Friday, December 24, 2004

Methinks They Doth Protest Too Much

One way in which Christian zealots battle atheism is by trying to assert that there really are no atheists and thus no atheism. It goes something like this: Atheists are really people who don't like the idea of God/don't like God's rules/don't want to stop sinning and thus choose to reject God rather than accepting Him. But Jesus is in everyone's heart and so atheists really know God exists. They're just like children pretending their parents don't exist when they're away so they can ignore their parents' rules.

The level of condecension in this argument is truly startling. The Christian not only fails to respect the right of the atheist to have his or her opinion, but then claims to know better than the atheist what the atheist believes.

Why do Christians go to such lengths in order to avoid accepting that some people just don't believe in their god?

I have a theory.

Now, in discussions with Christians, the atheist often gets asked the truly stupid question, "If there's no afterlife and life is temporary, why don't you just kill yourself now?" Well, the obvious answer is, that the atheist prefers continuing to experience existence rather than nonexistence, to have thoughts and emotions and experiences, for the time allowed. Why would someone be in a rush to return to nonexistence? That makes no sense at all.

In fact, the better question is to ask the Christian, "You believe that you are living in a sinful craphole as a prelude to eternity in paradise. You don't understand why I don't want to kill myself so I can leap into an eternity of nonexistence, but why don't you kill yourself to get away from all the horror of this sinful world and hang out with Jesus forever?"

Now, at this point, Christians will generally begin talking about how "suicide is a sin," that "life is a gift from God and we don't have a right to give it back," and such. But, if you ask about 99% of Christians where this whole idea of suicide being a sin and a bad thing came from, they will say, "The Bible," "Jesus," or, "I don't know." The correct answer, of course, is that it comes from St. Augustine's City of God. There's a bit about suicide in the Old Testament, but at times it is said to be wrong and at other times it is pretty clearly seen to be a heroic act. But never anything like an "unforgivable" or "mortal" sin as many Christians believe today. And Jesus says not one single word about suicide, nor does Paul.

But here's the neat thing: the same kind of twisted logic that allows Christians to think atheists should kill themselves is used by Augustine to keep Christians from committing suicide to get to Heaven quicker. You see, in the early days of Christianity, when Christians were persecuted by the Romans, there was a problem. A lot of Christians were committing suicide if they got discovered to keep from being eaten by a lion in the arena.

Augustine didn't like this. You see, it wasn't doing a thing for recruiting. What he wanted Christians to do was to go into the arena and bravely get eaten.

Now, you might think that would be bad for recruiting too. That was the idea of publically executing Christians by lion in the first place. But, in the twisted logic that comes from believing things irrationally, seeing Christians get eaten by lions in the arena actually did make pagans decide to become Christians.

You see, back in those days, there really wasn't much question of whether the various gods existed, even the Christian god. But gods were local and limited in power. By impressing others with the power of one's god, one could recruit new worshippers. Of course, you would think that, since the Christian god is sitting by and allowing his followers to be eaten by lions, that pagans woudn't be too impressed. But, in the world of irrational belief, it instead impressed the pagans that Christians didn't turn from their faith rather than being eaten. "That must be one powerful god," the pagans said, "to have followers willing to die for him like that." Rather than the more logical, "If their god is so powerful, how come he doesn't save his followers from the lions?"

So, essentially, Augustine argued that suicide was a sin in the eyes of Jesus more or less because having Christians get eaten by lions was good for recruiting. Which really doesn't apply anymore. And, in any case, almost no Christians know where the 'no suicide' dictum even came from.

As such, why do Christians all seem to know it and cling to it so fiercely?

Because, in the dark of night, when they're all alone and scared, in their deepest heart of hearts, they doubt that God exists.

Augustine's dictum is a way of dodging the truth: that if they were really, really sure paradise was around the corner, they'd be a lot more anxious to go there. They wouldn't have to commit suicide. Just take a dangerous, but good job, and get killed helping others. Not only is that good deed your ticket to Jesus' buffet table in the sky, but it's a quick ticket too.

But they don't do that. Instead, Christians stay here on Earth and spend a hell of a lot of time worrying about what other people believe and trying to define atheists out of existence. Why? Well, they will tell you it is "to save other peoples' souls."


The fact is, this is an obvious case of "methinks they doth protest too much." You see, they can't abide lack of faith or different faith in others because it challenges their own faith. They need everyone else to believe what they believe because it makes them feel better that their fantasy is true. The "a billion Chinese people can't be wrong" fallacy is at work here. The more people believe, the more it must be true! Except that a whole lot of people can be dead wrong.

So, when Christians go door-to-door trying to convert people and claim they are doing their duty to "save your soul," tell them bullshit. They're doing it to make themselves feel better about what they want to be true. It comforts them a little in the middle of the night when the doubt grips them that such a bunch of fantastic bullshit could possibly be true. They do it for themselves and no one else.

And that's the real immorality of the attempts of the Christian right to turn the US into a Christian theocracy: In order to make themselves feel better about something they secretly think might not even be true, they are willing to ruin the lives of countless others through discrimination and by pushing archaic religious morality on a country where those dictums no longer make sense. They are even, at times, willing to kill to protect this fantasy that they secretly doubt even exists.

It's easy to believe when you're in church, surrounded by fellow worshippers, and that's when we see Christian faith in public. But that's just a facade. A facade these people would do almost anything to protect.

That is why faith is dangerous and that is why believing whatever you want to believe, with no evidence whatsoever, is a bad thing. I would bet you money that none of the leaders of the Christian right, if put to the test, would let themselves be eaten by a lion for his or her faith. Not Pat Robertson. Not Jerry Falwell. Not William Donohue. Not Rush Limbaugh. Not George W. Bush.

Because it's easy to believe in the light of day when your whole life has been an awesome ride of wealth and privilege. It's when those beliefs are tested that they really count.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes? Untrue. But I'd like to know if there are any fundamentalists or evangelicals in the tiger pit. I'd bet not.

(And don't even bring up the girl who told the Columbine kids she believed in God before they shot her. While she may have said it knowing they would shoot her if she did, I rather suspect it is much more likely that she was trying to guess the right answer and guessed wrong. I may be wrong on this, but since we'll never know, it's not a good example one way or the other).


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