The war that's coming between the fundamentalist Christians and the hard-core Atheists probably won't be the most violent of the holy wars. But it has the potential to be the most annoying. Well, I'm going to try to stop it.
So I'm running into this guy basically everywhere I go:
Not that exact guy. People like him. I recognize the type, I had to spend the whole first half of my life around the Christian version of those guys, people who worked it into every conversation. But now I'm running into these really aggressive, sort of evangelical atheists. Ever since 9/11/2001, in fact. The exact day a whole lot of atheists decided this religion thing had to go before it killed us all.
These things never end well.
But I think we've got more common ground than we admit. For instance, both my atheist and Christian friends (I seem to have an equal number of both these days) tell me they agree with the following statement:
Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick.
I doubt anybody reading this has ever waved a snarky sign at a funeral, so I think we're pretty much all in the same boat still. See? Common ground.
So how about this: I'm going to throw out a few of these statements - things I think we have to agree on if we want to avoid disaster - and you can read until you see something you disagree with. We'll see how long we can make it last.
Why? Because something's brewing. I wander around my local Barnes & Noble and they've got a whole special table set aside:
I go home, log into one of my favorite forums and one guy's got this as his avatar:
And another dude has this:
So I retreat to my own forums, and find out turbo evangelist Jerry Falwell had died that day. The reaction?
I mean, that thing I said I said earlier about not celebrating the death of somebody you disagree with... that still counts for a bitter, uncompromising old fart like Falwell, right? We're civilized people. We can celebrate him changing his mind, or even celebrate him being made to look like a fool in public.
But you start cheering his death, you've walked away from the one single baseline every remotely moral person has ever agreed on: the value of human life. And I know we all agree on that, because we can all think of people we could've otherwise stabbed and gotten away with it.
And sure, there may be a few of my atheists out there saying that what Falwell was spewing was so hateful, that it surely inspired some murders (of homosexuals or abortion doctors or whatever) and that he thus deserved death on those grounds.
But you don't want to live by that rule; you'll wind up in a world where gangsta rappers and video game programmers and political commentators and novelists are considered worthy of death just because some fans claimed their work inspired them to kill. That's the sort of thing a nut from the other side would say. Right?
No, people got to have the right to express themselves, good, bad and ugly. Falwell had a family. Friends. He was a human being. You cheer over his corpse and you're just acting like a pecker.
And that's another thing both sides agree on, that we hate this modern trend toward peckerfication. So let's see what else we agree on...
(NOTE: Per international regulations governing all online religious debate, we are required to insert on each page humorous and inflammatory image macros such as the one below. To prove my objectivity, these have been carefully chosen as to be equally offensive to all belief systems. -MGMT )
1. You Can Do Terrible Things in the Name of Either One
We're putting aside the question of which belief system has killed more people by percentage of population, or whether a hypothetical world without religion would have seen fewer or more genocides than ours. We're not going to open a spreadsheet and try to count which belief system manufactures more murderous sociopaths per capita.
All I need from you is agreement that it's entirely possible for either an atheist or theist world to devolve into a screaming murder festival. The religious leader sends his people into battle because he thinks God commanded it, the Stalins and Maos of the world do the same because they see their people as nothing more than meaty fuel to be ground up to feed the machinery of The State. In both cases, the people are equally dead.
Yeah, yeah, I know the Christians are saying that the guy who fights an unjust or needless war is violating God's law, and thus isn't a good Christian. Meanwhile, the atheists are saying that Stalin was merely bloodthirsty, separate and apart from his disbelief in a higher power. Both believe, then, that it is a corruption of their belief system that allows unjust slaughter to happen.
But for this project, All we need to agree on is this: it happens in both cases. And if the opposing belief system vanished tomorrow, war and bloodshed and terror would still take place.
And can we further admit it's actually physically impossible to calculate whether, if your side had its way, the volume of terrible things happening would go up, or down, or stay the same? I know you have an opinion on that, and I can guess what it is. But we don't know, and can't state it like it's fact. Right?
Everybody still on board?
Good. Can we now also agree...
2. Both Sides Really Do Believe What They're Saying
Christians do this thing that drives atheists nuts, where they talk like God is patently obvious to all mankind, and that atheism is therefore just petty, intentional rebellion against Christians. In other words, that atheists don't honestly believe what they say, and just say it because they're jerks.
But atheists do something very similar, particularly when a Christian says:
"Only the saved go to Heaven!"
...and what the atheist hears is:
"I want everyone else to go to Hell!"
It's the same thing, thinking that deep down Christians don't really believe this is the law handed down by a creator, and therefore Christianity is just a petty, intentional rebellion against the non-Christians of the world. In other words, that Christians don't honestly believe what they say, and just say it because they're jerks.
But all that is just a way to make cartoon villains out of the people who disagree with us. And if we stop and think about it, we'll see it's asinine.
Atheists, you know that Christians have freaking died because they refused to walk away from what they believe. That goes beyond simple human stubbornness. I mean, I can tell you first hand. I was raised in a Pentecostal church (like the one they visited in the Borat movie).
I soured on the whole religion thing in my teens, as you can probably imagine, and then came back to it later kind of on my own terms. From that experience I can relay this fact: If there's no God, then there is something in the human brain that can and does present an amazingly realistic impression of one. A gland, an artifact of environmental pattern recognition, whatever you want to pin it on, the result is, at certain times and in certain moods, as tangible and real and distinct as the person sitting across from you on the subway.
You can say they're wrong. You can say it all day, you can etch "YOU'RE WRONG" into the surface of the moon with a giant laser. But you'll have a lot less angst if you remember that the thing they're wrong about is something they honestly believe, down to their roots. I guess you could just call them crazy, but it's a little silly to use that word when believers are the norm in human population.
But either way, it's not something they intentionally chose just to annoy you.
Christians, same deal. Every one of you have got friends and family who aren't believers. And I bet some of them are good people. Earnest people, thoughtful people. Charitable. Kind.
So... doesn't that kind of kill the premise that these people are avoiding God out of sinful rebellion or fear of having to live a godly life? After all, you've got people who are doing the hard part (self-sacrifice, patience, giving up all sorts of sinful pleasures) but are avoiding the easy part (praying and listening to a preacher talk for one hour a week). If God and the danger of Hell were that obvious, why wouldn't they just go all the way with it?
No, if there is a God, it appears that some good people honestly don't perceive him. For whatever reason. And there has to be some tolerance in God's rules for the Honest Mistake. Has to be. Otherwise we're all going to get screwed by that thing with the Sabbath being on Saturday instead of Sunday.
So, we've agreed that the other guy, no matter how irritating he or she is, is likely making an honest mistake. If we can agree on that, can we also agree that...