Before launching this blog, I spent a lot of time pondering the criticisms and insults the project may produce, and whether I could handle them. I didn’t fear the comments critical of my ideas, but I did fear the comments critical of my character. When I was a Christian I cringed even hearing the word “atheist,” and I know others still feel uneasy hearing the A-word—“atheist” is a synonym for “evil, satanic bastard,” and it’s best unspoken. So I knew that some friends and acquaintances would, with the launch of this blog, direct their ill feelings about atheism toward me.
The majority of criticisms I’ve received so far, I am happy to say, have been more helpful than hurtful. Even readers who strongly disagree with me have been supportive, which is encouraging. Thank you.
But there is one thing in particular I’ve heard people say, repeatedly, that hurts…but it only hurts because I slam a desk drawer shut against my head, repeatedly, every time I hear the comment. It goes something like this:
“Ryan seems to be a pretty jolly guy,” they say to themselves. “He’s nice, and, well, he may be a little odd, but he seems to have a good head on his shoulders…Why, though, is he an atheist? It just doesn’t make sense…”
I’m O.K. with the question—they’re just confused—but there are two similar answers to the question that pass pet peeve and push me to the edge of civility, causing my tongue to bleed from the bite locking it in place.
Answer #1: She—the believer, in her confused struggle to explain away my godlessness—paints my atheism as a reactionary revolt against God’s will; she thinks God wronged me in some way, and, like a toddler throwing a tantrum in a toy store, I receive my revenge by renouncing belief in Him: “You aren’t my real Dad! What do you know!?”
We’ve all seen the movies: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl dies (or leaves boy), boy falls to his knees and curses the sky, “Why me, God!? Why me?!” The boy, claiming that a loving God would never inflict him with such intense and underserved pain, stops believing (He has obviously never read Job).
Listen, Miss: I have never experienced something so emotionally devastating that it caused me to question the existence of God; curiosity alone led me to question my convictions, and courage helped me face the answers I found. I’m sure there are some atheists who were led to doubt by a painful experience—like, let’s say, the death of their child—but I am also pretty sure they still took time to weigh the evidence and prod their perceptions; you don’t instantly alter your apprehension of all that is because you had an awful day. A painful experience may hand someone a shovel and the drive to dig deeper, but holes don’t dig themselves.
Luckily, the moments I’ve felt weak in the knees have been moments of bliss, not moments of rage. I have far too much to be grateful for to be angry with anyone or anything. I miss thanking God, not cursing Him.
Answer #2: He—the believer, confident in his ways and with his handle on life—excuses my atheism as an act of youthful rebellion. Kids love to challenge authority, and this whole atheism thing is just a phase, it’s a mid-twenties-something fad that fades with adulthood. This gentleman assumes that, as I type these words, my incense is burning, my reggae is blaring, and my Che Guevara t-shirt from Ragstock is in the wash. Like I said, I have a lot to be thankful for, but when tragedies beset, this man says I will come running back to the reservation to beg for God’s comfort and saving grace. I’m the prodigal son, blinded by the ignorance of my privileged youth.
Listen, Sir: I’ve had days I have wished I could plead my case with an existential puppet master, to be perfectly honest, but I have yet to experience an authentic tragedy. When that day finally comes, will I reach for God’s hand and come to terms with His mysterious ways? Maybe. I really doubt it, but I can’t say for sure, can I? So there is no way for me to refute this one. All I can say is that everything I say now, at the age of twenty-six, makes perfect sense, and I don’t think I will be able to will myself out of my beliefs in the face of despair. In fact, I think questioning religious convictions before that day of despair dawns is the key to living an intellectually honest life. Desperation, like fear, clouds the intellect.
Sir and Madam, in all of your fearful frustration to take the focus off my arguments, have you ever stopped to ask yourself, sincerely, “Could he be right?”
If not, I think you should. Because this whole “atheism is a youthful revolt against authority” and “he must have beef with the Lord” way of thinking is ad hominem bullshit, and I think deep down you know it…but, like I said, it provides an explanation for my atheism and takes the focus off the arguments that make you feel so uneasy—you write me off as the disgruntled prodigal son and go about your day, relieved you don’t have to take me too seriously.
Please give me a little more credit than that; my head and my desk drawer need a break.
I know how he feels, in a way. I'm pretty sure my parents both think my brother and I are going to grow out of our "Obama phase." I'm not sure if they know we're atheists though, that's never come up.
Do people who say things like this really think it adds anything relevant to the conservation, other than confirmation of their own ignorance? It's frustrating and insulting. "You'll come to understand someday. I'm not going to bother explaining what you're going to understand because that would require me to debate you, but just know that there's a direct correlation between age and intelligence and so I beat you lol." I may be young, but at least I know that you can't use logic against people who don't use logic.