I'm an atheist.
There, I've said it. You want to make something of it?
I know a guy who's a bit of a bible-thumper. He's accused me of being "militant" about my nonbelief. I disagree. He calls me that only because I'm not shy about speaking up. I don't obey the usual taboo against uttering the A-word in the presence of believers. In a religion-dominated world, we atheists are expected to tiptoe around politely, to be respectful of the tender feelings of the faithful. I really don't see why. They sure as hell never worry about offending me.
One Saturday morning not long ago, a young man and woman came knocking, carrying bibles and pamphlets. I didn't slam the door in their faces, sneer, or say I worshiped Satan. They're used to that kind of stuff, no doubt attend special training sessions in how to handle it. No. Nothing like that. I told them, pleasantly and unapologetically, that I'm an atheist. I don't think I could have startled them any more if I'd answered the door naked. (I have a friend who does that whenever possible.) The man reared back a little, like a horse shying at flapping laundry. "Most people don't come right out with that... that word," he said. The woman gaped as if I'd told them I like to eat light bulbs.
Is this "militance"? Not in my book. They came to my house, I didn't go to theirs. To me, "militant" implies a sort of opportunistic aggressiveness, a pushy single-mindedness, a burning urge to assert one's message. Like Lt. General William G. Boykin, for instance.
Most of the commentary in the wake of his moronic remarks (My God is bigger than their God, it's Satan we're battling, God put Bush in the White House, etc.) frets about how his words might have offended Muslims. Fair enough. Given the volatile, terrifying mess in the Middle East, thanks in great part to our "God-appointed" (Ah-ha! That explains it!) president, this is a soberingly legitimate concern. No doubt Boykin will be directly responsible for some retributive violence against GIs and others over there, and possibly for further nasty incidents on US soil. And why? Because this is the nature of religious fanatacism. Christianity and Islam in their extremist, zealous forms are an excellent match for one another: the two hulking heavyweights of the world, pumped up on steroids and glistening with oil, both with long, bloody, puritanical, zero-tolerance, kill-the-infidel histories.
Boykin's remarks have doubtless offended Muslims. But what about how his words — and the words of his Muslim counterparts — offend nonbelievers like me? It's time for us to speak up. Boykin offends me, the Pope offends me, John Ashcroft offends me, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and Billy Graham offend me, bin Laden declaring Holy War offends me, idiots strapping on dynamite and blowing up innocents so they can go straight to Allah offend me, mullahs sentencing women to death for adultery and forcing them to wear tents when they leave their houses offend me, Bush the smirking born-again phony-baloney "Christian" (who loves babies until they are born) kissing the ass of the American religious right (who would love to send us all back to the Middle Ages) offends me truly, madly, deeply.
Let me be clear: I have nothing against people going about their spiritual beliefs if it helps them get through this life — all I ask is that they not impose them on me. Is that unreasonable? My "religion" is rock 'n' roll, but I don't mount speakers on my roof and force my neighbors to listen to it. My problem with religion is when it facilitates the expression of some of the worst, most primitive and ape-like pathologies of the profoundly flawed human race: aggression, chauvinism, tribalism, authoritarianism, small-mindedness, intolerance, sexual puritanism, cruelty, rigidity, and on and on and on. And humorlessness. Let's not forget that particular soul-killer. Religious zealots are invariably a dour bunch of sourpusses, no matter what the particular "flavor" of their doctrine. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon — it doesn't matter. Zealots really hate it when someone's having fun. They want to stamp it out like a disease. They're the ultimate control freaks, the Big Brothers who truly "hate freedom." This is mental illness, pure and simple.
Indeed, there is a "Holy War" going on in the world today. But it's not between Christianity and Islam. What Boykin doesn't quite understand is that he and Osama bin Laden are actually on the same side. They're conducting a sort of run-off right now. The victor of this primary will then turn his attention to the real object of their Jihad: every progressive, rational, secular, forward-thinking person on the planet, the ones who behave in a moral, responsible, humane way not because we fear punishment from some angry deity, but for sweet reason's sake. We're so much harder to control.