Tag Archives: atheism

My sister insists I should tell this story. I’m a little hesitant.

My mother has moved to Baltimore. She’s spent her entire life in New Jersey. As far as she’s concerned, Maryland may as well be a foreign country. She’s having regular panic attacks and temper tantrums about how she doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like the culture. She doesn’t understand how things work here. Why are there so many four-way stops? Why are there so many traffic circles? Why are the bagels so bad? Where can you get a decent slice of pizza? Making matters worse, she has no sense of direction. “I feel like I’m living in a maze,” she says constantly, her little blond head barely above the steering wheel. Yes, she’s getting to the age when people start shrinking. She’s already locked herself out of her apartment once. She said, “I’m worried that I’m developing dementia.” She’s not near dementia yet. I’m not really quite sure how to explain it, but her perception is fuzzy. She’s gotten a little slow on the uptake. She was always a smart, energetic woman, and now her reaction time is not what it used to be.

So, her television was very old and barely worked. When she moved, she decided to not take it with her. Now she needed a television. She hates television. When we were kids, if we watched tv, she would come in and yell at us and tell us we were getting dumber by the second. But it’s the modern world and everyone has to have a television whether you like it or not. But… she’s not going to spend money on one. So, she calls me up. She needs a tv. A big tv, because she’s half blind. And it needs to be cheap. She wants the cheapest big tv I can find for her.

“Your brother-in-law said go to Best Buy. I don’t want to go to Best Buy.”

“Okay. Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know Baltimore. Isn’t there some sort of little appliance store some place. Sometimes places like that have good deals.”

So, I take to the internet and call her back. “Okay, I have a list of a few places we can get a t.v., but the cheapest place is Best Buy.”

“I don’t want to go to Best Buy. Aren’t there any little stores.”

“Well, I found one called Joe’s Appliances, but they don’t have prices on the internet,” I suggest. “We can go there and see.”

“They’re closed,” my mother informs me.

“How did you know that?”

“I got lost the other day. I saw a big sign, Joe’s Appliances. I thought, ‘Oh, good.’ So I pulled into the parking lot, and they’re closed.”

“Okay, then we have to go to Best Buy whether you like it or not.”

“Oh,” my mother says.

So, we get in the car and we go to the store. We find the very same t.v. I saw on the internet, we pick it up. She’s holding one end and I’m holding the other. The sales clerk asks if we need help getting it to the car. My mother replies that we have to get it from the car to her apartment, so if we can’t get it to the car without help we have a problem. She then tells the clerk her life story. “I was born a poor girl in Patterson, New Jersey.” Fortunately, the store wasn’t too busy and the sales clerk managed to smile through the whole story until she brought him up to the current day. “So, now I’m living in Baltimore.”

“Welcome to Baltimore,” the clerk says. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Please, Ma, don’t start about the bagels.” She thinks New Jersey is the greatest place on earth, and she’s not entirely aware that the rest of the earth does not agree with her. Happily, she responds politely.

The box is bulky, but not heavy, and we waddle to the door. At the door, there’s another young man who’s about six-foot five. He says, “Ladies, why don’t the leave the television here, go get your car, bring it around to the door, and I’ll help you put it in the trunk.” My mother has decided that we have sufficiently proved our ability to carry the t.v., so now we can let this guy help us.

We bring the car around to the front door. My mother says to me, “Stay in the car.” However, I’m a little concerned about her slightly fuzzy behavior, and I insist on getting out. She’s sitting behind the steering wheel, craning her neck, looking around. “I don’t see the guy with the tv.”

“Don’t worry, ma,” I say. “He’ll be there as soon as he sees us.” With that, I get out of the car. The young man walks out of the door, easily carrying the box that my mother and I had to carry together in his big, long arms.

“Pop open the trunk,” I call to my mother from behind the car. The trunk pops open. The man with the t.v. is at my side and he begins lifting the box to place it in the trunk. At the moment, gaping maw of the trunk stars drifting forward. The car is moving. Why is the car moving?

I run to the driver’s side of the car. “Stop the car, ma,” I’m yelling. As I round the side of the car, I see that the driver’s side door is open and a little blond head is emerging. “Stop, Ma! Stop!” I see a leg emerge. “Ma! What are you doing?” The car is continuing to roll forward. “Ma! MA!” Her body is following. Her foot is touching the ground. I’m standing with my mouth agape, the guy with the t.v. is standing with his mouth agape, and a small crowd has gathered. Her other leg emerges from the car and suddenly, splat! She’s on the ground on her hands and knees. The car is still moving forward and it’s picking up momentum on the sloping parking lot. It looks like the rear wheel is going to roll over my mother’s legs. Suddenly, she seems to be aware of what’s happening and she crawls faster than I’ve ever seen anyone crawl. She’s out of immediate danger, but the car is rolling forward. I’m frozen in place.

Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and runs and jumps in the car. I turn to my mother, “Is the brake broken?”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think I just forgot to put it in park.”

The man who jumped into the car pulls the car around and parks it where is should have been in front of the store. He gets out and hands the keys to my mother. My mother starts telling him her life story. When we reach the present, when she has just moved to Baltimore, bought a tv and fallen out of a moving car, she concludes, “It’s a miracle that you were here.”

Those words seemed to come out of her mouth in the same slow motion that I saw her head emerge from the car. I was thinking, “No, Ma! Stop! Don’t say that!”

“Will you ladies wait here,” the man says. I have something in my car I want to give to you. With that, he runs off.

His wife, standing by our side, says, “You two can go now, if you like.”

The man comes back with a small booklet, which I immediately recognize as a religious tract.

“Are you ladies believers?” he asks.

I look over at my mother and see that she has the same frozen, half-smile that I’m pretty sure I have on my face. “Um, well, uh, I, uh.” Sounds are coming from my mother’s mouth, but they’re not making any sense.

“Look at all of this,” he says raising his arms in a broad sweep that takes in, not only the Best Buy parking lot, but the strip mall across the street. “Do you think evolution can account for all of this.” I want to say, “You mean the macadam? I think that was a Scottish fellow.” but I bite my tongue. I stand there saying nothing and, happily, my mother says nothing. Eventually, the man has nothing left to say and insists that my mother will find his booklet inspiring.

We get in the car. “I need a drink,” my mother says.

“There’s a wine bar in Hampden….”

“Let’s go.”

This morning my mother phoned. “You know, I realized. I don’t like tv.”

The other day, Greta Christina, over on her blog, asked for atheists’ “coming out” stories. “Coming out” is, I assume, terminology borrowed from the old Gay Liberation movement and refers to coming out of the closet. Of course, this presumes that there was a closet in the first place. Although my parents never discussed their lack of belief, I was vaguely aware that they didn’t follow a religion. My mother likes to laugh about the time when I was three or four and I asked her if we were “Hanukkah or Christmas.” If we had lived in a village, my grandfather, grumpy and cantankerous, would probably have been the village atheist.

However, Greta Christina says she’s looking for not only the dramatic coming-out-to-the-folks story, but stories about coming out to fellow students and others. I do have one of those.

I was the new kid in school. In my previous school I was being bullied and it had turned physical. Bullying was not the cause it is today. Not only did the school administrators do nothing about it, but during a conference with my parents the principal looked at me and directly asked what I was doing to bring it on. To this day, I don’t know. I think the girl was looking for a convenient target and I happened to fit the bill. In any case, this reaction on the part of the school alarmed my parents. Now that I’m an adult, I think they made the right decision. They pulled me out of school. As it happened, both my parents worked in public schools in different towns. My father worked in a large city with a big bureaucracy, but my mother worked in a small town. She talked to the relevant people and a day or two later I found myself listening to the song “Tell Me Why You Don’t Like Mondays” as we drove to the high school. She dropped me off before heading to the middle school where she worked and I sat on the lawn in front of the school for about an hour or so every morning waiting for school to start.

There were some demographic differences between the town where my former school was located and the new one. There was a distinct class difference. In terms of money, the difference was not huge, but the parents in my first town mostly had college degrees while in the second town most of the parents had learned trades. It was a prosperous blue-collar town of union members with steady jobs. In retrospect, it was a world that seems almost anachronistic today. Where the students in the first town were ethnically and religiously diverse, the new town was split almost evenly between people of Irish descent and those of Italian descent. They had one thing in common, however, the town was solidly, although not exclusively, Catholic. However, it was Catholic enough that, the first week there, someone helpfully pointed out to me in the lunch room the one Jewish student and attempted to identify the handful of Protestants. There was no hostility in this that I could detect. The Jewish girl was head of the cheerleading squad and one of the most popular girls by far. My guide seemed to think it was something of a novelty. Coming from a town that was about a third Jewish, this seemed frankly weird, but I don’t recall that I said anything.

Around this time, I had a minor injury which kept me out of gym class for an extended time. The gym teacher thought it was silly for me to sit on the sidelines watching the other kids several times a week, so it was arranged that I would go to the library where I would help the librarian shelve books. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and this was generally a pleasant time for me. I would try to make myself useful, but there wasn’t always much to do. After putting away the cart full of books, I would take a novel and sit at one of the big library tables. One day, while I was reading, if my memory serves me well, Jane Eyre, several senior boys walked in. Although it was a small school, as a freshman I had never talked to any of them, but I recognized them because they were tall, handsome, buff and popular. They sat down at my table and started chatting with the confidence that popular students have that their presence is welcome, smiling as if we’d been friends for ages. They asked my name and what I was reading. They pretended to be fascinated by the romantic problems of Jane and Mr. Rochester with a seriousness that could only mean that they were flirting. They asked where I had gone to school before. They asked if I was Irish or Italian.

This shook me up a bit because I had been brought up to believe that there were certain questions that should never be asked and they were about occupation, ethnicity and religion. I can’t say I was offended, but I was taken aback, but the boys continued to be friendly and flirtatious as I answered, “Neither,” and gave a list of eight if they really wanted to know. They didn’t seem to care.

Then they asked, “What is your religion.” I said I was an atheist.

One of them said, “What’s that?” Another asked if I worshiped Satan with less apparent interest than he had shown in the plot of Jane Eyre.

I said, “No, that would be Satanists.”

So what did I worship, he wanted to know. Nothing, was my answer.

“Do you have a nickname?”

No, I regretted to tell them, I did not.

“You should have a nickname,” they all agreed with confidence. They mulled it over a bit. I was wearing a dark purple pullover. One of them decided that I looked like an eggplant. This seemed to tickle their collective funny bone and it was quickly decided that my nickname would be “Eggplant.”

The bell rang and the boys got up to go. One of them punched me on the shoulder and said, “See you around, Eggplant.”

This story could be entitled “How I got the world’s stupidest nickname.” Unless, of course, there’s someone called Artichoke.

Of course, this is a terrible story because, as we know, a good story contains drama and conflict. In a way, it’s packed with assumptions about ethnicity, identity, class and religion, but in the end it’s all rather anti-climatic, and that’s a good thing in real life if not in stories. Yet I think it’s a good story to tell because there is no need for these things to create conflict. We live in a pluralistic world that’s becoming more pluralistic by the day. I think the boring stories need to be told, too, because they’re part of a bigger picture.

Every once in a while, someone finds out that there are seven states in the United States that have laws prohibiting atheists from serving in public office. Maryland is one of those states. The British colony was founded in 1634. To say that tensions between Catholics and Anglicans in England ran high at that time would be an understatement. The founder of Maryland, Cecilius Calvert, was a Catholic who intended the colony to be a potential refuge for Catholics should those tensions require one.

From Maryland’s earliest days, Cecilius Calvert had enjoined its colonists to leave religious rivalries behind. Along with giving instructions on the establishment and defense of the colony, he asked the men he appointed to lead it to ensure peace between Protestants and Catholics.

In order to protect the interests of Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans, in 1649 Maryland passed the second law regarding religious tolerance in the British North American Colonies, The Maryland Toleration Act, or the Act Concerning Religion. In one sense, the law can be considered progressive since it protected all Trinitarian Christians. At the same time it specifically allowed the persecution of all others. During the English Civil War, the act was revoked and Catholics were barred from voting in the colony.

While the law did not secure religious freedom, and while it included severe limitations, it was nonetheless a significant milestone. It predates the Enlightenment, which is generally considered to be when the idea of religious freedom took root, and stands as the first legal guarantee of religious tolerance in American and British history. …. It was not until the passage of the First Amendment to the Constitution over a century later that religious freedom was enshrined as a fundamental guarantee…. Thus, despite its lack of a full guarantee of religious freedom or broad-based tolerance, the law is, “a significant step forward in the struggle for religious liberty.”

With the Maryland Toleration Act we can see that the course of liberty of conscience in regards to religion has not been a perfectly straight line from oppression for all but the government sanctioned sect to liberty for all.

In 1776, Maryland, now a state, wrote its constitution which provided only that “all persons professing the Christian religion are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.” Article 35 stated, “No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State… and a declaration of belief in Christian religion.”

In 1826, a bill was introduced with the intention of extending the right to serve in public office to Jews, ‘but it still required that an officeholder profess belief in a “future state of rewards and punishments.” This requirement was retained in the Maryland Constitution of 1851 and was not dropped until the present Maryland Constitution was adopted in 1867.’ It is that constitution from 1867 which contains the article which is frequently quoted as evidence that atheists cannot serve in public office in Maryland.

Art. 37. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

In 1960 an atheist, Roy Torcaso was appointed notary public. He refused to make a declaration of belief in the existence of God and his appointment was revoked. The case made it before the Supreme Court of the United States as Torcaso vs. Watkins.

The Court unanimously found that Maryland’s requirement for a person holding public office to state a belief in God violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

So why can article 37 still be seen in the Maryland Constitution? According to Brian Palmer writing on Slate:

Judges cannot reach into statute books and erase laws. Some state legislatures proactively repeal unconstitutional laws, either one at a time or in batches after a few of them pile up. Others just leave them there….

State constitutions, which are more difficult to amend than ordinary statutes, are rife with unconstitutional language. Arkansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, along with North Carolina, all have language suggesting that atheists are barred from office.

The Supreme Court justices are pretty tolerant of states thumbing their noses at them from afar, but they will not tolerate meaningful resistance. After the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, Arkansas passed a series of laws attempting to nullify the federal decision, forcing the court to issue a second decision emphasizing that the nine justices, and not the states, were the final arbiters of constitutionality.

Antiquated laws that are still on the books are not without potential problems, however it is not correct to say that there are places in the United States where atheists are currently barred from holding public office.

I’ve come across this statement several times recently so it seemed worth while to do an entire post on it.

Every once in a while, I poke around blogs written by or about atheists. I go in and out of being interested in the subject. One theme that comes up again and again is that atheists are a contentious lot. Just last night, I read a very moving post entitled “My Childhood Had No Place for God.” In the last paragraph, the writer says, “As an adult, I don’t identify as an atheist.  To me atheism is the religion of denying religion, and many of them have waged some kind of anti-holy war against believers.” If he doesn’t believe in the existence of any gods, then the writer is an atheist whether he chooses to identify as that or not.  He follows that with his own private definition of an atheist. Needless to say, although language does change and there are regional variations, language is only functional if we have some broad agreement about the meaning of words and the structure of grammar. What interests me is not the reduction in the ability to communicate that might result from making up one’s own private meaning for common English words, but why he might have this particular image of non-believers, that we are, indeed, a rather unpleasant lot.

When I poke around the internet, I see a world that bears only a superficial resemblance to the one I see in real life. As I’ve said elsewhere, I grew up in a suburb of a big city. The town in which we lived had people of all different ethnic backgrounds and a large number of religions, Catholic, Protestants of various sects, Episcopalian, Judaism, Greek Orthodox, Taoist and Buddhist, and probably a few others. My own parents were atheists as was my maternal grandfather. This was not the colorful inner city of recent immigrants clinging to old world traditions. This was the melting pot, not the beautiful mosaic. When questioned about my ethnic “identity” my own list of ancestral origins contains at least eight. Now, I’m middle-aged, so this mixed-up melting pot existed forty years ago. This is not some kind of new development.

So, when I hear people talk about having grown up in a “fundamentalist” atmosphere in which every one believed in the same fire and brimstone version of evangelical Christianity and appears to be exclusively of English ancestry, I feel like I should rouse Harry Smith from the dead so we can head down into the holler and do some folkloric research. And yet, when I look at atheist message boards, the number of “former fundamentalists” is astounding – and they’re young!

Which brings me to another characteristic of atheists that I encounter on the internet as opposed to those I encounter in my off-line life. On the internet, self-identified atheists disproportionately have recently lost their faith. By internet atheists I don’t simply mean atheists who use the internet, but people who frequently identify themselves as atheists, who blog about being atheist or spend a lot of time on atheist message boards or writing comments about atheism.

When you stop and think about it, it makes sense. People who have recently lost their faith have more to talk about on the subject of atheism. People who are living in highly religious environments or in families with many devout members need to reach out to strangers on the internet more often. Beyond that, you wind up with people like me who are mainly roused by the intersection of politics and religion. Another post I read recently asked why atheists are fascinated by creationism. First, the writer makes the mistake of equating angry people on the internet with all atheists. The answer is very simple, creationists want their version of reality to be taught in schools. People who feel insulated from the fundamentalists because of their socioeconomic class or the region in which they live tend to not run to the barricades. Internet atheists are a self-selecting lot and not in any way an appropriate survey sample.

So I’ve put up a post everyday until last Saturday. True, sometimes I posted past midnight and often I put up nothing but a photo, but I did manage to have at least one post for everyday since the first of the year. It was a weird little commitment I made to myself.

I’m probably trying the patience of my readers here. The shutdown of Lavabit has created a bigger crisis in my life than I expected. Since I never store important documents, including emails, on other people’s hardware, I thought it would be as simple as getting a new email address and logging into various services like the one here on WordPress and updating that bit of information.

I should probably confess something here that I didn’t intend to get to for a very long time. About a year and a half ago, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. A complicated set of circumstances brought it on and I didn’t want to discuss it outside of the context, but, for better or worse, it’s part of the context of what’s going on now and I can’t talk about my current situation without referencing it. The short version, is that I never wanted to get married or have children. I wanted to have a significant career of some sort. I failed. I’m going on fifty and I now realize I’ll never achieve the things I wanted to achieve. This has led me into a depression although I didn’t have a history of it. I did have a history of anxiety and I am a little bit quirky. So I take medication now, and at least I’m no longer thinking about suicide. But I’m still struggling with how to make a life for myself that I can actually enjoy more often than not. I was enjoying getting some of my opinions out there.

I just don’t like the things other people like. They don’t give me satisfaction. I wish I could go shopping and feel good. Hell, I wish I could believe in Jesus, enjoy watching teevee, enjoy sports, accept the fact that women are supposed to act as if their vagina is a non-renewable resource, think people look better photoshopped, worry about what celebrities are naming their babies, and all sorts of things that are just a blank for me. In short, I wish I could be just a little bit more like other people. Life would be easier for me. I wouldn’t have much to blog about, but that’s okay. Facebook is sufficient for most people.

I’m not ready to hand over my whole life to the owners of Google. I have a lot to say about many things, but I just wanted to maintain a modicum of privacy. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t using Lavabit for their encryption or security. I was using them simply because they weren’t tracking me and selling my information to advertisers.

So now I don’t know. If I can’t find another email provider that allows a little bit of privacy, I’m going to take a significant part of my life off-line. What will remain on line will be under my own name, but I won’t have any opinions that aren’t acceptable to the majority. I’ll have to cease speaking out about atheism, politics, sexuality and women’s issues.

I can’t even begin to explain to everyone the pain I’m going through right now. I feel a little bit crazy right now. Am I overreacting? Everyone else is seems so happy with Facebook. Why don’t I like it? What’s wrong with me? Why am I not like everybody else?

I’ve mentioned in various places that I was raised without a religion. I’ve described my father as an atheist and my mother as an agnostic, although she sometimes uses the word atheist as well. When I read blogs written by people who call themselves atheist, it seems that almost everyone has a post describing how and why he or she became an atheist, everyone except me. So I’m feeling a little left out of the party. Furthermore, it seems that there are fewer atheists in the United States than I would have thought, so I thought it might be worthwhile to describe for everyone how my parents became atheists. This is the story as it was related to me.

It might surprise everyone to know that my sister and I were both baptised, however I have no recollection of this event. I understand that’s typical. One Sunday morning some years after the aforementioned baptisms, my parents were lying in bed sound asleep. The alarm went off. My father, a light sleeper, awoke immediately and shut off the alarm. Now he had the difficult task of waking my mother. “Sweetie,” he said nudging her, “Wake up. It’s time to go to church.”

“Ugh,” my mother groaned, “but I don’t even believe in God.”

“Well,” my father said, “I don’t believe in God either.”

“Does that mean we can sleep?”

“I guess so.”

“Good,” my mother replied.

Now that I’ve recounted this, it seems rather anticlimactic. Everyone else has these deep posts about science, doubt, morality and a path or journey towards rejecting religion. I have a sleepy mother.

Also, I’ve seen other posts where people have talked about how to raise children if you’re an atheist. I don’t think my parents really thought much about it. They just did. We continued to go to school and not much was made of it one way or another. There were a lot of other things to do and to think about and, except when someone else brought it up, it simply wasn’t there and I barely noticed. I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties of being curious about religion. Almost every religion I investigated seem silly after a certain point.

My mother might have felt slightly self-conscious about not imparting a religiously tinged morality. From time to time she would make odd statements. When the kid up the street blew his hand off making a pipe bomb, my mother said, “See, going to church every week didn’t do anything for his sense of right and wrong.”

My sister won’t even countenance the subject of religion. “When I hear an adult talking about God,” she told me one day, “it’s like hearing an adult discuss the existence of the Easter Bunny. I just can’t take it seriously.”

Warning: The following post is rank speculation and contains few, if any, verifiable facts.

One day I was out in a park taking photos and struck up a conversation with a man. After a lengthy conversation, he invited me out to a place a few blocks away for dinner and drinks. Several times he mentioned that he liked smart women in a context that I understood to imply that he thought I was smart and that he liked me. After a few drinks he said, “I feel like I’m pushing my luck to even ask, but you wouldn’t happen to be an atheist?” I said, “Yes,” and he looked up as if to thank ceiling cat.

It’s not surprising that he should thank ceiling cat for his good fortune. Received wisdom has it that among atheists men outnumber women two to one.

Wow – here’s one of those days when I feel lucky to be a blogger not a legit writer. My original intent was to start with an introductory anecdote, make the statement that atheist men significantly outnumber atheist women, speculate wildly on why that would be the case and finish up with the conclusion of my anecdote. So I was trying to find a good, recent source with a gender breakdown of atheists in the United States. I’ve been poking around for about two hours now. This post is taking significantly longer than I had intended due to this rather big hiccup. If anyone has a good, reliable source for the notion that the number of men who don’t believe in any divine being is actually double that of women in the United States, please give me a source. Until then, I will have to wait for another day to finish my post.

Sorry folks.

As for the end of the anecdote, let’s just say that I fished around on the internet for this image: underwear.

For about the third or fourth time recently, I have come across a place where someone has stated that I, and people like me, are living in a bubble. Amanda Marcotte wrote an article recently entitled 6 Kinds of Atheists. I guess it might be useful those people who have never met an atheist and think that we are all elderly, argumentative, British biologists, but who also happen to read Amanda Marcotte. Personally, I think Marcotte should have put the article in quiz form so it could have been published in Cosmo, or perhaps as a quiz on OK Cupid. Still, even without a, b, c and d choices, I read it eagerly to find out what kind of atheist I was. Yes, I know, I’m a little self-involved. Perhaps I should have been wondering what other types of atheists are out there, but I didn’t. I was thinking of moi, moi, moi.

The first category was the “Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic.” Surely, I thought, that is I. At 38 percent, Marcotte tells us, these are the most common type of non-believer. Of course, sensible people all, I imagine. “These types often get mistaken for dogmatic atheists, however, because they have a tendency to join skeptic’s groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others.” Well, I went to go hear a lecture sponsored by American Atheists once and another sponsored by the Freedom From Religion foundation, I guess that counts. “They like debating religion….” Oh, well, maybe not. I like to flatter myself that I’m an intellectual and I am most certainly an atheist, however, perhaps I am not an “Intellectual Atheist.”

Behind door number two we have “Activist Atheists.” “This group also gets commonly accused of being dogmatic, but like the intellectual atheist, while they’re firm in their beliefs, they’re intellectually flexible and don’t prioritize attacking believers.” Aha! There we go. I’m an “Activist Atheist.” Let’s read more about yours truly. “Instead, they are motivated by a strong sense of humanist values to make change in the world, often making related issues—such as feminism, gay rights, or the environment—a priority over simply advocating atheism.” Hmm… maybe. “This group also advocates for a better, more egalitarian atheist community….” What community? I kind of hate that whole “atheist community” thing. We have nothing in common, quite literally. They are, I should point out, 23 percent of the nons.

Next up for consideration, the “Seeker-Agnostic.” “They prioritize not-knowingness.” I spent nearly a decade in this category. Marcotte describes them as being “uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely,” which I think is a judgemental way of putting it. It doesn’t have anything to do with “comfort.” I started out calling myself an atheist around the age of eight or nine, then starting around seventeen or eighteen I began to use the word agnostic. Sometime in my late twenties I realized that calling oneself “agnostic” is like walking around with a note that says, “Please convert me,” taped on your back. Frankly, calling myself an atheist is far easier. If nothing else, it does shut people up.

Online, I’ve met a few Anti-Theists, and I know I’m not that. “This group tends to get conflated with all atheists by believers, but they only constitute 15 percent of non-believers. Like the Intellectual Atheists, they like to argue about religion, but they are much more aggressive about it and actively seek out religious people in an effort to disabuse them of their beliefs. While most atheists limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as the real goal.”

With four out of six down, I seem to be running out of choices. Now here we have a category that she describes as not believing “in any gods, but don’t think about those who do very often.” Yeah, that would be about right. “In such a religious society, simply opting out of caring much about religion one way or another is nearly impossible….” Well, she does have a point there. I wind up thinking about it much more than I’d like on account of the news and other people who thrust religion on me. Officially, we are called “Non-Theists” and are “only 4.4 percent of non-believers,” although personally I suspect most of us simply didn’t bother to fill out the questionnaire. Huh… what’s this here? “In some skeptical/atheist circles, this group is disparagingly referred to as ‘shruggies.’ ” So you’re all talking about be behind my back! Shruggie? Well I never! Speculating wildly, Marcotte opines, “However, some quite likely are indifferent because they’re fortunate enough to live in a bubble where belief doesn’t matter one way or another.”

It is not a fucking “bubble.” It is a carefully constructed submarine so I don’t drown.

I happened to come across this petition, intended for the White House, on the White House website, to ban creationism and intelligent design in science classes. It currently has fewer than 40,000 signatures, which I find sad. I think we all know that there is about a snowball’s chance in hell that President Obama will act on it, still I think we need to make our numbers known. It’s been sitting there since June 15th and the deadline is July 15th.

I don’t have tons and tons of readers, so please spread the word as well. Maybe even if you’re not living here but you have a lot of readers who do, you might want to be super nice to us and put up a link.

Yo! Your chiefness. Not for nuthin’ – but I’m from Jersey, exit 154 off the Parkway if ya really gotta know. (Yeah, I know. I’m a snob. And what are ya gonna do about it?) Yeah, that’s the “New” Jersey. I guess we prahbly lack the “grAHvEEtAHSS” of the old Jersey, which is like… a cow or somethin’. Whatevah.

So, you’re worried about the fucking barbarians? You see any barbarians around, send ‘im our way. We’ll give ‘im a little talkin’ to. Get this barbarian problem straightened out in no time. Trust me on this.

Hobbes, Spinoza, Voltaire, Nietzsche. So, it seems like you prefer your atheists dead. Lots of people like their opponents dead. Let’s see. Voltaire… hmm, you talkin’ about the guy that said that Jews “are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race.” That Voltaire? I don’t want to be presumptuous, but aren’t you, like, Jewish? I mean being a rabbi and all. That’s kinda weird, no offense. Me, I’m always on the verge of liking Voltaire when I remember that shit, pardon my French, and that crap about Africans being dumber than apes. And Spinoza, you mean old Benedict? The guy that was thrown outta your tribe? And Nietzsche… I dunno what to say about Nietzsche. We hadda read a few of his books back and school and, no disrespect, but I got the feeling he wasn’t too right in the head. And Hobbes, okay, ya got me, I only ever read Leviathan, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we’ve gotta nail down what ya mean when you say “atheist.”

So, ya got yer preferred atheists. Didn’t see my name among them. S’okay. I got my preferred Jews, and I’m not gonna hurt anyone’s feelings by making the list public, but let’s just say, no disrespect, but your name’s not on it. Whatevah, my list of favorite atheists is prahbly diffrent than yer list. S’okay. At least we got that Spinoza fellow in common.

Ya got me on that sub specie aeternitatis thing. I’ll be straight wit you. I hadda look it up. Sorry you feel it’s been dumbed down. Can’t really address your problem unless you can be more ‘pecific. Who dumbed it down? Where? And yeah, I’m tone deaf, so what of it? Letting me sing Christmas carols, that’s my definition of Christian charity. As far as the book of Psalms goes, I understand what ya mean. Me, I always feel bad for people who think Robinson Carusoe is a children’s book, also for people who don’t get the profundity of Wilke Collins’ The Moonstone. As far as transcendence and the miracle of being, I’m not sure if you really want to go there. The first time I got laid, that was fucking transcendent. I kid you not. Really. It was fucking great. To be totally honest wit’ ya, I sometimes suspect that real religious people didn’t get good mind-blowing banging at the right age. But, hey, that’s just an opinion. And as far as that drama stuff goes, just between you and me, I could use a little less drama in my life. I’m just sayin’.

Not bein’ a reader of The Spectator, I s’pose I could leave it like that, like you say. But I’m not gonna, ’cause I’m kinda a pain that way.

So now we’re back to Nietzsche. So, he said that, without the Christian faith, Europeans whose ancestors had for a time been Christians, would cease loving their neighbors as themselves (which I’m glad they did ’cause otherwise they might have had some progroms or crusades or somethin’, just sayin’) and the strong would dominate the weak – good thing that shit never happened. Hallefuckinglujah and praise Jesus for that.

You know what that put me in mind of. The first page to Harvey Kurtzman’s The Jungle Book. A classic. One of my favorites, like the book of Psalms is one of yours. It reads “UP FROM THE APES! / (and right back down) / In Which Are Described / In Words and Pictures / Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, And Other Heros — ALL EXHIBITING — [THE PROGRESS OF MAN] / From the Darkness of the Cave / INTO THE LIGHT OF CIVILIZATION / by means of Television / WIDE SCREENMOVIES / THE STONE AXE / and other useful arts.” Okay, I’m gonna be honest wit ya. I never really had a favorite Jew list. I nevah even thought about it. But if I had a favorite Jew list, Harvey’d be on it. Which makes me wonder. Why aren’t the New Jews like the old Jews? The old Jews were funny, clever, intellectual-like. They questioned the assumptions of society. They weren’t afraid of barbarians at the gates. They WERE the barbarians at the gates. Why can’t the New Jews be incisive and intellectual like my favorite Jews? Why can’t you, Rabbi, be more like Harvey? Harvey was fuckin’ great. There was some gravitas in Annie’s fucking Fanny. If ya can’t appreciate the wisdom of Harvey, what can I say, some people are tone deaf and maybe I oughtta leave like that. (For the humorless – I’m parodying Mr. Saks’ article. I don’t actually believe there are “New Jews” and “Old Jews,” just like there aren’t really “New Atheists” and “Old Atheists.” However, Harvey Kurtzman was truly one of the greats of the sequential arts – and that’s no joke.)

So, you say, “Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.” Nice sleight of hand there. First we’re talking about Christian ethics which has suddenly become the Judeo-Christian “sanctity of life.” I’m not really sure what that means. Do you mean that people who do not, and perhaps never did, worship the tribal god of Abraham’s people do not have the concept of the “sanctity of life” and there is “nothing to contain the evil men do when given the change and the provocation.” I mean really. What the fuck am I supposed to say to that? Have you ever read Bartolemé de las Casas? Do you know anything about any culture that existed beyond Europe and parts of the Middle East? Do you truly believe that in the Americas, in Africa, in Asia there was more evil than there was in Christian Europe? Really, ya gotta get outta the house more. Jerry Coyne gives you far too much credit when he says, “Sacks could have been a scholar, a surgeon, or any number of professions that are actually useful.” Personally, I’m glad you’re not gonna be operating on me anytime soon.

As far as where morality comes from, well, other people have addressed it. Honestly, from my point of view, it isn’t my problem. Here’s a problem for you. If the tribal god of Abraham is the source of all morality, what is the source of morality for people belonging to other cultures? Or do they not have morality?

Personally, I don’t believe we should worship anything at all, certainly not the market. However, do you believe that coddling of the banks by governments around the world after the financial crisis was a result of atheism? Do you believe that failure to understand the work of Keynes and respond to the crisis with sufficient stimulus was a result of atheism? Do you believe that atheists have caused the crony capitalism which is spreading through our governments? Is this all the work of atheists? Are there no Jews and Christians working at those banks or numbered among those CEOs?

Being from Jersey, the new one, I don’t know about the “mild Christian Britain.” Here, we used to have something called “genteel anti-Semitism.” As someone who can pass for Wasp, let me tell you, there’s nothing genteel about it. It just throws me for a loop when Jews wax romantic about the past. Really? You want to bring back the days when Jews were excluded from certain occupations, from certain schools, certain clubs. Damn! I don’t want to bring that back and I’m not even Jewish.

Humanity hasn’t been here before. Take a look at the growth of the material well-being of the average person over the past couple of centuries. Only the comfortable and insulated can deplore this as materialism. For most people this means decent food, decent housing, medication, education and many practical things. It is individualism that brought Jews out of the ghetto, that made slavery undefendable, that allowed women to choose their own future, to make hereditary rule inexplicable. My own struggle with the liberalism promoted by the Enlightenment is why, without leftists and radicals, it has been so weak on the questions of social justice where I feel it should be stronger.

Rabbi, you and I will never see eye to eye on a simple fact. I do not believe that people should be chained to the group to which they were born. I believe that people should have the freedom to live the life they feel called to live. I believe this for the reason that I want this for myself. Your beliefs, if they were followed to their logical extreme, would send Jews back to the ghetto where you could be prince of the paupers. The segregationists in the U.S. tried to promote the idea that separate can be equal. It can’t be.

Finally, at the end, you mention the barbarians you first named in your title. It was a long time coming. You are so vague, I would have had no idea about whom you are speaking except that other people have identified these barbarians as Muslims. After many paragraphs complaining about atheists, it seems that the real threat is another group who also worship the tribal god of the people who trace their lineage to the mythical figure of Abraham, specifically, those among them who are most fervent in their worship and who most believe in the absolute truth of their holy book. This is… how do I say this… odd. You denigrate atheists at length because… Muslims.

Honestly, at this point I can only guess at what you’re trying to say. Enlightenment Liberalism will not defeat Islamism? Is that your argument? Rabbi Saks, I’m afraid you wrote the most incoherent mess of nonsense and I’m not sure why I spent so long responding to it. The only reason I’m publishing it is because I am already behind on my posts.