This article asks profound questions and underscores the lack of true tolerance in the nation (and the world?) today. As an interfaith minister this is one of the times I really feel that lack. The idea that a profession of faith, any faith, sincere or insincere, is automatically morally superior to atheism is extremely uncomfortable to me. As if religious morality hasn’t led us all into a morass of violence and recrimination.
Addressing atheism was one of the (many, I grant) places where my short seminary training let me down. For a group positing tolerance and understanding among people, somehow they still manage to slice off little bits of humanity.
I’m actually reminded a bit of my Epicurean days (circa 2000), when I believed down to my bones that the soul was mortal and this single animated existence was my only mark upon the universe. Perhaps the well-known adage, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” would have been better rendered, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we end, and all chances for physical or spiritual experience cease.” This is life, right now, this moment, the conscious experience of emotions and sensations distinct from any idea of God or afterlife.* Afterlife is just that: after life. Live first, and respect those who do so with no anticipation of later reward, but simply to revel in this marvelous experience of being human.
Pat Tillman, an extraordinarily square-jawed football player who gave up a lucrative professional life to go and fight for his country, was at first hailed as a hero by a military eager for good publicity. When it was discovered Tillman died as a result of “friendly fire” — he was shot at close range in the forehead, which seems a little too friendly — his family pressed hard for a more thorough investigation. Lt. Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, an officer with responsibilities for Tillman’s unit, complained that his relatives were being so insistent because, like Pat, they were atheists.
*Full Disclosure: I am not an atheist. I have a religion, although it isn’t a mainstream practice. As part of that religion, I believe in the concept of panentheism, the Divine immanent in the universe as well as transcending it. For me the energy/spirit that lives in every cell in my body is the Ultimate Reality, which some call “God” (and others call Physics). But for the purposes of this paragraph, and the article to which I link, “God” is a word describing a particular, discrete deity-type, the Jehovah/Father of the Abrahamic traditions. With that type in mind, I do believe that the experience of life on all its levels – spiritual, mental, physical, emotional – is distinct from God and the afterlife.