There’s no two ways around this.
Reality: On the 19th of May, 1970, a nameless assemblage of about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 borrowed atoms arranged into approximately 2,000,000,000,000 cells assembled according to an amalgam of my mother and father’s DNA came into this world with a small basketful of basic but ingenious biological programs which, amongst other things, ensured I did not draw my first breath on this planet underwater. Chimpanzees don’t have this skill. A chimp born underwater will as a matter of course draw his first breath regardless of whether he’s submerged or not and, if submerged, subsequently drown. As it so happens most of us aren’t born underwater but should maternity wards across the planet suddenly all sport birthing pools our future ankle-biters will be perfectly safe because that survival skill is there, in-built; a line of operating code deemed at some point in our evolution important enough for the survival of our species to be saved and passed on through the generations.
What wasn’t there in amongst those two-trillion odd cells on that May 19th was some line of code or cluster of synaptic nerve endings storing some notion of a God or a memory of a spiritual afterlife from which I’d just come – as platonic thought would have it – or my ancestors had consciously journeyed to. Oodles of research has in fact gone into figuring out if indeed anything at all is stored in the human mind at birth, and the results have all come to this: zip. It takes a human child ten months to just grasp the concept that they are even separate from the environment, and another 24 months to get a grip on who and what they actually are. That is to say, no child comes into this world with his or her hands pressed together saying a Hail Mary or bent over, ass in the air, looking for the direction of Mecca.
Like everyone else, someone told me about all that before I was old enough to know better to question. Before, in fact, I was old enough to be allowed to question, and herein rests the power of religious persuasion: it’s presented as fact without a grain of substantiating proof to susceptible people who cannot openly question the validity of the information and decide for themselves whether its bullocks or not. The concepts of religion are handfed to a child. It is, in effect, brainwashing; a very real form of child abuse in so far as religion promotes ignorance to the tune of one song. Dogma is infallible and anything that contradicts it must be wrong. This is not only astoundingly fallacious but a truly awful jumping off point for any curious little monkey looking to get an appropriate, accurate, truthful handle on the world.
Living free of dogma, free of sky-borne magical parental figureheads and hideous hobgoblins, elaborate promises of heavenly hearths superimposed against the threats of damnation, living free of superstition and naïve mythology has a name, uppercase “A” Atheism, but as a noun the word is staggeringly ineffective.
Sam Harris describes Atheism as “the noise reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs,” to which I cannot disagree. In all honesty that’s probably about as good a definition as there’s ever going to be.
My neighbour – a courageously ugly man with a face that makes children laugh but scares adults – does not believe in Jauds, a type of vampirised premature baby of Slavic mythology, but never have I seen him storm naked from his house, fists clenched and arms beating at the sky, screaming, “There are no Jauds!” He’s never done so for the same reasons, Harris says, people do not fill out census forms identifying themselves as Non-Alchemists. It’s simply not necessary and for this I’ve always cringed a little at the definition, Atheist.
I’m not proud of my non-belief in superstitions in much the same way I’m not proud that both my feet point in the same direction or that my body is, for the better part, symmetrical. Statements of fact are superfluous. I do not on occasion throw my cat or myself for that matter out the window to test gravity. I’ve never bundled up a complete stranger at a party and boiled water in front of them just to prove the laws of thermodynamics, and although it’d be fun I’ve never ventured into busy morning bus stops just to whisper into unsuspecting people’s ears, “I don’t believe in Bronze Age fairytales.”
My not believing in mystical, mischievous creator beings does not describe who I am. As Harris rightly attests, not believing Elvis is alive doesn’t require a defining name, nor for that does not-believing in unicorns, elves, goblins, minotaur’s, mermaids, chupacabra’s, or vampirised premature Slavic babies. Atheist, the term, is therefore a misnomer. Atheists do not exist, not in isolation, and to say otherwise is marginally more incorrect than claiming oxygen is a handy atmospheric gas. That said, and just to confuse matters, atheists do exist, but only to theists. Outside the defining framework imposed by a theist a non-believer simply vanishes like a puff of smoke only to magically re-form again when drifting in front of the theists’ frame of reference. That alone renders an atheist tangible. That alone makes an atheist in much the same way a racist makes a nigger. The racist, as much as the theist, is the one imposing their particular frame of reference on others. They are the prime mover in the process of definition, not the non-believer. The madness is theirs, not the person who giggles at the thought or even threat of magical bugaboos.
Now to be perfectly fair, subterranean dwelling brownies and their juxtaposed heavenly nemesis’s who we liked to think fought tooth and nail for our attention and love were at one point in a time a noble attempt to make sense of the universe around; a testament to imaginative genius, our first attempt at science, but such naïve explanations first passed their used-by date over 90 generations ago, and as of five generations ago they’d positively turned putrid and nauseating. In this current generation, this golden age of cosmology flushed with honestly astonishing insights into a universe experimenting with itself, the persistence of superstition and myth is farcical, and after the events of the 11th of September 2001 simply intolerable. It’s offensive to have adults conducting relationships with imaginary friends borne of fairytales fashioned by illiterate nomads unable to explain thunder, let alone clouds. It’s an offense against reason, an offense against the honest genius of our species, an offense against the stars that blew themselves apart so we could even be here to commit such an offense.
Now take a look at this little chap. This is 4 year old, Kanon Tipton. His father, Baptsist Pastor Damon Tipton, said of this little monkeys remarkable onstage dispensationalist performances, “The hand of God is on him in a special way.”
Sure, you could say that if you’re cognitively, socially, and morally defective. You could also say he’s doing what any little monkey does: imitating what he sees, and if the rewards – the cheers and the applause and the admiration – keep coming there is nothing that’s going to stop this miniature naked ape from doing the exact same foolish song and dance his dad does up there on that stage.