Atheist power!

Being an atheist is not an easy thing. We are never given respect by politicians, not even those touchy-feely kind who celebrate a country in which Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus can all worship together in harmony and peace and blah blah. Atheists? We don’t get to worship in peace.

Oh, wait. You say atheists don’t worship? I was out on Pt. Reyes last week, walking through the insane proliferation of wildflowers at Abbotts Lagoon, I several times stood and gazed and marveled and, yes, worshiped nature in all its unexpected bounty. You gonna say my worship was somehow less profound than yours?

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Actual Abbotts Lagoon wildflowers. Give laud!

(Here I am speaking to imaginary religionists I have brought along to be yelled at from time to time. But, well, read Psalm 139. They really really don’t like us. There’s also an alt-right website called “God Hates Fags,” so, well, lotta hatin’ goin’ on.)

Worse than that, an international poll revealed that most people believed that serial killers were more likely to be atheists.  Sure, atheists are more prone to violence. Just think of the havoc we unleashed by the great atheist Crusades of the Middle Ages. Or the terrible atheist Jihad that has ripped up the Middle East. Oh, and we also have opinions about eating pigs. And cows. And shellfish. Oh wait, no we don’t.

We figure that, since God doesn’t exist, he is unable to have opinions about your food choices. (Although atheists are suspicious of sugar, but for entirely rational reasons). Oh, and here’s the really good news: Atheists do not care about your sexual activity. I mean, you should try to be safe at all times, and try not to have sex with anyone with a tattoo that says, “God wants me to fuck you up.”  But in general, atheists have enough to do just trying to get to work on time.

And there are 9 million atheists in the United States. And that’s just self-described atheists. Roughly a quarter of Americans identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated.” I surmise that most of those are atheists who are afraid to say the word out loud. And do you know what that means? Eighty million atheists in the United States. We could elect presidents if we stood together.

But we won’t. Why? Shame. People don’t want to be called atheists, any more than they want to be called likely serial killers. Atheism needs a makeover. It needs branding. It needs a slogan.

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God’s choice and an engineering degree!

Alas, slogans are hard to come by. “Have you heard the good news about the yawning void?” doesn’t really have crowd appeal. I thought of “You’re not going to be saved because saving isn’t a thing,” but that doesn’t have the proper gentle tone. “Every person a godhead” has some charm, and pagans might like it. (Paganism is of course a religion,  too. They’re really serious about the Solstice.)

Atheism needs a name that isn’t, well, “atheism”.  Something like “Beautifulism,” which doesn’t mean anything but sounds fun. Or “Mountain Lupine,” because everybody likes mountain lupine.  Or “Dr. Kilgore’s Very Fine Alternate Belief System and Doo-dah Band,” which I was pushing hard for until the experts set me straight.

“We really don’t have the resources for a doo-dah band at every service,” they said.

A lot of your more dogmatic atheists will insist that atheism isn’t a religion. But my definition is of a religion is “a group of people who have a common opinion about God.”  So atheists absolutely qualify.  Indeed, the fact that there are dogmatic atheists should be the tip-off that there’s religion going on. Soon there will be schismatic atheists and perhaps a eventually a not-holy war with absolutely nothing at stake.

Which is too bad. Atheists have never looted the art treasures of the world, nor have they taken over a random nation or two.  Although, a more enlightened atheist (“Enlightened”! Religion or not, eh?) might say that we should be proud of our lack of appropriated art and political power. You want a pure religion? Atheism is without flaw or error. Enter into the temple of unbelief and rest your burden down. We will show you pictures from the Hubbell telescope that you really won’t believe. The universe: So very cool. Atheism allows you this joy. Celebrate!

(Yes, China and Russia are avowedly atheist countries who between them killed 80 million or 100 million people between them. But they each had leaders who wanted to be thought of as a god, so it was basically that old-time religion except with lots more marching.)

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The righteous wrath of widely read people

My point is that we need to remake atheism to appeal to the masses — without losing our essential belief in a lack of god or any other higher power that steers the stars, blesses wars, renders wine holy, controls who gets cancer, and thinks murder is an appropriate punishment  for young girls who’ve been raped.

So let’s at least come up with some talking points for our poor misunderstood god-denying way of life.

I’ve already mentioned some of them. The sensual passion of freedom of thought has much to recommend it. You can approach the great mysteries of life without an annoying Abrahamic God giving you orders. So relaxing!

(I am aware that every religion is not monotheistic. Hindus have more gods than Catholics have saints, and it’s anybody’s guess how many Buddhas there are. Nevertheless, I live in the United States and we got a lotta Christians and a fair number of Jews and Muslims, so I should deal with religious reality. Plus, I was raised Christian so I know where the jokes are).

But let’s consider the political implications of atheist visibility. There have been numerous lawsuits over the years about school prayer and other religious expressions. Mostly, those arguments center around the First Amendment guarantee against government expressing opinions on matters of faith (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”).

The meaning of that clause seems evident, but it can be cut and sliced in so many ways, because lawyers. But here’s a legal approach that hasn’t been used before:  Promoting religion in  public schools is unfair to the atheist children.

Did you feel that frisson? Atheist children. Americans do not believe in atheist children. They think of atheism like lust, or back problems — diseases of adulthood. Children are closer to God and therefore know him intimately, emotionally, and are happy to lisp out sentiments of praise. Children failing to die are seen as an example of God’s grace.

That’s not the real world. Lots of kids are atheists; lots of kids are just pretending when they go to temple or mosque or church. Instead of pressuring them to conform, we should celebrate their ability to form independent opinions.

All 80 million (est.) atheists in this nation will feel vindicated. They will understand that they are members of community, people with no sexual guilt and free weekends. We just need some nice singable hymns. Oh, and a creed, which the atheists could refuse to follow.

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Happy atheist with her spirit animal

This column grew out of a conversation on The Well,  a small social network with no ads, no trolls, no bots, no Kardashians anywhere. Are you a person of mature years who thinks discussing Game of Thrones or arguing about gluten might be amusing? Come on down!

 

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Useful options and public relations by Michelle Mizera

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77 thoughts on “Atheist power!

  1. Beautiful and AMEN!! Keep ’em coming Jon!

    Eric Gower Founder / Creative Director Breakaway Matcha

    On Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 3:55 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “Being an atheist is not an easy thing. We are > never given respect by politicians, not even those touchy-feely kind who > celebrate a country in which Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus can > all worship together in harmony and peace and blah blah. Ath” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent. How can anyone be a theist is beyond me. I managed to pretzel my brain into it when I was in high school, but it didn’t take. More of a social thing; all my friends were doing it. Still friends with many of them, including old boyfriend, who is a Deacon at his church, and yet a fine individual who supported Bernie Sanders and plays in a rock band. So of course, they’re not all bad people.

    And the Trumpists are what? Bowing down to one really unholy false god there.Who I heard was told by god to smite the Koreans. Yikes. We be in cray cray times now!

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  3. Fabulous! As a writer about meaningful work and life, I found that the professed atheists often had the most carefully thought out and honored values. I’ll trust them over religiosity any time. And the truth is, who really know what is the mysterious force beyond us and the universe? Awe, wonder, curiosity, integrity and compassion are core practices of the best religion I know. Thanks for keeping on writing.

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  4. You might want to look into Unitarian-Universalism, which for the last 60 or more years, is atheistic. It is a large “religion” and quite socially active. It has formal “worship” services with noble humanistic overtones.

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  5. Loved this. So true on so many levels. I’ve always said I’m agnostic, but in reality, I’m an atheist. You’re so right, people are reluctant to own that. I’m going to change my ways. Thanks!

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  6. How about “agnostic.” I’ve never believed in god for a single moment, but I dislike the term “atheist” because it sounds so cold and absolute. As Einstein wrote:
    “You may call me an agnostic…. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

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  7. Yes, yes, yes. As a contributing Unitarian-Universalist, perhaps we could form a Committee – only of those of this belief, of course – and work on this branding problem. Maybe I will set up a table and a sign-up sheet for …”Carroll Committee”? “Atheist Branding” sounds a little violent.

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  8. I think atheists might get more respect if the more well-known among them weren’t so strident and didn’t seem to constantly feel a need to mock and put down people who do believe in something greater than our puny selves. Call them “fundamentalist atheists” – and they irritate me the same way as fundamentalists of any stripe do. Don’t tell me what not to believe, and I won’t tell you what to believe. Sound fair?

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    1. I dislike atheist because it presuppose there is a diety to be ignored. Try being agornod, which means doesn’t believe in gornods. I juse made it up, but being agornod somehow gave them, it, presence. What I really think is the Universe has submitted to us it’s entirety, and it’s our job to learn the parts. So, my suggestion is Universalists.

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    2. I know lots of atheists. and none of them behave like that. Indeed, they are comfortable sharing food with Christians, as long as food is vegan and there’s a really good wine.

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  9. If someone wants to talk to you about religion and you would really rather not, the best thing that I’ve found to say is, “I’m interested in lots of things, but religion is not one of them.” You can also add “anymore” at the end of that sentence if it suits the situation.

    You’re welcome!

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  10. Although I’m in the nonbelievers column, I prefer to think of myself as agnostic. Who really knows for sure if there’s a Big Guy up there? I love surprises and maybe there’s a BIG one
    waiting!

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  11. Jon I think it’s time for you to confess that two of your best friends in the whole wide world are Presbyterian ministers. And that you know we do not believe God hates fags. And that we’re all about social justice. And that we think the dualism of most of the Psalms is the reflection of an ancient world view that no longer applies. etc etc etc amen. We love you and all your doomed brethren. (and of course God loves you too.) Smiley face. xox

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    1. I have confessed in this very blog that you and Joe are my dear, dear friends. We can even travel together, which is a test of true compatibility. And if that ancient world no longer applies, how come so many people are insisting on bring it up. And I do know that there are wonderful Christian people, but they seem a little…outnumbered these days. And it most centuries.

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  12. Reading the comments, most of the writers seem to think that I give a damn if they consider themselves atheists or agnostics. What a waste of time! And it shows how under the yoke of so-called “faith” we are, since the religionists seem to dictate the language and the agenda.

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  13. I am aware that every religion is monotheistic does not mean the same thing as I am aware that not every religion is monotheistic, which is what I think you meant to say. But it’s a fine article, nonetheless, and as an agnostic (which is, I guess, a wimpy kind of atheist) and (I hope) rational person, I agree.

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  14. My father the Methodist minister made sure I was a full-fledged member of the Methodist Church by the time I was 7. I still smile at the memory of choking on the real wine used in the Communion celebrated when I became a real Methodist. By the time I was 18 and headed off to college, I had lived in 18 separate houses in 4 different states as John Wesley’s circuit rider principles guided our family from church to church. By The time I was 18 I had been beat up by Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, as well as by kids of all other faiths in every little town or village along the way as part of the “new kid in town” hazing, and I had experienced the political infighting and ostracism and backstabbing and hypocrisy at the hands of religionists that went along with being the preacher’s kid and a member of the preacher’s family. By the time I graduated from college I no longer lived in fear of not going to church every Sunday and the eternal damnation that could result from not giving a fig for all the rest of the “do it for God” stuff. I defined myself as a member of the (very) inactive reserve of the army of the Lord then, and have lived my life free of the restraints and dictates and practices of any religion since then. My name is still in the Methodist Church records, but I don’t consider myself a member, and I don’t worship any manmade organized religion’s God. I also don’t call myself an agnostic or atheist or fallen this or that. But I do have a strong moral code and sense of right and wrong. And I do practice things like “do unto others…” and “turn the other cheek…” and other “golden rules” because they seem like the right way to interact with others. And I have found that an understanding of the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our society has been useful. I also remember some of the very kind and welcoming Methodists and others along the way. But don’t expect me to ever, ever be a “practicing” Methodist or member of any organized religion again. Life is too short to be hobbled by someone else’s concept of the one and true way to live. I’ve paid my dues, now leave me alone is my credo.

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    1. I have found lots of welcoming people; in Utah, among other places. But when you start getting down to political opinions, an uglier side comes out. Not to take away from your elegant post.

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    2. Not a PK, but raised Methodist as well I am soooooooooooooo jealous. Real wine? Really? All we ever got was grape juice. Now I feel even more alienated from my former church. Geez. Was it Boone’s Farm or Mad Dog?

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      1. Yep, real wine. This was in the mid-1940’s in rural central South Carolina, long before Boone’s Farm or Mad Dog, so I have no idea about the brand on the label. Methodists usually used grape juice, which I can confirm as I poured the contents of many a bottle of Welch’s into communion glasses over the years. But for some reason this rural church insisted on using real wine when welcoming new members. Part of my choking was surprise as I was expecting grape juice and had never tasted an alcoholic beverage before. There was a ripple of tittering as I choked, as I recall. My father the preacher was pleased at my reaction because he was one of those Methodists who advocated teetotalism, and didn’t approve of the use of wine.

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  15. I think there’s a God. I think it thought all this up but has as much awareness of us as we do of our gut bacteria. So god doesn’t matter. We matter. We’re all we’ve got so a good credo? “Be Nice”.

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  16. Hello, Jon, excellent comment, have you sent it to Penn Jillette @pennjillette? Because he may be able to spread it wider (in a totally appropriate sense).

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  17. i dunno, atheist are just as absolute about their non-doctrines as the religious are when bleating their mysterious mumbo-jumbo. So maybe agnostic is a bit less aggressive and it even sounds like s smart word. With a good marketing campaign, which should go over big in the wussy suburbia, we might end up with a bit more calmness and much less dynamite vests… if agnostic is given a chance to explain itself, rule-less doubt and thoughtfulness might catch on.

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  18. Fire insurance… (!)

    Plus, “God” and “Religion” are 2 separate constructs, one fabrication being the excuse for the other.

    One flaw in Western (and others, alas) Culture stems from “My way is better than your way,” carried to various extremes in far too many contexts.

    Calling it “Religion” just lets one pretend they are not the oppressive bully.

    I doubt God goes to Church.

    Religion, as an idea, has historical and anthropological roots that complicate a simple approach to dismissing it.

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  19. Hello Jon,

    As for your patronising comment regarding Pagans (“They’re really serious about the Solstice”), I’d like to relate a story. Sir Isaac Newton was a member of the Royal Society. He was also a practicing astrologer for most of his life. One day, Sir Edmund Halley rose to speak and addressed Sir Isaac as follows: “Sir Isaac, how can you, the man who discovered the equations of universal gravitation, the laws of optics, and the infinitesimal calculus, believe in such a collection of nonsense as astrology? Surely you don’t suggest gravitational forces can affect the course of our lives?”. The other members of the Society did their best to contain their amusement.

    He rose with dignity, turned to face Halley, and replied, “Sir Edmund, I have studied the subject. You have not.”

    Sir Isaac sat down to resounding applause.

    [not verbatim, but close]

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  20. I did a little fact checking; the Newton quote is probably conflated with comments he made to Halley in response to other provocative statements. Newton rarely wrote or spoke of his interest in astrology, as opposed to his interest in alchemy.

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  21. Well, for a slogan, ‘The world is my country, to do good is my religion.’ Holds up pretty well.

    But…between Randroid libertarians, Maoists, etc. There are god-free outlooks that have toxic sexual content too.

    It seems to come with attempts to create A Movement. Since atheism is defined by the absence of a belief, the uniting factors have come from other, often damn’ religious-sounding, notions.

    So perhaps, an ongoing unity around actual truth rather than faith, around empirical practicality rather than ideological shibboleths, can gather enough steam that the members might scratch their heads one morning and think:

    ‘Gee, that god stuff is sure a waste of time and effort, I guess that means I’m atheist!’

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  22. well said! You may want to check out the group Openly Secular. They work to demystify atheists by soliciting videos on “Why I am an Atheist” from celebrities and us regular folks.

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  23. This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune — often the surfeit of our own behavior — we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars: as if we were villkains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves and trecherers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting-on: an admirable evasion of whoremaster Man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of stars! — Edmund in LEAR

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  24. The cosmos is Rube Goldberg preposterous. If it, and we, didn’t exist then religion and atheism would also be null and void. Smarter minds than mine (including yours certainly) have come to contradictory theories, so I just throw up my hands. Wonder is the default worship, and comes from the same source for swamis, saints, dervishes, pagans and atheists. But of course any form of dogma, “received” truth, or sacred texts is poppycock.

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  25. From your description of your atheism, I’d be tempted to suggest the name Spinozaites, or something like that. Baruch Spinoza argued that Nature was more godlike than contemporary ideas about God. He got in a bunch of trouble for it, but a lot of his fellow Jews have decided he was just ahead of his time.

    So glad you are still writing.

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  26. We can learn a lot from the abortion issue. Both sides separated themselves from the distasteful “a” word and deemed themselves pro-something, replacing the ioffending term with “choice” and “life.” Granted, the Choice folks started it, but still….

    So here’s a vote for rebranding the disbelief in a deity based on something non-theistic. What we are really talking about is accepting life as a one-shot opportunity: no do-overs, no Judgment Day, no purgatory, just life. “Lifer” has an unfortunate prison connotation (which, while arguably appropriate, might be a tad too negative). “Live Now” is too pushy. “Live and Let Live’ will always be associated with Joel Grey in the movie “Cabaret.’

    This could take some time.

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  27. I hope there are a few folks who don’t need identies.

    Unitarian is the ultimate identity, no different than Babdist, Katholik, or Athiest.

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  28. I couldn’t admit to my atheism until I was in my 70s. Just in case there really was a God, I guess. Also some people considered it depraved or evil.

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  29. Guess what? Buddhists are atheists. Also Unitarian-Universalists are atheists, apparently. I was brought up Unitarian in the New England Transcendentalist tradition, but recently went to a local Unitarian-Universalist church for the first time in quite awhile. All sense of Christianity erased. The word Lord in one of the classic hymns had been changed to “force.” Apparently, the thinking is to erase anything classically religious so no one will be excluded. I was reminded of the publishing maxim “A book for everyone is a book for no one.”
    Thin gruel after my very rich experience of Unitarianism in my youth.

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    1. Unitarians may be atheists, but they don’t brag about it much; Presbyterians are supposed to believe in predestination, but they keep real quiet about it. And I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I did walk in Nepal for six weeks, and I passed many temples, met many priests, saw much fabulous art featuring numerous supernatural beings. So I dunno.

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  30. I am the proud owner of a t-shirt: “Science: Because you don’t figure shit out by praying” though, out here in State of Jefferson land, you gotta be careful where you wear it.

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