An essay on atheism that I wrote for the Harrisburg Patriot-News and PennLive. Hit a nerve because I got hundreds of comments.
By Bob Quarteroni
Bertrand Russell said it best, as he did of so many things: “And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.”
A sentiment with which I’ve always concurred, even during my dark days as a closet non-believer in Catholic grade school, high school and college.
I never, for one second, gave serious consideration to the weird idea of a personal god mucking around in the lives of us little dust motes in the remotest backwater of a universe that is “not only stranger than you imagine but stranger than you can imagine,” according to Alfred North Whitehead.
Eight trillion galaxies and he’s worried about whether I’m having “impure thoughts.’ ? I don’t think so.
Hence, a rapid transition from recovering Catholic to agnosticism to full-blown atheism by 21.
After all the gloom and doom of organized religion, atheism was so refreshing, liberating, intoxicating.
And I love its self-reliance, accepting the universe as impartial or indifferent, and not relying on a vague personified Lone Ranger in the sky.
As fellow traveler Albert Einstein said: “The word ‘god’ for me is nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.”
Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Christian Nation, we’re atheists and we’re not hiding it anymore.
And it’s not easy being godless in this god-fearing land. My simple “no gods, no masters” bumper sticker has been spat on and spray painted.
And it’s not just me.
A few years ago, alternet.org posted an article on the “10 Scariest States to Be An Atheist” and our religion-besotted commonwealth managed to snag 10th place. According to the site: “Anti-atheist bigotry can, and does, happen anywhere. And Pennsylvania is Exhibit A. Specifically, Annville, Pennsylvania, where atheist veterans marching in the Memorial Day parade were jeered, booted, insulted … and told they were going to burn in hell. Not once or twice by a couple of fanatics, but repeatedly, through the course of the parade.”
But like any minority that has fought for its place in the sun, it’s time for all of us non-believers to stop hiding from the overwhelmingly monotheistic society we live in, stop simply not airing our views because we know how they will be received (badly) and start saying what we so strongly believe: There is no god; deal with it.
My personal beliefs have always been based on the simplest of tenets: Any 10th-grader of average intelligence could come up with a world that didn’t rely on torment, torture, fear and pain as heavily as does this one.
If there’s a benevolent omnipotent power who created us, it surely wouldn’t feel the need to make existence so brutal – think 6 million killed in the Holocaust; think babies born without limbs; think long, painful deaths from cancer. Or as Shakespeare so eloquently put it in “King Lear,” “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”
I find it impossible to believe that an all-powerful entity would need to be the ultimate narcissist and want the weak little creatures it created to not only pray for pity as it crushes them but then smile and worship it after the bloodbath ends.
If no god, then what lit this candle in the first place?
I haven’t a clue. It seems silly to me to think that as finite and insignificant as we are we could possibly hope to find the truth in the overwhelming vastness and complexity of a universe that defies comprehension.
But, people ask, aren’t you terrified of not having an afterlife, of just being blotted out? Of no Bob Q forever?
My response is not only no, but I think it might be horrifying to have to spend an eternity being me, especially if I’d have to be a lap dog to the Old One (I’ve often thought that if you conceived of an omnipotent entity who was totally insane, you’d have a much better explanation for what we go through than this cloudy Santa Claus thing monotheists have going).
I always say that I don’t remember anything unpleasant before I was born and I imagine that’s what it will be like after I die: a nice, peaceful nothingness, sort of like the purple hum of author Kurt Vonnegut’s imagining.
But, if we do blink out forever, does that make our lives meaningless? No, not at all.
We are still able to decide what to make of our lives, we can still strive to do the best we can, even if the universe is indifferent, even if there’s no eternal lollipop waiting for us.
As theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss wrote: “A universe without purpose should neither depress us nor suggest that our lives are purposeless. Through an awe-inspiring cosmic history we find ourselves on this remote planet in a remote corner of the universe, endowed with intelligence and self-awareness. We should not despair, but should humbly rejoice in making the most of these gifts, and celebrate our brief moment in the sun.”
And not worry – or argue about – who or what created that sun.
Bob, Thank You; your honesty is heroic. Favorite quote: “It seems silly to me to think that as finite and insignificant as we are we could possibly hope to find the truth in the overwhelming vastness and complexity of a universe that defies comprehension.”
You/ we rattle their power structure, threaten their status and undercut their authority, both moral & scientific. Ironically, we also validate their underlying fears, while exhibiting a level of honesty they lack the courage to exhibit. No wonder they feel threatened.
Years ago I’d describe to friends my disgust over future historians walking past my grave while discounting our era as ‘still believing in a god.’ As time goes by, and evidence such as your piece is recorded for posterity … perhaps our time has come ~
Excellent thought-out post. Consider this: suppose all the non-sense that Christians blather on about is true. Thus, when a Christian dies, he or she goes to Heaven. So what is Heaven like. They have absolutely no idea. But, logically, based on their beliefs, Heaven would be an infinite abode of where sorrow, heartache, and pain are infinitely non-existent. Further, we can logically conclude that Heaven would be a place of infinite bliss. Now, I don't know about you, but if that's what I had to look forward to, I would soon become tortuously bored. I would rather infinitely return to my forever happy and content non-self-aware infinite existence.
I love it Bob! I would love to be able to express myself as well as you have here.
"...smile and worship after the blood bath ends." Best description of religion and god's requirements of the religious ever.
Wonderfully put. I have found far more hope in the reality of Atheism that in the thousands of dreams religion claims to be true.