If you really want to iritate some atheists, tell them how much they sound like fundamentalist Christians.
Bad idea . . .
. . . learned it the hard way.
I know a bunch of atheists; though, why I know so many is a bit of a mystery. During a recent conversation with two of them – we’ll call them George and Bernice – George launched into a tirade of sorts. “Religions are all just folklore and fairy tales. They were designed to control human behavior and they are all corrupt.”
“They are also a great source of comfort to many people,” I said.
He huffed and guffawed. “Simple-minded people,” he said.
“Like brainless sheep,” Bernice added.
“I’m not certain I’d refer to Dr. Martin Luther King as a brainless sheep,” I said. “Nor Jimmy Carter, for that matter.”
“Perhaps,” Bernice said. “But their messages would have been so much stronger and effective if they had left God out of the equation.”
“So a belief in God reduces a speaker’s effectiveness?” I was a bit bewildered by the thought. “What about Mahatmas Ghandi? What about the Buddha?”
“Anything that is tied to superstition is less effective than something based on logic.” George gave me a smug smile.
“So you’re saying that logic and spirituality can’t coexist; right?”
“Basically,” George said. “Logic is the superior element. Logic is the primary source of knowledge. The greatest minds throughout human history have relied on logic rather than the simplistic aspects of belief. ” He snorted a bit (really!) and said, “God is for children; logic is for adults.”
Now, for the record, I am deist. I believe in a higher power – call it God, the Universe, Energy, the Force, whatever – but I don’t believe that this energy or entity or whatever meddles in the day-to-day affairs of human life. I don’t think it cares which football team wins the Super Bowl or American Idol. I don’t think it helps you with your golf swing or helps you find a mate, or fixes the weird noise in your car engine. The best description for it – according to me and based on what a very wise woman told me – is that it is like ocean waves: a powerful energy source that moves constantly around us. It can pull us under or buoy us up. It can move us forward or pull us backward. Our task is to figure out how to harness this energy; how to use it to help our lives rather than being tossed around by it. But I also believe that it’s up to us to figure out the rules for using it. Some of those rules can be found in the Bible, some in the Torah, some in the Quran. They are found in Buddhist teachings, Hindu literature, and texts on quantum physics. And sometimes, when we are not expecting it, it can surprise us by showing us that it is still present and may (possibly) be paying attention.
George continued asserting his “logic vs. spirituality” arguement.
“You can’t logically explain God. You can’t prove any religious belief by scientific means. It’s irrational and backwards.”
“There’s no heaven, no hell, no angels floating on clouds,” Bernice chimed in. “This is really all there is.”
“You’re sure about that?” I asked.
“You can’t prove anything different. You can’t know that there is anything else because there isn’t any proof.”
At this point, I’d had a few glasses of wine, so I was feeling a little froggy. “Don’t tell me what I know,” I said. “I have my own experiences to draw on, and I can tell you that there is some part of us that goes on.”
Bernice let out a “P-shaw” noise.
“”You know who you sound like? You sound just like the fundamentalist Christians who thump on their bibles and say ‘this is the only answer’ as they turn red in the face.”
Bernice had an odd expression.
“That’s ludacris,” George said. “We’re nothing like that.”
“Oh – you’re exactly like that,” I said. “The only difference is that you’re thumping on geometry books instead of a bible.” Then, in a voice to immitate George’s arrogant tone I said, “Only logic is real. This is the only answer,” as I mimicked thumping a book in my hand.
George and Bernice walked away, murmering to each other.
I’m sure they thought I was nuts. I think they are.
I don’t care that they are atheists. Our Constitution guarantees us the right to believe in any way we deem is appropriate – so long as hurting people isn’t part of the belief. And they certainly have a right to discuss their beliefs with others.
But they don’t have a right to tell me what I know.
If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that I occasionally have conversations with my grandfather who passed away more than 20 years ago. And recently my dad has arrived to talk to me, though he passed three years ago. My mother-in-law told me she spoke with my father-in-law recently. He’s been gone two years.
There are times I feel like that energy, that wave, is pulling me under. Then I realize that I’ve just forgotten how to swim in the ocean. It isn’t that reality is causing me pain, it’s that I’m creating a painful reality. When I remember this, when I find clarity again, I can feel that energy lift me up and give me strength.
Sure – it might be the endorphins kicking in. I can accept that that is part of it. But not everything can be explained so easily. For example:
I hadn’t talked with my friend Jodi in a few months. We are both busy raising kids, working, and trying to be functional women. As I was sitting at a stop light one day, I saw a car that I thought was hers. I decided I’d give her a call on the cell phone to see how she was doing. When she answered, it was clear she wasn’t doing well. I asked what was wrong, and she told me that her father-in-law had passed away that morning and she was at home packing to drive to Nevada to help her mother-in-law arrange for the burial. I told her how sorry I was, and I offered her my help if she needed anything. She needed someone to come and take care of her dogs. I told I’d be happy to. The arrangements were made, and she said, “I’m so glad you called – it was just perfect timing.” Clearly, that hadn’t been her car I’d seen, but just as clearly, she needed me to call.
Another time I had a dream about my grandfather. We had a delightful chat, and just before I awoke, he said very plainly, “Tell your mother that everything will be fine, and not to worry about the money. Tell her I’ll make sure there is enough.” Now – as I mentioned, my grandfather passed many years ago. I hesitated saying anything because I just knew what a fruitcake I was going to sound like – but I called my mom the next day.
“Mom,” I said, praying she wouldn’t laugh at me. “Grandpa says not to worry about the money. He said everything will be fine, and he’ll make sure there is enough.”
No laughter, no ridicule.
Then a long sigh and I could tell Mom was crying. “What did John tell you?” (my step-dad).
“Nothing. I haven’t talked to him since last week.”
Another long sigh. Mom hung up on me.
The next day she called back to explain. Their accountant had found a mistake in their taxes. He’d miscalculated by about $12,000 because he’d missed one of their investment accounts. They had been worrying, stressing, arguing for days over the revelation. About an hour before I’d called her, Mom had received a call from the accountant. He’d woken up in the middle of the night thinking about their account. He’d reviewed the return and found an entry that had been made twice. When he revised the forms, he discovered that the difference covered the error, so there was no longer an extra amount owed.
Maybe it’s coincidence. I know it felt very real to me.
I believe what I believe because of my experiences. Not one or two of them, mind you, but because things like this happen each day – sometimes more obvious, sometimes more subtle. I don’t anyone else to validate my beliefs for me, but don’t try to tell me what I know.
Especially if you’re an atheist.