God Is Not Great

I am an atheist. This is publicly available information.

I would also add that I don’t consider myself a “practicing” atheist. I, unlike some prominent and active atheists, do not seek out the religious to criticize them or to try to sway them to my point-of-view.

I don’t have a problem being friends with people who believe in God – in fact most of my friends do, and even the majority of my girlfriends throughout my life have been religious. Very religious, in fact.

I didn’t step foot into a church service until halfway through high-school. My girlfriend was Lutheran and I was undecided, meaning I hadn’t cared enough to think about it, but because we had our youthful puppy love, I obliged to attend church with her now and then. It made her happy, and I scored points with her family, but she could sense that I felt out of my element.

In this respect I had no element to begin with, but she reassured me whenever she reached over and grasped my hand beneath the table as her family said their prayer before dinner. It was her little wink to me that showed her appreciation for sitting through it.

We were together for long enough to where we pictured our perfect lives together, and I imagined “becoming” Lutheran in the future and raising our kids that way. Because I said I had never read or owned a copy, she gave me a bible – complete with my name and date of birth – as a gift. And at that point I actually was thankful, and received it graciously.

Now I look back on those days and, boy, am I even more thankful that I didn’t spend the rest of my life pretending to believe in things that I didn’t.

She wasn’t the last God-loving girlfriend I had, however. The next two were as well, including a pastor’s daughter. The other was more insisting that I attend church with her, and that – as it turned out – was just another straw breaking an already dilapidated camel’s back. Long story.

Couples break up for many reasons, and there were plenty of reasons each time my first three relationships ended. It is interesting, however, that my fourth girlfriend (and likely my last if we have anything to say about it, which we most certainly do) is an atheist like me. I’m not saying religion broke up my first three relationships, but I know who would: Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens, a journalist and outspoken atheist, is the author of the book “God Is Not Great,” a manifesto of all things godly best characterized by its subtitle, “How Religion Poisons Everything.”

Now… the point I failed to make earlier and that I am tangentially making now – about not stepping into a church service until halfway through high-school – is that I didn’t even think about religion and God until women entered my life. Since being forced to think about it, I have come to the conclusion that I am an atheist. Perhaps it was the rather insistent third girlfriend, but as the saying goes, three strikes and you’re out. I tried agnosticism for a bit and it wasn’t for me either.

Sorry religion, I’m just not that into you.

So as an atheist I recently decided to brush up on the subject, and thus just finished reading Hitchens’ book. And as one might logically conclude, I liked it, and agreed with the evidence provided. Most of it, anyway.

I liked the book because it provided a detailed list of evidence supporting ideas that I’ve held in my head all of these years. Ideas I couldn’t yet express myself due either to a lack of knowledge and experience in a subject, or to a lack of eloquence of which Hitchens oozes.

Here are some of the best examples from his argument against religion:

  • Religion has been detrimental to public health in some cases, including when the Muslims believed the polio vaccine was a conspiracy and the Pope claimed condoms are ineffective against AIDS. You can imagine the trouble a statement like that can cause in a place like Africa.
  • The argument against condoms included the claim that they are unnatural, and you don’t see dogs out in nature wearing condoms. As Hitchens pointed out, is man, then, a creature of nature or of divine design? Can’t have it both ways.
  • AIDS has been said to be God’s punishment for homosexuality. Why, then, are homosexual women statistically far less likely to contract HIV?
  • The Bible is filled with both historical inaccuracies and internal inconsistency.
  • Miracles, such as those attributed to Mother Theresa, are misconceived myths. An example is how a photograph in a poorly lit room came out much clearer than expected – a feat to which the photographer credits the new generation of Kodak film he was using.
  • The creation of religion as a method of dealing with fears and hopes appears to be a man-made human construct that can be reproduced as if in a laboratory. During World War 2, as the Pacific theater drew American troops to remote island cultures to build airstrips, the world witnessed the creation of “cargo cults.” These civilizations, isolated from the rest of the world, viewed the soldiers like angels and saviors, bringing riches to the island. Years later, evidence shows they began worshiping them like gods, awaiting the soldiers’ return like that of Jesus. It’s like C-3PO and the Ewoks. Think about it.

These are just a few of Hitchens’ points, but are the ones that stuck out to me.

I don’t agree with Hitchens on everything, however. For starters, he views circumcision as genital mutilation and I, personally, do not. I do not equate it to the removal of a woman’s clitoris, but I’m really not about to get into a discussion of genitals right now.

On a larger scale, I don’t agree with the broad strokes with which he paints religion. Religion does not, in fact, poison everything. There is plenty of good that comes from religion, in my opinion. Many people find comfort in religion and use their faith to do good. There are good and bad people who believe in God, just as there are good and bad people who do not.

I think Hitchens feels like his hand is forced. He feels he needs to fight fire with fire, violently rejecting religion. I can see why he feels this way, and applaud him for having the courage to do so, but it’s not how I see myself as an atheist.

To reiterate, if you believe in a god or multiple gods, I don’t have a problem with you. We can be friends just fine. You are free to believe whatever you want, and so am I. Who am I to tell you what to believe and what not to believe? That said, if you try to tell me what I should believe, then we have a problem.

I am perfectly fine with religion as long as it is not trying to impose itself on me. Hitchens would argue that religion is doing just that – imposing itself – all over the world.

Do I care that the Pledge of Allegiance has “One nation under God” in it? Not really. Should creationism be taught along side evolution in school? Save it for Sunday, folks. Do I think same sex marriage she be outlawed because of what the Bible says? Absolutely not. But that’s a whole other blog post.

The moral of the story is, I can lead as moral a life as anyone, and I don’t need God in my life to do it. But if you believe in God, and feel that you need him/her/it in your life, then by all means.

My new European friends give me looks of shock and confusion when I spread mayonnaise on my sandwich before toasting it. It’s similar to look I gave them when I realized they primarily use it as a dip for French fries. I can still be friends with New Yorkers, despite my Boston-grown hatred for the Yankees. We disagree, but that doesn’t mean I hate them or my European mayo-confused counterparts.

Life is bigger than that. God vs. No God is about as important to me as mayo vs. ketchup. Just don’t try to (excuse the pun) spread your ideas about condiments over my own. I have my ways, you have yours.

Anyway, as President Bartlet on “The West Wing” continually says, what’s next? My research continues with Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” I actually have queued up some books that argue contrary to my beliefs, but if you have a suggestion for more (other than the Bible) I am all ears.

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