for 10 October 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.

 

 

Unholier Than Thou

 
 
Last week, Part I of this article
("Dog Spelled Backwards") proposed
that "[n]o one believes in gods
anymore, at least not like they used
to," and suggested that Lost Souls
turn - "for moral guidance and
existential uplift" - to Atheism...
 
Superstition is a generalized plague,
but subcultural trends can also
radiate out like airborne viruses.
Spread by sneezes, I suppose, in art
houses and bohemian bookstores.
 
Last week, after decades of
relegation to small libertarian
presses (and later, Usenet groups),
atheism burst all at once into the
mainstream press. The New York
Times reported on campus atheist
organizations. Slate hosted a "Fray"
debate on the existence of God, with
Andrew Sullivan flacking for the
faithful. And The New Republic's
Wendy Kaminer published a
devastating cover story, "The Last
Taboo," which argued that what
American politics needs now is a
dose of atheism, sweet atheism. (It
would have livened up last Sunday's
debate, at least, if Clinton and
Dole had spiced their bromides with
synonyms for "godless" provided by
our MS Word thesaurus: impious,
profane, blasphemous, sacrilegious,
unregenerate...)
 
Wha' happened? By the time Suck hit
the fiberwaves with Part I of this
screed last Thursday, it was
practically all over. Theists were
running around like Dustin Hoffman
with gas masks and oxygen tanks,
desperately hunting an escaped
monkey which answered to the name of
god. It will be some time, of
course, before hotels can replace
all those Gideon Bibles with copies
of Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's
Dictionary." And don't run to the
paper every Sunday to see if some
faithless F. Scott Peck imitator has
hit the bestseller list with The
Godless Trampled. We've waited this
long for some scrap of recognition
of our free-form skepticism; it can
probably wait a few more millennia.
 
 
Still, recognizing that atheists
constitutionally reject rigid
systems of thought, we have forged
ahead with our planned Notes Toward
An Atheist Bible, a collection of
quips, recollections, citations and
pointers for further reading:
 
WHAT DO Arnold Schwarzenegger, Andy
Rooney, Bill Gates, Harold Pinter,
Katharine Hepburn, Michael Kinsley,
Mikhail Gorbachev, Richard Avedon,
Sally Jessy Raphael, Stanley
Kubrick, and Ted Turner have in
common? They're all Trilateralists.
Oh, and blasphemin' heathens, too,
according to the Celebrity Atheists
page. Thank your lucky boldfaceable
stars!
 
DETAILS reported that while only 64%
of Norwegian men between the ages of
18 and 34 believe in God, 91% of
American guys are believers. The
results may have been skewed due to
the magazine polling the Americans
just before a naked bungee jump into
a volcano crater.
 
 
GRAFFITO, C. 1979: "God is not dead.
He is alive and autographing Bibles
today at Brentano's." A more current
version would say "answering your
questions on the Meaning of Life NOW
in a random AOL chat room."
 
BIERCE's definition of Religion: "a
daughter of Hope and Fear,
explaining to Ignorance the nature
of the Unknowable."
 
WOODY ALLEN: "Not only is there no
God, but try getting a plumber on
weekends."
 
STALIN AND MAO: When they protest
that two of history's most ambitious
genocidal maniacs were atheists,
scoff away. That pair definitely
believed in deities - one in a god
named Mao, the other in one named
Stalin.
 
DOCTOR, DOCTOR: My med-student
brother relates how his colleagues,
upon cutting into a cadaver, often
ooh and ahh over the complexity of
God's creation, saying "How could
his be the work of anything but a
superior being?" All the while the
atheists are thinking just the
opposite: "How could anyone build
such a poorly designed vessel for
souls? Are genital warts the work of
an omnipotent being?"
 
RICHARD SCHEININ reporting in the
San Jose Mercury News: When it comes to
lying on job resumes, cheating on
exams or plagiarizing reports, folks
who consider themselves devout
churchgoers often leave their ethics
at the chapel door when they return
to their homes and jobs. In fact,
according to a soon-to-be-released
report, the ethical behavior of
people who say religion is
"essential" to their lives is often
not distinguishable from the
behavior of those who describe
religion as "unimportant."
 
 
The self-styled CHURCH OF VIRUS,
promoting the "Virian Virtues" of
Reason, Empathy, and Vision in
opposition to the Senseless Sins of
Faith, Apathy and Hypocrisy,
maintains that "the importance of
life lies in our experience of it,
not beyond it. Aristotle argues that
perception and belief are
interpretive and selective and that
the way we order the world is
inseparable from our conceptual
model of it."
 
Accustomed to sticking up for
ourselves - even relishing it,
sometimes - where do atheists go now
that the likes of Kaminer can
announce, without fear of lightning
bolts or FBI surveillance, that
"religion is a fount of quotidian
oppressions" and that god-fearing
"magical thinking... is more
conducive to conspiracy theories
than it is to productive political
debate"?
 
For "apatheists" - a term to describe
those for whom such questions are
mostly just boring - we boil the
essence of atheistic morality down
to one treacly, E.T.-ish maxim: It
is in one's own best self-interest
to Be Good. If you're feeling at all
maudlin at this point, dim your
monitor and hum the last Paul-penned
line of Abbey Road's "The End."
 
The rest of you who think it's all
one big cosmic joke will have to
settle for a limerick:
 
There was an Old Man with a Beard
Who said: 'I demand to be feared.
Address Me as God, 
And love me, you sod!' 
And Man did just that, which was weird. 

- Roger Woddis 
 
 

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