I Write a lot about my atheism. I suppose that’s because it is something that I’m fairly passionate about. Also I like to think I’m doing my small part to increase awareness of what we secular people are actually like. A recent encounter I had at a city bus stop let me know that there are many people who really don’t have any concept of what an atheist actually is.
Case in point: I was on my way home from work and listening to a podcast on my iPhone, like I usually do. I listen to a lot of different podcasts these days and Lisa and I are still thinking of starting one of our own. What will it be about? Who knows? I can assure you we’ll probably be drinking, since that’s when we banter the best.
This particular evening I was listening to The Thinking Atheist, a fantastic secularly centered podcast programmed and starring Seth Andrews. Seth is a former Christian who was born and raised in a Hellfire and brimstone, name it and claim it brand of Evangelical Christianity. Now he’s a proud apostate.
So there I was, listening to my heathen podcast, when an older (I’m assuming in his sixties) gentleman approached me and asked if I knew what time the bus was due to arrive. I popped an ear bud out of my ear so I could hear him more clearly and told him the time that I thought it was.
“You listening to music on that thing?” he asked, motioning toward my iPhone.
“Podcasts,” I replied rather absently. Seth was making a good point and I wanted to hear it.
“Podcasts, huh?” The man asked. I doubted he had any idea what a podcast was. He didn’t strike me as being the tech-savvy type. “Podcasts about what?”
I really didn’t want to freak this guy out or offend him in any way, although I don’t believe the mere mention of the A word should be offensive in and of itself, so I said, “Lots of topics. I listen to a lot of them.”
“What are you listening to tonight?” the man pressed. Well, I gave him a chance.
“It’s about atheism,” I said. If nothing else I figured that may shut him up so I could get back to the show.
“Atheism?” His eyes got pretty wide. “That’s a religion all itself, isn’t it?”
Now there are a few very select things that get under my skin. Grammatical errors involving homophones such as there, their, and they’re or too, to, and two are chief among them, but so are people who insist that atheism is a religion. It very clearly is not. Really. I promise you this. In fact, I swear to Batman.
“No, it isn’t.” I said.
“Sure it is,” he insisted. He was starting to piss me off.
“If so, then bald is a hair color and off is a TV channel.”
“That’s not quite the same thing,” he said.
“And atheism is the expression of belief in no particular deity or deities,” I said. “Atheists have no doctorine, no dogma, no holy days, no religious texts, and no belief system. It is as about as opposite as you can get from a ‘religion.'”
He considered this for a few moments and said, “I suppose it’s okay to be an atheist. At least you believe in something.”
What the actual fuck? Everything in me was screaming to ask him why my value as a person would be dependent on my belief in the supernatural, but I chose to leave it alone. The bus showed up and I climbed on, finding a seat near the back where I hoped this dude wouldn’t follow and popping my ear buds back in and letting Seth’s dulcet tones whisk me away to secularville again.
That’s a beautiful land, by the way. It’s a place where gods and angels and unicorns and ghosts and aliens and psychics who talk to dead relatives just do not belong. It is a rocky place where the seed of superstition can find no purchase. It is a place where those with a desire to know will always be satisfied before those with a desire to believe. I like it there. A lot.
So, clearly, this guy had no idea what an atheist actually is. I suspect he’s not alone. Recent polls have suggested that more Americans would be willing to vote for a presidential candidate who has a substance abuse problem or a criminal record than one who does not believe in god. Really? Let me rephrase that. More Americans would be willing to cast their vote for president in favor of a drug addict or a criminal than they would for someone who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Sounds kind of silly when I say Santa instead of god, doesn’t it? How about faeries? Pixies? Unicorns? Aliens? Bigfoot? The Loch Ness Monster? The same evidence exists for each of them, just sayin’.