Don’t Call Me an Atheist Anymore

I had a vision last night. It was a vision of Alain de Botton.

A sculpture of a mule made from found objects in the sculpture garden at the American Visionary Arts Museum.Alain de Botton brings out everything that is the worst in my character. You see, I try terribly to hide my immodesty. I think I’m smart. No, cancel that. I know I’m smart. Frequently, I try to remind myself that that there are people who I believe are smarter than I am as a weird consolation for feeling like an ass when I find myself thinking that I’m the smartest person in the room. “No, really, it’s okay. You’re not a jerk. Remember the girl in college who started as a freshman at fourteen. She was smarter than you. You had no problem acknowledging that. See! You’re not a jerk. You can’t help it if you’re really smarter than everyone you’re looking at right now.” Alain de Botton is so damned limited intellectually simply reading the titles of his books makes me feel superior. Worse yet, he gets treated by other people, both in the press and in real life, as if he’s a spring of sagacity, which doesn’t only make me feel superior to de Botton himself, but makes me feel superior to everyone who takes him seriously. Feeling superior does not make me feel good. It makes me feel like an ass. Therefore, I avoid everything having to do with Alain de Botton.

What has brought on this embarassing confession of my ugliest, innermost feelings? It’s the news that there’s a goddamned atheist church.

Unfortunately, the BBC article is disappointingly short on facts. From what I can gather, a couple of stand-up comedians miss having to wake-up early on Sunday mornings and sit in uncomfortable seats in a cold draughty building to hold a sing-a-long. Strangely, they are not alone.

If you’re not an atheist, or if you are but you don’t engage with the atheist blogosphere, which would be most people I know, you are probably not aware that there have been tempests in teapots galore. As long as the tempests remained in the teapot, and had no sign of being witnessed by the public at large, I was quite content to let it churn without my input. But now, I group of people have gotten together and gotten themselves on t.v., so I must stake out my territory and say, “These people do not represent me.”

Happily, I am not alone.

“Let’s not start handing around titles,” Jones says. “I think the moment you get a title, you’re just a short distance from a robe and a silly hat.”

You have a church and a congregation that’s meeting on Sunday mornings, Mr. Jones. You’re already just a short distance from a robe and a silly hat, you stupid git! In fact, why pretend? Go ahead and put on the robe and the silly hat and start telling your congregation how they should and shouldn’t live, because let’s be honest, here — that’s what’s coming next!

But apparently Alain de Botton has beaten them to the punch. Having nothing to do with the Sunday Assembly as far as I could make out, BBC decided to mention in its article de Botton.

And writer Alain De Botton has unveiled a Manifesto for Atheists, listing 10 virtues – or as the press has already dubbed them “commandments” – for the faithless.

De Botton says he wants to promote overlooked virtues such as resilience and humour. He came up with the idea in response to a growing sense that being virtuous had become “a strange and depressing notion”, which seems to chime with the Sunday Assembly’s own mantra “live better, help often, wonder more”.

Will somebody please tell me how this guy gets his face in the paper with this tripe. I’m prettier, so it sure isn’t his looks, or his thoughts:

1. Resilience. Keeping going even when things are looking dark.

Yeah, and a good way to survive is to not commit suicide.

2. Empathy. The capacity to connect imaginatively with the sufferings and unique experiences of another person.

Really? Your mother didn’t tell you that? Shame on her.

3. Patience. We should grow calmer and more forgiving by getting more realistic about how things actually tend to go.

And all those people who are constantly encouraging me to take up yoga and meditation are trying to encourage haste?

4. Sacrifice. We won’t ever manage to raise a family, love someone else or save the planet if we don’t keep up with the art of sacrifice.

Have you never read a women’s magazine dispensing advice on “how to make a relationship work”? Did you see that Time Magazine article about attachment parenting? You’re making my mother sound like Ghandi.

5. Politeness. Politeness is very linked to tolerance, the capacity to live alongside people whom one will never agree with, but at the same time, can’t avoid.

Yeah, because I always read how people are encouraging rudeness. Didn’t I just read a David Brooks article about how we’re too polite these days. . . no, I didn’t, because complaining that people aren’t polite anymore is a commonplace that should be sewn on a pillow.

6. Humour. Like anger, humour springs from disappointment, but it’s disappointment optimally channelled.

Another lovely platitude you’ve gotten us into.

7. Self-Awareness. To know oneself is to try not to blame others for one’s troubles and moods; to have a sense of what’s going on inside oneself, and what actually belongs to the world.

I can’t make fun of these anymore. If this is the first time you’re reading that self-awareness is a good thing, you’ve led a very odd life, among wolves perhaps.

8. Forgiveness. It’s recognising that living with others isn’t possible without excusing errors.

9. Hope. Pessimism isn’t necessarily deep, nor optimism shallow.

Two words: Barbara Ehrenreich. At least she doesn’t say something I’ve heard a million times before.

10. Confidence. Confidence isn’t arrogance, it’s based on a constant awareness of how short life is and how little we ultimately lose from risking everything.

Wow. De Botton wants to be the atheist Norman Vincent Peale. I’m feeling deep. And superior. Please, someone tell me I’m not a total asshole. Really, there was this mathematician I dated. I’m pretty sure he was smarter.

I probably could have gotten a comparable list from the first person I met on the street. If we put de Botton in a gown and heels and took him to Atlantic City, he’d be right at home answering questions in a beauty pagent. “And I just want to say, I want to see more empathy in the world. Be confident everyone. Love yourself!!!!!” Air kisses.

PZ Meyers, someone with whom I tend to agree on substance but with whom I am grossly at odds on style, has used phases like “dictionary definition atheist” to counter people with whom he disagrees on subjects not directly related to atheism, like women’s rights. What, exactly, is the problem of calling oneself an atheist if one does not believe in a supernatural deity? Now don’t get me wrong, I have no personal affections for the people with whom the Atheism Plus advocates have been feuding. I hold them in even lower esteem than I do Alain de Botton, and I’ll say no more because I have little desire to start a flame war with them. However, they do have a point. They are atheists according to the definition in the dictionary, which should be a neutral statement, not an insult.

From poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq:

As a demographic, our only unifying characteristic is a lack of belief in gods. I know liberal and conservative atheists, Libertarian atheists, Jewish and Buddhist atheists, gay and straight atheists, scientifically literate and illiterate atheists, and most importantly, sincerely decent atheists and some non-believers who are just outright dicks. If you want to organize a movement so that non-believers are acknowledged as your neighbors, friends, and relatives, by all means, do so. I will be the first in line to stand up and say, we’re here, and we’re not baby-eating monsters (although I suspect there may be one or two out there–see my previous statement about diversity). But I do not want to be a part of your “community.” What a paucity of character is on display when the best thing we have to celebrate is our opposition to something we don’t even think exists. Being recognized as normal people just like everyone else is very important. Building a wall around ourselves and establishing rites and dogmas and authorities who must be agreed with (I love the “Four Horsemen” for the work they’ve done to bring non-belief into the mainstream–but I will bend my knee to no man) is a disaster.

Sorry, folks, I never wanted to belong to an organized belief system of any sort. I’m not a Humanist nor a Confucian any more than I am a Muslim or a Christian. This is where I get off the boat. Of course, I still don’t believe in the existence of any gods. I stopped calling myself an agnostic and started calling myself an atheist when I realized that people didn’t understand what I meant when I said agnostic. Atheist, everyone understood. If people start confusing it with other beliefs, it will cease to be a useful word. Maybe we should call it nogodism. That’s such an ugly, awkward word, no one will want to hijack it.

I’m smart enough to figure our how to live my own life, thank you very much. Now, if you pardon me, I have to go kiss a mirror.

  1. Will this nonsense just go away? The whole point of being an Atheist is that you don’t have to go through all the hassle of being told what to do and having worship. The worst part is that this will be used as ammo by snarky theists saying “See I told you, Atheism is a religion.”

  2. ” I’m not a Humanist nor a Confucian any more than I am a Muslim or a Christian. This is where I get off the boat…” – congratulations!
    I like the pink pony photo more than any pope portrait …

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