed characterized by sneering contempt for religion and a profoundly dogmatic bigotry toward people of faith.
Want to know how Atheists see the rest of us?
I grew up learning from my father that Atheism is rational, and therefore, religious belief is irrational; Atheism is defined by logic, religious faith by fantasy; and science is real while religion is make believe. Faith, I was taught, requires a willful stifling of reason.
The Torah, the Gospels, the Qur'an? All woefully inaccurate, laughably inconsistent fictions used to encourage belief in an illusion for the purpose of social control.
My curiosity in religion surfaced again in seventh grade when several of my friends were planning Bat Mitzvahs. Surely my friends weren't ignorant enough to actually believe in God, were they? The answer was no. For most of these Reform Jews, this celebration marked the official end to the tedium of Hebrew school. Most of their families were Ethical Culturists with a recreational interest in preserving their Jewish cultural identity. In other words, they too were Atheists.
By the time I reached high school, having had little contact with religion, I was convinced that people of faith were credulous and unenlightened. They gravitated toward soothing tales of God and afterlife to help them deal with their own mortality. At best, I considered belief in God an anachronism, a quaint vestige of days gone by, on par with superstitions about wicked thoughts causing birth defects.
At my extremely liberal college, I was exposed to even more militant Atheism. It was there that I learned the mere whiff of religiosity is worthy of denigration. Many of the people I met approached religion with something between disdain and loathing, and considered all religious belief a form of fanaticism. Christians in particular were characterized as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing fundies (and that was in polite company.)
Fortunately my mother taught me enough manners that I kept my bias to myself.
In this new environment, my Atheism was more than evidence of good reasoning, it was a socially desirable badge of intellectual superiority. Make no mistake: Atheists think they're smarter than you. Atheism isn't simple skepticism. It is a certainty that believers are wrong, and by extension, intellectually inferior. Religion, especially Judeo-Christian religion, is nothing more than a crutch for dupes.
But Atheists aren't content to leave religion as a mere object of ridicule. They want it cleansed from public life. And enlightened as they are, they've come up with quite the pretense for justifying the righteousness of their bigotry: they are defending the vision of our Founding Fathers from a dominionist conspiracy to establish Christianity as the state religion.
You see, for liberal Atheists, the only thing worse than religion is the Religious Right, a term they use to encompass all Christian conservatives. And what better way to siphon fuel from the Religious Right than to convince Americans that the government is perpetually on the verge of becoming a theocracy?
And so, they accuse local governments of trampling the Constitution in the name of God and they find subliminal Christian iconography in political ads. They wring new meanings from Thomas Jefferson's notion of separation between church and state, and condemn our country's motto and the status of Christmas as a national holiday. But above all, Atheists stoke fear among religious and nonreligious alike that conservatives view government as a tool to force religion down your throat.
Pope-slandering buffoon Bill Maher, something of a patron saint among Atheists, has called religion "the ultimate hustle." Last fall, Maher's fellow liberal Chris Matthews, a self-described Catholic, roundly criticized Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for talking about prayer in a "secular environment" and complained that she made the Republican Party look more like a church tent than a big tent. In March, Matthews complained, "Why does everything sound like the '700 Club' with this Party now?" Such examples of anti-religious bias can be found every day on cable news, network television, and in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
As my politics strayed right of center after college, I realized I wanted no part of that Maher/Matthews worldview based in elitism and the ridicule of others. I made the transition from Atheist to atheist to agnostic, and have since discovered why it is often said that religion is experiential.
There was a time when I would have preferred any manner of torture to admitting the possibility of a higher power. These days, I'm proud to say I lost my faith in the Atheist creed.
Jenn Q. Public writes about news, politics, and the seedy underbelly of liberalism at JennQPublic.com.