No, I Don’t Envy the Faithful

From time to time, I run across non-believers who pine after faith, or greatly admire it, or think it to be soft, fuzzy, and warm. Arthur Shapiro is a might fine example of that species: I came across a review of his in the Creation/Evolution Journal that begins thusly:

I suppose I should confess up front that some of my best friends are Christians. I can’t share their beliefs, but at times I find myself envying them for having a philosophy that seems to bring them so much comfort. Life is harder, as some wag put it, with no invisible means of support.

And then he descends into preemptive whining about the atheists (“true-believer atheists,” he calls ’em) who will write him “nasty letters” for being “soft on Christianity,” which then degenerates into burbling about Vaclav Havel, “the decline of traditional religion,” and the “hole in the social fabric” it has supposedly left “that science cannot hope to fill.” I had to stop reading* at the point where he decided “theistic science” is not a silly idea. No, seriously:

The editor and contributors to The Creation Hypothesis appreciate the problem. Their solution  is to inform science with religion. Their  very  ambitious  project  is  to  create  an  alternate  paradigm  of theistic science to compete  with  the  standard  way  of  doing  science,  which  ignores (and  from  their  perspective,  thereby  negates)  God.  This  is  not  a silly  idea. Whether  it is doable  is unclear, but apparently  the attempt  is to be made.

Image shows a kitty head. Cat has its mouth open, one lip crooked in a WTF expression. Caption reads: Whuuuuuuutttt???

Whoa, Nellie. Let’s slow that roll before we wreck. Yes, the decline of religion is changing the social fabric. No, science can’t do all the jobs religion used to do. However. Comma. It does not follow that shoveling religion back into science is the way to go! Let’s give things like secular humanism a try first, okay, buddy?

Seeing atheists pine after faith like this just makes me sad. And it’s not like Mr. Shapiro is the only one – I occasionally catch atheists bemoaning the loss of faith even today. So let’s just talk about this.

You think life is hard without God? Criminy. What about how hard it was with him? Remember trying to please that imaginary bastard, especially when your hormones got going but you thought he’d be mad every time you fiddled with your naughty bits? Or when your pal who was in control of every aspect of your life let some jackass run over your pet? What about when he let your friends and relations die horribly of cancer and suchlike? How hard was it when you cried out to your deity and got no answer? How hard was it to try to sort through all the conflicting stuff about your heavenly BFF? Or when you finally got round to reading that book he supposedly had creative control over, and found out he was a genocidal jerk? What about all those times your conscience screamed one thing while people claimed your HBFF wanted something completely different?

Oh, sure, life was so much easier then.

And religion made civilization so very peaceful and happy, which is why the dudes writing the American Constitution had to severely limit his influence on government. I mean, otherwise, we’d all be too blissed out, right?

Look, I was religious once, too. And I mean, I believed, with every fiber within me. I loved God with every molecule of my being. And it was hard in all the worst ways. All the comfort it brought was false, and it was far overshadowed by the dilemmas: why would a loving God let our sweet and gentle pastor suffer from terminal cancer? Will God warn me I’ve fucked up before he damns me to Hell? Why would an omnipotent God choose to heal a parishioner’s radio while letting millions of children die of starvation? Are you there, God? Why aren’t you answering….?

Even though it didn’t take me long to leave church Christianity, it took ages for me to get rid of magical thinking and a lingering sense that religion, some religion, any religion, was a must. I wasted a lot of time chasing after shit that didn’t exist. I left myself open for a lot of manipulation and exploitation by people who knew the magic words, and I’m just lucky that my bullshit detector, faulty as it was, still worked well enough to keep me away from most cults and money-grubbing televangelists, psychics, and astrologers.

Do I miss religion? Fuck, no.

Magic? Nope.

Mystery? Not the supernatural kind, not a bit.

It took becoming an atheist before I could rid myself of my fear of death. Religion never offered me real comfort on that front. I spent too much time fearing hell to be comforted by heaven.

Reading epic meaning into coinky-dinks was fun and exciting at times, but nothing of lasting value ever came of it. Just the sense that if bad things happened to me, I was a bad person, no matter how good I’d tried to be. And at times, it really seemed like the gods had it out for my ass. It’s so much more comforting to know that the random bad shit that happens doesn’t happen because a god wanted it to.

This whole universe is now my sandbox, and I can spend the rest of my life exploring it, finding out true things about it, without worrying that I’m about to get zapped by an irritated god for stumbling across something forbidden. This has been far more fun and rewarding than studying religion ever was.

And that, combined with the fact that this life is it, and we’re all we’ve got, has made me a far better person.

There are problems in my life religion sometimes tries to offer me cures for, but I’ll take real medicine over magic water and sugar pills, thanks. I don’t care if it’s bitter, or sometimes unpleasant. I don’t care that there are things we don’t yet have a real cure for. I’d rather face the truth and learn to live with it than descend into a black hole of faith and woo, no matter how warm and fluffy they try to make it seem.

People like Mr. Shapiro may long for superficially comforting lies, and wish to be able to believe them, but that’s a damn fool thing to do. Just because science hasn’t got all the answers doesn’t mean we should bring back the lies. There are other places we can turn than religious faith. Don’t listen to it when it swears we can’t survive without it. It’s saying that because it can’t survive without us.

We can find our comfort elsewhere. We don’t need to envy the faithful. Let them envy us instead.


*Before you yell: I did go back and read the whole thing. It was terrible. Wait til I show you Mr. Shapiro’s epic failed prediction!


No, I Don’t Envy the Faithful

4 thoughts on “No, I Don’t Envy the Faithful

  1. 1

    “hole in the social fabric” it has supposedly left “that science cannot hope to fill.”

    It damn well can; public welfare and socialized medicine do 99% of it, and the bingo hall or local pub can serve for the rest. “For there’s more friendship poured out in one bottle of stout than you’ll find in statute or sermon.”

  2. 2

    Thank you for writing this one. I highly agree with what you say here, and I share and identify with many of the experiences you mention.
    When I read fantasy such as Tolkein or Harry Potter, I can see a superficial preference for magic to exist. But after thinking about it, the benefit of facing no BAD magic (including no Hell) is clearly better than having magic be real. If I had magic powers, I would make the world so that there were no magic, even for me. Dealing with reality is hard enough, but we can manage. But living in a world with unlimited potential magical catastrophes would be terrible.
    It is so nice that there is no reason to think magic is real. As well as no reason to want it to be real.

  3. 3

    I think the fact that my church was fundamentalist sped up my journey to atheism. It seemed like everything I loved was forbidden, particularly science. When I was a child, science was my favorite subject, and I wanted to be a paleontologist, but I attended a church that insisted the Bible was the word of God. I was miserable, torn between my curiosity and the insistent demand that my faith should come before everything.

    I certainly had moral issues, too. I was introduced to the idea of sexual orientation when I saw a news program about a lesbian couple facing harassment. I couldn’t understand why anybody would have a problem with two women being in love. I certainly couldn’t grasp why it would make people furious enough to send death threats. Then, when I started seriously reading the Bible, I was struck by how every crime was punished with death. My goodness, how much effort did it take to stuff my conscience down for the sake of religion? It’s hard to believe I stayed with that church as long as I did.

    Yes, my faith brought me little comfort and a lot of misery. Few moments in my life gave me as much joy as deciding to leave God behind.

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