By Ben Love ~
A few days ago, I went in to my local Barnes and Noble bookstore, a place where I’ve spent many a happy day whiling the hours away engrossed in one book or another. But they had moved everything around since the last time I’d been there, and none of the new changes made sense to me. So I went to the help desk in the middle of the store and asked where I might find books on atheism. I heard some snickering to my left, and I turned to see two middle-aged women watching me with disapproving looks of horror on their faces. One whispered something to the other, and both then walked away with an air of superiority. Obviously, they’d heard my inquiry and clearly thought that it was Satan Incarnate standing there and not just an obscure writer named Ben Love.
This experience is in direct contrast with one that happened to me about a month ago. My wife and I were having a discussion at Denny’s one night about one of my articles that had recently been published. It was, of course, an Atheistic Article, and our dialogue at the table was therefore quite atheistic in nature. A man sitting two tables down and slightly to the right of me clearly overheard part of our conversation, and he smiled at me. I smiled back in perplexion and he gave me a “thumbs-up” gesture, then pulled back the front of his jacket to reveal a tee shirt underneath sporting the words, “There is NO God, Get Over It.”
Such opposing reactions. And what do these reactions tell us, I wonder?
As it concerns Religion or the lack thereof, sometimes I’m confused by the prevailing winds that seem to be blowing in my Country. America appears to be a nation that is undergoing extreme inner change, and in many ways, we won’t be able to fully understand this change until the dust settles. Indeed, only in retrospect, several decades from now, will we be able to look upon the tumultuous events of today with any clarity and objectivity. However, I admit that as one who is alive during this time of change, what I see often confuses me. There seem to be conflicting reports, and the casual viewer doesn’t always know which reports to believe. For instance, I recently read an article, teeming with credible statistics, that showed atheism to be a surging movement within the United States, that more and more churches were closing their doors, and that religion in general was becoming obsolete in the minds of most Americans younger than 50. But then, not even a week later, I read another article stating that recent polls suggest Christianity is thriving in this country like never before, that more and more young people are turning to the Church for their existential answers, and that three out of four Americans would go on record as believing in some kind of personal God.
The truth is, however, that I need not be confused. All statistics are relative, because they depend upon fluid factors, such as who is polled, where those polled live (because geography matters), what their background is, what their age is, and so on. Thus, unless your poll is large enough to account for all the age groups, regions, and any other pertinent demographic, you might not be getting the whole story.
And yet, one has to wonder just what the prevailing climate in this country is. Are we, as a nation, moving more toward an atheistic, agnostic, unreligious climate, or are we being blown back toward our roots and the religion that helped spawn this country? Or…are we hanging steady, moving toward neither one nor the other?
When I drive down the street in my hometown, a see churches on nearly every corner. (Whether or not those churches are empty or filled on Sunday morning, I cannot say.) And while I know that not everyone in my hometown is a churchgoer, I cannot recall, even once, a group of atheist protestors parading around the grounds of these churches, carrying signs and handing out pamphlets. Similarly, when I drive down those same streets, I see virtually no indications of an atheist establishment anywhere, or a meeting place for anti-religious advocates, or even a humanist kiosk where literature on the topic can be obtained. Thus, we might conclude that atheism is the minority and therefore the weaker constituency, since Christianity’s material presence in the world is much more visible. Most of us probably cannot remember the last time we passed a blatantly atheistic institution on the street.
But…if we did…would we see Christian protestors there? Suppose at the corner of Main and Pine there is an atheist meeting house called Unbelievers United. Would we see Christians picketing this establishment with signs and megaphones and angry fists? You know we would. Or, to take it in a slightly different direction, suppose we wanted to have an annual atheist’s day at the ballpark. I know for a fact that my home baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals) has a Christian day at the ballpark once per season. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never heard a word of atheists protesting such an event. But if we were to have an atheist’s version of the same event and the very same ballpark, do you think Christians would keep quiet? The answer is no. They would not keep quiet.
Hasten the day!And thus, we must observe that regardless of which group is gaining ground in this country, we still have an extremely unbalanced, unjust society which purports to be interested in conquering inequality but which, under the surface, is still hopelessly mired in discrimination.
Concerning this topic, a friend recently confided to me that he believes Christianity will never go away. He, like me, wants it to go away, but he doesn’t believe it ever will. I thought about that for a good long time before I concluded that I myself am significantly convinced Christianity actually is on its way out. Why do I think that? Well, the answer is that I can read the writing on the wall…
Whether or not he wants to admit it, the believing Christian is losing the ground beneath his feet, one tile at a time. Perhaps it doesn’t feel that way to him, from where he is standing. But take an objective look as an outsider and tell me what you see. One by one, the mysteries of the Cosmos, which the Christian uses to retain some measure of his God’s enigmatic wonder, are being taken away as science continues to shed new light on our world. The day is coming when the Christian can no longer hide behind his Creationist views, because evolution is being confirmed over and over with each new breakthrough in the biological and geological communities. The small Universe of the Creationist is being revealed for what it truly is: a fathomless breath of expansiveness that must, by virtue of the properties of starlight, be billions of years older than the Bible would suggest. The Historical Record is continuing to demonstrate that bonafide, documented miracles have never taken place in any way whatsoever. Our understanding of social evolution is accounting for our knowledge of “good” versus “evil,” and we no longer need to attribute these ideals to a deity. Likewise, our understanding of psychology and genetics is shedding new light on what used to be considered “deviant lifestyle behaviors”; and while we once thought these “sinful” behaviors to be violations of God, we now know that a person can no more account for these choices than he can for the color of his own eyes. Moreover, superstition, supernaturalism, and faith are gradually being replaced with reason, rationalism, and logic. Where once belief reigned supreme, knowledge is taking over. And the net negative effect of religion in the current age, to say nothing of its effect in the historical record, is becoming clearer and clearer to the impartial observer. The point is this: the Christian has so few legs left to stand on, and even those are beginning to crumble.
And it must be noted that when the Christian hunkers down and clings determinedly to his faith, he does so against the current, not with it. He must continually find new ways to stand against the overwhelming direction the tide is moving. My suspicion is that he knows this, deep down. But what is he to do? If he loses his religion, he loses his identity. One cannot blame him for the white knuckling that he does.
Therefore, whenever I wonder about the disparity in this country between the believer and the nonbeliever; when I see the discrimination that exists under the surface and under the deceptive façade of equality; when I experience judgement and condemnation from those who think I am evil for being an atheist, I smile inwardly because I know that my side is winning. A century from now, or perhaps two, belief in God will be just as ridiculous as a belief in Bigfoot is now. That day is coming. The writing on the wall says so.
Hasten the day!