I just saw a question posed at facebook.com. Just being about half an hour ago, and therefore five seconds after concluding that I was awake. This was the question:
Where do you live?
Is it bad being an atheist there?
Okay: so, that’s two questions. It could probably be one, if there were a semicolon. Or something.
Having read that, being awake now for ten seconds [I average two words per second in the first minute that I'm awake, and trying to unblur my phone's screen], I declined immediately to Swype out an answer at the speed of autocorrect; having now been awake for upwards of eighteen hundred seconds, I’m thinking that, as loaded as the question really kinda is, I might be happier answering it here, where a wall of text might be a little less ignored in the long run.
So, let’s do that….
Where do you live?
Without getting too specific, I’m in Denver Metro; I’m actually approximately breathholding distance from the southeastern edge of Aurora. Incidentally, I’ve been here for just about exactly nine years now [we bought the house on 14th December 2004, I think], making this the longest unbroken address I’ve ever maintained. Dad had a house in Des Moines for a couple straight decades, but I wasn’t really there the whole time; there were boarding schools and things resetting the counter during the eighties.
Is it bad being an atheist there?
Okay: there are a few implied elements in the question. So I’ll go ahead and address those.
I’m atheistic because I’m without theism. It doesn’t really mean much of anything. I could by the same token mention that I’m male because I’m without ovaries. Meaning in this sense that I never had any to have removed. Meaning, to stretch out this metaphor, that I see a distinction between genetic males and postsurgical shemales. I don’t let that distinction bother me much, but it’s still kinda there.
I’ve never believed in any deities. Initially, that was as easy as lacking a belief in Mordemallentia—the planet orbiting Sol between Earth and Venus. Because no one had told me that deities were things in which people believed. The basic Tabula Rasa position: being without theism if only because I had no idea that theism was a thing.
Eventually, I started to hear about deities. I think the first one I ran into was Jehovah—meaning not christ. I heard about this thing from a jewish kid, years before running into the paradox of this christ thing being the Jehovah thing, and then arguing with itself about who’d forsaken whom. I was actually distanced far enough from christworship that I don’t remember ever hearing about a holy trinity thing before I was in college [if that sounds absurd, understand that I started college when I was twelve...which still sounds a little absurd]. I probably came close to hearing about the christy thing a couple of times; but Dad dismissed a number of myths with people believe in a lot of strange things.
For that matter, thinking about it now, I probably saw depictions of the christy thing. But understand that I was coming out of the seventies, when seeing thirtysomethings shuffling around and looking like Barry Gibb was, regrettably enough, pretty commonplace. Seeing a curiously cleanlooking hippy wasn’t worth my attention; the mythological creatures I could identify on sight were more imaginative.
We all live in a sauropterygian….
When the jewish kid hit me with jehovahism, it was a little weird. Even without the dichotomous triumvirate thing, the story was kooky enough that my response was, and I quote: Are you sure you’ve got this right? Amusingly, the kid actually wasn’t. My first instance of heckling theism was innocent enough that it actually infected a theist with doubt. Granted: each of us was about eight at the time; it’s likely that the kid was halfway wrong about the mythology after all. However much that might imply that there’s an approved canonical version of this goofiness somewhere.
I do know that the kid was something of a jewish fluffbunny: he didn’t evade bacon or hide in the shadow of superstition on Saturdays. He seemed fairly normal, apart from being someone I knew in the TaG Programme [that was, at the time, Talented and Gifted, which eventually evolved into GT (not easy to maintain intellectual superiority while adding a conjunction to an acronym), and, more recently, whatever LastWinner StarSticker Club every kid possessing lungs is inducted into]; he just had oddly makebelievey parents, I guess.
Not something I’d had.
My parents were never verbally atheistic; we didn’t have some antitheistical family crest designed to antagonise what turned eventually out to be a majority of people with imaginary friends. The subject just never much came up. We actually didn’t even have the slang endemic to a culture in which theistic people can be encountered: Dad was old enough [he'd currently be about ninety-two] that he said things like what the deuce and for crying out loud. To this day, I’m not sure what the hell those things mean; then again, I’m not entirely sure what the devil or christ’s sake mean, either.
Not that I don’t say those things. I’ll occasionally emit meaningless sound effects, like gawdammit and jeeziz—though, being me, I actually say things more along the lines of christfuck. There’s a nuance to it. And I’ve never heard anyone else say it.
It actually happened a couple minutes ago. I lit a cigarette and, while I was stashing my Zippo back in my pocket, I managed to drop the thing. Onto the floor. And under the skateboard I’ve got under the desk as something of a footrest. Ergo:
It just makes everything in the world seem okay for a couple of seconds. Pretty sure it does the opposite of actually meaning much of anything.
For me, being atheistic isn’t much of a fulltime job. I can literally do it in my sleep, when I’m not believing in deities. To borrow a cliche, I’m really only atheistic on Christmas and Easter, because that’s when I’m most reminded that most people around here aren’t.
Being without theism in southeastern Aurora is about as bad as being without ovaries. I don’t hafta do anything to maintain it. I don’t even know what I’m missing. Lacking theism, for me, is about as difficult as lacking a moonrock from Mordemallentia Three. I pretty much just don’t even care.
It’s not quite exactly that simple, of course. I’m diurnally reminded that a lot of people—quite probably the majority—at least kindasorta believe in deities. A few blocks from here, there are three competing churches in a row along a street. I can’t look at those things without thinking it’s a shellgame: like, you pick one of the three in the hopes that it’s the queen, then never actually confirm that; but you get to convince yourself that the people in the two you didn’t pick are talking to a deity which isn’t actually there, because there’s only the one, and the immeasurable little goof is probably there in the room with you, putting considered thought into your request to intervene divinely and force the Broncos to win.
But, to me, the understanding that there are people who makebelieve things like this is pretty similar to the understanding that people makebelieve everything from quietly invading flyingsaucers to a form of global warming resulting in Waterworld if they don’t recycle a Starbucks glass. People believe in silly things; and, generally, trying to explain why they’re wrong just makes it worse.
Hang on. I’m writing a book at the moment. I think I’ve got a line of dialogue defining this phenomenon….
Okay. Two lines of dialogue:
‘You don’t have to disprove them if they haven’t been proved. That’s not how science works.’
‘No. It’s not. But it’s how people work. Or at least how they think. They get ideas in their heads, and believe them until maintaining those beliefs becomes more painful to them than acknowledging that they were wrong in the first place.’
If I tell you that there’s no evidence that Mordemallentia exists, you’ll wonder why I’m bringing it up; if I tell you that Pluto isn’t a planet, you’ll get feely and fight me on the issue until you’re too worn out to believe it anymore. On average. Because, on average, people are emotionally retarded simpletons maintaining their narcissism by refusing ever to acknoweldge that they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Where that’s concerned, it’s a little bad. To the extent that being atheistic in Denver Metro [or approximately anywhere on the planet] is being surrounded by emotionally retarded simpletons clutching to their feelyporn because having been wrong to date would destroy their little brains, there’s a baddishness in there somewhere. But only if I accidentally care.
I’m not sure I fully get the nature of the question, really. Is being atheistic in a land of theists bad? Not on its own. It takes no effort, and carries no repercussions. Is it bad going around and telling everyone I meet that he’s a stupidly, laughably psychotic twerp? Dunno. I’d assume so: stupidly, laughably psychotic twerps aren’t unknown for throwing the first punch. So I don’t accost random strangers in the conceit that I can lawl them into abandoning a mythology which has to date defined everything they think they are.
At the same time, I don’t keep anything a secret. If someone comes to me, looking for a compatriot who’ll recharge his godcells by agreeing that, yeah, that undetectable omnipresent immeasurable omnipotent unevidenced omniscient football score manipulation device sure is neato, then he’s barking up the wrong phylogenetic tree. Everything I do is about maintaining my apathy; agreeing with a retarded lunatic is more effort than rolling my eyes at it.
So, living in Denver Metro, here’s exactly how bad being atheistic ever really gets:
TARD: Ain’t Jeeziz the bee’s knees?
GREM: Nope; don’t care; I’m a grownup.
TARD: Yer un atheist?!?
GREM: Yup. Also a ninja, and I know every judge in the northern hemisphere. Go away.
I don’t actually get into all that many physical fights with theists, of course. Because that’s not a game they can win. I’m six and a half feet tall and literally, sociopathically fearless. It’s the wrong arena for these losers; they’ll stick to parroting the same mythology over and over until they’ve convinced themselves that, their mythology being inerrant, I’m too stupid ever to understand it. Then they’ll go polish their trucknuts and weave their ways vapidly to the nearest bowling alley. I suppose.
To talk about Denver Metro as though it’s a magical place [meaning, ironically, that less people believe in magic here], I suppose it’s even less bad than anywhere else I’ve been. Twenty-five years ago, I was in Atlanta. Where Atlanta is an island of reality surrounded on all sides by Hazzard County. I once filled up my car there, then went inside to pay for the fuel. If that sounds impossible: this was in March 1989, when it was still a thing. So, in fact, were cheques; so I wrote one. And it went like this:
TARD: Hey. Y’all th’Oldsmobile at thar?
GREM: Yeah. The black one. And the only car within a parsec.
TARD: At’s senteen twunny-fer.
GREM: Just call it Amaco?
TARD: Yep. En I jus’ need y’all’s licence anna name a’yer pastor.
GREM: My what?
TARD: Guy runs yer church, so we know whereda find ya.
GREM: Oh. LaVey. Pastor LaVey. Anton, I think.
TARD: Guhnuff; thankeh.
That’s about as bad as things ever get, for me. I mean: like, the muslims running Cairo are unpleasant; but they’re meaningless if I’m not walking around, screaming about how totally Al’lah doesn’t exist. Especially if I avoid Cairo. Which I often do.
The fact of the matter is that I can remain atheistic while I’m alone in a room. Which I currently am. And everything I’m doing here at the moment to remain atheistic, which is pretty much going not accidentally mad and thinking that Quetzalcoatl musta built the multiverse, is the same as anything I’d be doing in public, pretty much anywhere. Having no beliefs about deities, regardless my environment, is as easy as having no beliefs about Mordemallentia or Nessie: it’s effortless, wherever I am.
The only effort would be in trying, and failing, to sane up the crazy people. And it’s not like I’d get paid for it. It’s just not my problem.
So. I’m in Denver Metro; and being atheistic isn’t bad.
Have a webcomic: