Why I Am Not an Atheist

Sorry, Bertrand, for appropriating most of your title!

I'm not going confess to being a television slut when growing up, but there's no doubt certain broadcast to-do's caught my attention from time to time. Fond memories include the Mercury astronauts riding in tin buckets with no guaranteed outcome, the 1968 Democratic National Convention hosted by the effervescent compere Richard Daley, coverage of the Chicago Seven trial (was that Beetface in robes?), and the Joe Pyne show featuring such notables as Anton LaVey, Sybil Leek, and Mayor Sam Yorty. It wasn't a bad time to grow up in.

Most important was bumping into Madalyn Murray O'Hair who also appeared on Pyne's program when I was just 14 years old. A seminal moment. I already felt deep in my bones then that religion is the single most evil invention humans have ever concocted. That's what being rammed into the Presbyterian faith will do to a person, before given a fair chance to consider alternatives. O'Hair was baptized a Presbyterian, too, which I suppose made us kindred spirits.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, of course, is the one who led the unpopular fight to get mandatory Bible readings out of the class room. The Supreme Court agreed with her in 1963 by an 8-to-1 ruling. This then launched her into the public eye, and she became quite a notable media figure. Naturally, the woman had to endure many years of hatred, intimidation and death threats, since that's always been the modus operandi of religion. The Prince of Peace has ever sported one hell of an arsenal.

So anyway, I'm watching her on the tube back in those halcyon days, and sensed right away she was fearless in a just cause. It bothered me not in the least that O'Hair was also abusive to the opposition (i.e., the opponent on the panel and the entire studio audience). After all, in this same era I was just beginning to watch professional wrestling out of Chicago, so spewing venom seemed perfectly reasonable. Anyway, I knew that wicked words were only just retribution to those who launched the Crusades, the Inquisition and incarcerated scientists. Yes, I really did know about Bruno and Galileo by early teen years. Which is why I eschewed the Dark Side at such a young age. I already had this weird bent that truth is the greatest good.

Somewhere along the way a shrill woman from the audience who clearly had only a conclusion to offer and no premises, shrieked at O'Hair, "You're not an atheist, but an antitheist!"

I was so taken by that idea (hinging on language as it does) that I really don't remember listening to O'Hair's response. But it set my mind a-going. I rather liked the notion, and given that I had already been indoctrinated by Presbyterian programmers (who call the process Confirmation), found it easy to accept. In a nutshell, those nearly fifty years ago, I perceived the nub:

We humans not only have the power to invent a deity, but can also oppose it.

Powerful stuff. To put it in slightly simplistic terms, an atheist is simply one who does not believe in a god; an antitheist sees a belief in gods as evil. Big difference!

Atheism is parochial. Antitheism is catholic (if I dare use the uncapitalized adjective such). To wit, the word atheist centers around the individual; the word antitheist concerns all of humanity. 

The battle-ax from O'Hair's audience saw "antitheist" as a pejorative; I welcomed it as something to work towards with pride. At the time, I rather thought maybe I (as an egocentric card-carrying sociopath) was the only one to feel that way.

Then all these decades later, I find I'm far from alone. Thanks to my eternal friend, I was alerted to Christopher Hitchens not long ago who put it so well in his Letters to a Young Contrarian:
I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true.... There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.
Yes, I do believe O'Hair was an antitheist, and proud she should have been to own to it.

I'll mention that I find an organization of atheists not much different from one of religionists. Not long ago, I joined an atheist online forum. What I found there was a priesthood and a laity: pontificating blowhards with the only answers, and ladies in the church basement whipping up dainty pink tea sandwiches.

Not to cast blame on these atheists who have no control over the Internet riff-raff prowling the world, but here's why I finally bailed out. A couple days ago I got a PM (personal message) on the forum. This woman said she had read my profile and was intrigued (though I really had written nothing of much import, not even mentioning how enormous my membrum virile is). She indicated she had something vital to convey, but really didn't want to do it in such a "public" forum, and would I please contact her via email.

Well, I wasn't born yesterday. (Or was I?) So I checked her own profile and noted she had just become a member. Moreover, her country of origin was Ghana. Hmm...a Nigerian prince with a cashflow problem I might go along with, but those Ghanareran babes seeking American sugar-daddies have become too commonplace now. Whatever happened to the good old days when hucksters were a cut above the rest of us?

Best of all, her personal message to me concluded with "God bless." This on an atheist forum! Sorry, Stella! You just lost me there... I've always said, the only people who commit crimes are too dumb to carry them off. Move to the Ukraine and take some lessons!

So, to wrap up this wandering screed, I am not an atheist, because the word implies rejecting something which has already secured a majority vote. I am not an atheist, because defining the word necessarily implies limitation and I don't believe in limits. I am not an atheist, because I refuse to use the same tools as a religionist. I am not an atheist, because I have always given great credence to the last option on the multiple choice exam of life: none of the above. 

I like to think of antitheism as the Diogenes Club of belief. In Sherlock Holmes' own words, describing his brother, Mycroft, in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter:
There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offenses, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere.
I'm unclubbable myself, and so, not an atheist. Call me an antitheist when the final rites come (ahem) and I'll be more than satisfied to venture the vasty deep alone.

Next installment: That I May Touch Your Lips Again

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