Atheism: Playing the Numbers Game

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Religion / Atheism /

Mission: to provide a socially pragmatic view of atheism: humor, satire, irony

If that’s what they mean by God, then I’m an atheist.

Ha, ha. Every one of us, sitting like good obedient children in the congregation, gave the young minister a polite chuckle. Not one of us had any way of knowing whether we were indulging the speaker because he was young (and nervous), or because we thought the comment was really funny, or because we really agreed with him … Knowing if we really agreed with him would have depended on clear communications: a theoretical condition I have no experience with. Robert Anton Wilson argues that communication is possible only between equals. If one holds a gun on another, the other will likely say whatever she decides is the best gamble to avoid getting shot. The Church was clearly not designed for equals. I don’t recall whether the young minister was speaking from the pulpit, or from the lectern, or, more probably, standing casually midway between them, but elevated above the rest of us nevertheless: not only by the fact that he was standing while we were seated, but by the series of steps that church builders employ to make the altar area something akin to a stage. A small Protestant church isn’t as blatantly hierarchical as its Catholic counterpart, but still: God’s at the top, stained glass, coloring the light, will be somewhere up toward the peaked roof, the pulpit will be next highest, the lectern next, then the raised altar and altar area … and then there’s the flat floor and hard pews for the common faithful.

“Don’t you see that I’m oppressing you?” Ivan Illich used to say, holding up the mike for all to see that gave him an edge (over and above his considerable genius) in out-speaking the rest of us. (“Equal time” means that democracy permits two people (of two hundred-odd million (of six-odd billion) to be heard).) note

But the young guest minister was communicating one thing: as clearly as anyone wanted clear to be. He was emphasizing some nicety of Protestant doctrine which showed our sect to be bullet-proof to the superstitious blather of some other group of Christian sects. He was satirizing common Christian theology. He was pointing out that he was more discerning, on his toes, liberal, literate, thoughtful, not just a gull. And in smilingly encouraging us to agree with him, knowing (by the doctrines advertised to go with our Church’s sign out front: Presbyterian Church) that we already agreed with him, he was allowing us to feel superior with him. We Presbyterians were different from your common Christians: we were no fools!

I cited Ivan Illich a moment ago. (So what else is new? [Link to be restored]) I also heard Illich once ask, “Well, are you a Christian? And by Christian I mean: Are you a Christian? Or are you a son-of-a-bitch?” Now that’s a liberal distinction. Like: are you one of the “good guys”?

To theists, atheists are those fools who say, deliberately and out loud, No! I’m one of the bad guys!

It is my purpose today to argue that atheism is as conspicuously foolish a position as one can take. The only thing worse these days would be to stand in the middle of Times Square and pronounce at the top of your voice, “I am a terrorist.”

I am not and never have been, in the immortal phraseology of my McCarthy-Era youth, an atheist. There’s more than one reason. There’s a whole bunch of reasons. One: I was perhaps sixteen when we sat laughing with the minister. I routinely attended whatever program the church had scheduled for us in those days. I was sometimes one of the speakers (strictly on those occasions when the emphasis was on “young Christians”). At the time of hearing it I was wholeheartedly on the side of the minister and his joke. The church had convinced me since toddlerhood not only that Jesus loved me, but that I and my group were bullet-proof to the superstitious blather of some other group of Christian sects, that we were not theologically common. We were different: more discerning, on our toes, liberal, literate, thoughtful, not just gulls. For another, I have had divine revelations punctuate my life since prior to my majority and on into middle-, getting-on-toward old-, age. (I’ll be adding a piece on gnosis soon (direct experience of the godhead) (or of something extraordinary). (Yes, of course: a personal piece on gnosis.)

But let me skip to the reason most germane to my subject today: not why I am not an atheist, but why you should not be an atheist: why atheism is utter foolishness.

The reason you (and your friends, and your children, and your children’s friends) should not be atheists is one and the same reason that pk should never have become pk: never have said a single thing he meant. The reason you should not be an atheist is because everyone else will

kill you!

If they don’t actually take your life nevertheless expect them to give you a very hard time. You’ll be eligible to be the Before guy in any Before and After ad campaign: but you won’t be hired. You’ll have the “bad breath” whether you use the mouth wash nor not. Your garden will not prosper even if you don’t get a cross burned in your lawn.

There are plenty of more rationally formal reasons why atheism is foolish. For one thing, it takes a dogmatic position with regard to theism. Theists say, I have someone to hold my hand (where the “someone” is understood to be invisible). Atheists say, You do not have an invisible anyone to hold your hand. So long as invisibility is involved, concrete proof is difficult to impossible on both sides of the statement, but, if you say the former, you are saying it among large numbers. Like fish, you form a shoal. If you declare the latter, you do it alone. Isolated. Standing out like someone marked by plague.

Religion, like almost anything humans engage in, is a numbers game. Humans gather in huge numbers behind some story that makes them feel like John Wayne: standing alone. In the story of Jesus, that figure seems to be saying: I’m going to take such an extremely Jewish, such an extremely monotheistic, such an extremely moral position, a position so radically radical, that the rest of you will look, feel, and smell like shit.

OOOh, the rest of us say, He wants to be different from us: a hero. We’ll agree: sometime after we kill him. Then let’s all of us say we say the same. Let’s all crowd together and pretend we’re special: General Patton, ignoring the explosions, the lead whistling, striding through the carnage. note

I start these things thinking I’m leading a tame donkey, and a hour later find myself dragged by a wild bronco to some place I hardly recognize. And then there’s no time left: unless I resist my urge to go fishing. Resist fishing? Not today.

When I return to this subject, in an

Atheism Scrapbook,

I’ll add some qualifications to what I mean by “kill.”

A related joke, scribbled ten years further into degeneracy: The Trouble with Jews.


Equal Time:

The media give the president not quite four years to oppress us with a battery of microphones. Then, for a campaigning period, a featured rival gets a turn oppressing us with another bank of microphones and cameras. I am reminded of Schrödinger’s Thought Experiment known affectionately as Schrödinger’s Cat: where gas may or may not have been released into a space capsule bearing a cat and all we know, all we can know, is the probabilities. The cat is .5 probably alive; the cat is .5 probably dead. In campaign years we have two yackers monopolizing public time while we have only probabilities by which to figure who will monopolize the oppression for the following four years: Schrödinger’s Dictator.


Like John Wayne:

Isn’t it wonderful how we identify our stars with the roles they made famous. Did John Wayne ever stand alone on anything in real life? Wasn’t he routinely acting scripts authored by others? Even as a football player, he was a player, coached, instructed: not the author of the play book.

How tough can Bogart have been, elevated to matinee-idol-hood so young? If it weren’t for Hammett or Chandler, what would we think he sounded like? Would we even know his name?

@ K. 2002 08 14

Cosmology Etc.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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