The Christ-Loving Atheist: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Uncertainty
I don’t believe in God.
To be clear, I’m not unsure if they exist, that would make me an agnostic. I’m an atheist, God does not exist.
Stephen Colbert, a devout Catholic, in his pre-CBS persona, said that agnostics are simply “atheists without balls.”
In all other cases in human history, sans religion, human beings who make outlandish claims are required to back up their words with proof.
Charles Darwin brought a notebook on the HMS Beagle for a voyage to the Galápagos Islands. He studied finches on the islands like an unhinged stalker who can’t take the hint that the waitress just smiles at him for a larger tip. He noticed that their beaks differed based on their diets — parrot-like beaks for the fruit lovers, narrow beaks for the insect grubbers. He was studious, as any scientist should be, and collected his writings into what is most commonly referred to as “The Voyage of the Beagle.”
For evolutionary scientists, I suppose this could be considered something like the Old Testament. “The Origin of Species” would be the New Testament.
Darwin claimed that all animals, including those rambunctious mammals known as humans, evolved over eons to become the affable creatures we are today — from insects all the way to infidels.
For the folks who believed that their pretty blue marble was finely crafted only 6,000 years prior by a man with a white beard, the words of this man with a white beard were considered heresy of the highest degree.
“Heresy,” historically and presently, is being angered at someone for understanding something you don’t.
Some people today still believe that this lovely blue marble of ours was crafted by the hands of a creator, much in a manner similar to myself at a younger age when decorating the tank of my lovely hermit crabs. I was a merciful God, I made sure to clean the tank regularly to ensure my shelled companions were content and healthy.
Where’s our supposed creator — our tank could use a good scrub.
In short, it is interesting that the onus to prove God’s non-existence is placed on atheists. Shouldn’t the burden of proof lie firmly on the shoulders of those who claim they exist?
“Oh sure, Darwin, just keep playing with your little birdies.”
I don’t intend to offend, I would just rather be frank. As organized religion continues to lessen its grip on the unfortunate species cursed with the ability to even conceive of it in the first place, we might eventually reach a point where the faithful are outnumbered by the faithless.
This may seem a frightening concept to those reading who consider themselves the former, but consider how the oracles of old must’ve felt seeing statues of Zeus torn down and replaced with an effigy of a Hebrew carpenter’s lynching.
“Kids these days.”
Regardless of my lack of faith in a God, I do consider myself a devout follower of the teachings of that aforementioned Hebrew carpenter — Jesus of Nazareth.
For the faithful, this might be a puzzling concept. If you were raised Christian like me, you were taught that God sent their only child to our miserable little blue marble in an effort to cleanse us of the sin that that same purportedly-omnipotent God endowed us with in the first place. If you were raised Catholic, as I was, you were taught the trinity: the father, the son, and the holy spirit.
For some of you, your brain passively alerted your dominant arm and hand to make the sign of the cross on your chest while reading that. This is called “conditioning,” ala Pavlov’s dogs.
Anyone watering at the mouth and craving a eucharist right now?
Anyway. I was baptized as a child. Apparently, I was allowed to enter the ranks of the faithful before even being able to thank the folks who opted to dunk my yet to be fully formed skull into a water basin. These folks were my parents, of course, simply doing what they themselves had been taught was vital to do.
Many of the faithful truly believe that a baby is cursed to eternal hellfire or limbo if they are unfortunate enough to kick the bucket before being soaked in the special water. These being the same individuals who believe in an all-powerful deity, supposedly a loving one at that.
“Sorry kid, thems the breaks.” — Jehovah.
I was dunked in the water, I was a Catholic. I was smeared with oil, given a bland wafer of bread, I was even more of a Catholic. I was the best student in my after-school religion class, even after I lost my faith in God. I still felt some kind of kinship towards that Hebrew carpenter, hated the bastards that stuck him on that cross.
Until 1965, the Catholic Church held the Jewish people collectively responsible for the lynching of their apparent messiah. The Romans placed a sign atop the cross: INRI.
“Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum,” “Jesus, King of the Jews.”
I decided not to go through with my confirmation. Confirmation is the final sacrament a young Catholic must go through to be a fully realized member of the Holy See. I was a coward, my Mom had to inform my religion teacher that I decided not to “stick the landing” that years of theological schooling were leading to.
I didn’t have stage fright, I just didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I loved religion class and I loved spending time with my friends after school. I don’t speak to any of them anymore, we’ve all got our own lives now. I hope they’re doing well.
I hope you’re doing well.
“This too shall pass.”
That phrase comes from the Persians, modern-day Iranians. You know, the people we almost went to war with in January of 2020? I suppose we’ve already forgotten about that now. “We” meaning the United States, though I shouldn’t discount the possibility that I have international readers as well.
If any Iranians are reading, I apologize for our behavior on occasion. We have so many expensive toys to play with, it gets lonely sometimes since the fall of the Soviet Union — we just want a new playmate.
Anyway. The story goes that an eastern sage, or King Solomon in some tellings, was tasked to find the sentence which most perfectly encapsulated the human condition, even life as we know it. They returned with the aforementioned quote.
Religion was always meant to be a way for individuals to find meaning in a meaningless world. I have discussed my opinion that organized religion is a device used by the ruling class of any society to control their subjects, I still believe this.
Christianity was used to quell any rumblings of discontent from enslaved Africans in the United States. For instance, Ephesians 6:5–8: “Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ.”
Some of the slaves decided to read more of the book, risking their lives to do so as reading was forbidden to them. They read about Moses, the man who freed the Hebrew slaves of Pharoah. They wanted a Moses of their own.
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time.”
— Mary Don’t You Weep, Traditional
I state this as a positive example of faith, the clarion call of Gabriel’s horn gave America’s slaves the resolve needed to break their shackles. I have written about John Brown before, he heard the clarion call as well. He believed he was God’s holy messenger, delivering the righteous and cleansing fire God promised his detractors in the form of bullets to the bodies of slavers.
I believe John Brown was a true Chrisitan.
John Brown and Jesus of Nazareth were radicals, enemies of the state. Brown recognized the need for the immediate end of slavery, gradual progress be damned. Jesus of Nazareth recognized the corrupting influence of greed and hatred, opposed the rule of the wealthy and powerful. It is repeated ad nauseam by more liberal-leaning individuals that Jesus would be ridiculed and mocked by those same individuals who claim to be the most ardent worshippers of their savior. Many of the most vocal Christians in this country are conservative, preaching the economics of Ayn Rand and Milton Freidman — “Fuck you, buddy, I got mine!”
This of course stands in sharp contrast to the words of Jesus. For instance, Matthew 19:24: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was a friend of the poor, a healer of the crippled, advocate for the unheard. When confronted with the occupation of Jerusalem’s temple by moneylenders, he uncharacteristically flipped a table and drove them out by flaying a whip.
Greed was the ultimate sin in his eyes — Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
It should be clear by now why I consider myself a “Christ lover.” Members of the IWW (The Industrial Workers of the World) often called Jesus “Jerusalem Slim,” believing that if he was their contemporary, he would be a member of the union.
“You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie)”
— “The Preacher and the Slave,” Joe Hill
I don’t wish to assign modern politics to a philosopher from Roman Judea, it would be pretentious to assume. If the words attributed to Christ are in fact accurate, something that is unfortunately almost impossible to verify, we can at least agree that he despised the very same greed that today allows billions of humans to suffer needlessly in a world of extreme abundance.
For that reason alone, I consider myself a devout follower of Jesus of Nazareth. That is the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, a man — no more, no less.
Kurt Vonnegut felt more or less the same, though he tended to bounce between “agnostic” and “atheist” as his preferred qualifiers. He considered himself a Humanist, a believer in humanity’s worth regardless of the existence of an omnipotent deity. I am also a Humanist.
Kurt wrote some wonderful musings on Jesus’ importance to humanity:
“The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.
The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh, boy–they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.
The visitor from outer space made a gift to the Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.
So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.
And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections.”
— “Slaughterhouse-Five”, Kurt Vonnegut
As well as:
“If what Jesus said was good, and so much of it was beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not? If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”
— “Commencement Address to Agnes Scott College”, Kurt Vonnegut
There is a 3rd passage I can’t seem to find, but I remember the gist of it. A wealthy Judean man is walking and comes across the scene of a completed crucifixion. A large gathering of people is gathered at the base of the cross, slowly bringing the lifeless body down. The man asks the gathered masses if the man was important, a holy man of some sort. The group, confused, responds that he was not. They state that they are simply showing reverence to their fellow man, treating him as all should be treated.
The point that I feel Kurt is trying to make is that the divinity of Jesus is not important, his actions and beliefs are what make the gospels so powerful. Jesus risked his life and ultimately died for practicing one of the bravest beliefs a human being can have— having empathy for all, regardless of their perceived worth by society.
I believe this too.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
— Luke 6:20–21
And I laugh, and I weep.
None of us asked to be born, and plenty of people decide to return with the receipt. Some don’t want to return but are forced to. Jesus asked why his father, God, had forsaken him. I believe he was terrified — a very human thing to feel when you are being crucified.
The only proof I am willing to concede regarding Jesus’ potential divinity is his final reaction to his approaching death, the words that give me more faith than anything else:
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
To forgive one’s own killers is holy.
It’s unfortunate that we do know exactly what we are doing to each other, and to our pretty blue marble. Perhaps the planet will forgive us as well.
“This too shall pass.”
“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”
— Issac Asimov
My main point in writing this piece was not to disparage any individual believers of any particular faith. I also take pride in my dismissal of all religions and spiritualities equally — rationality has no room for partiality. I simply wanted to make an argument against the notion that faith is the superior source of a comfort compared to the acceptance of the true purpose of our existence.
That purpose, unfortunately, is nothing.
Human beings are the most arrogant of the lifeforms which managed to crawl out of the primordial ooze and survive to this day. In our minds, there has to be an all-important role for us in the universe. If the existence of homo sapiens was represented as seconds, and the estimated beginning of the universe over 14 billion years ago was a day, we would only be in existence for about 2 seconds. In spite of that fact, we truly believe that our species is the sole reason the universe itself exists.
How’s that for an ego?
“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.
And God said, ‘Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.’ And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. ‘What is the purpose of all this?’ he asked politely.
‘Everything must have a purpose?’ asked God.
‘Certainly,’ said man.
‘Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,’ said God.
And He went away.”
— “Cat’s Cradle”, Kurt Vonnegut
It may seem insane to claim that knowledge of our own purposelessness is more comforting than the warm safety blanket that is faith in a higher purpose. But what truly seems more comforting — knowing that a higher power is responsible for all the evils in the world that directly impact you or others, or that we as a species are responsible?
It is easy to be disappointed in your fellow human, we know that no one is perfect. But how odd must it be for the faithful to constantly defend, or simply live in denial of the fact that their supposed creator chooses to create a world of needless pain and suffering instead of using their limitless power to create a paradise? Or, at the very least, a more just world.
There’s already a term for this ill-gotten form of endearment: Stockholm Syndrome.
I’d much prefer acknowledging that my fellow human is flawed and prone to cruelty than kowtow to an invisible force in the sky who seems to revel in the fact that their creation is quickly coming off the rails. The cry of the anarchists in the original lyrics of “The Internationale” was “no gods, no kings, no tribunal.” I agree with this sentiment — what is God if not another tyrant?
A victim of the Holocaust wrote this on the walls of the Mauthausen concentration camp: “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.”
I am comfortable knowing that my decisions in life are dictated by myself alone. Other people will have impacts within it, both positive and negative. But I am not a puppet on a cosmic string, nor would I want to be.
I never met my grandmother, she died in a car accident before I was born. My mother considered me a karmic gift, some type of balancing that the universe, or God, provided. I was born on St. Valentine’s Day, 1997. The day before, the Discovery space shuttle began servicing the Hubble Space Telescope.
That telescope provided the following picture of the universe, within 500 million years of the Big Bang:
What you’re looking at is the early history of our universe. Thank you to Albert Einstein and company, as well as the folks at NASA.
My mom decided to provide me with a foundation in religion, so she had me baptized. She also sent me to religion class and took me to church when I had an existential crisis at a young age.
The trip to mass did not provide any existential reassurance to my younger self, but I could understand the comfort it provides to others. The greatest cure for humanity’s ails is a community — a tight-knit support group of unconditional love. Not all churches provide this, of course, but some do.
Those are true Christians.
My mom wasn’t necessarily disappointed in my becoming an apostate, she said that she had me baptized solely because her mother would have wanted me to be baptized.
I thank my grandmother as well, she helped me become the man I am today, even if it’s one she wouldn’t have agreed with entirely.
I wish I could have met her.
I hope she would have still loved me.
I say this now, to the source some believe I should hold accountable for my never knowing her, to the source of all humanity’s suffering: “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.”
To the person actually responsible for her death, I forgive them.
We know not what we do.
I’ll end with one of my favorite jokes.
A man is touring heaven with God Almighty. The man is pleased to see all of the tribes of the Earth running around carefree, enjoying each other's company. Hindus and Muslims break bread, warring nation’s soldiers sing songs together in harmony. All is well in paradise. The man notices a giant brick wall extending over a large swath of heaven. He asks God to explain its purpose.
“Oh,” explained God, “that’s for the Catholics. They want to believe they’re the only ones up here.”