I put my faith in God. You put yours in no-God, but it’s still faith.

I love this argument because it goes straight to the bleached-bones, the meatless knuckles, by surrendering rationality at the outset: “So what if I can’t prove God exists, you can’t prove he doesn’t, so at the very worst, we’re equal.” For what nonreligious claim would one offer such an argument? Would one juror say to another, “Look, I can’t prove that the defendant’s guilty, but you can’t prove he’s innocent, so my guilty-vote makes as much sense as your innocent-vote”; or would a doctor say to a patient: “I have no evidence to suggest that you need a liver transplant, but you can’t prove you don’t, so I think we should do it.”

For years, my father believed that God had arranged for him to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and I couldn’t even disprove that, although I initially thought it would be easy. First, I sat him down and pointed out that the money had never arrived at any of the many times God had said it would, but Dad dodged that little piece of atheistic mumbo-jumbo by saying that God kept changing the date as a test of faith. I then took him to the post office so the postal inspector could verify that ten million other people got the same endless stream of “You have won!” trash that he did. Ah, but throwing reason and evidence at religious faith is like throwing spitballs at a hand grenade. Since I couldn’t prove that Dad hadn’t won, he just kept right on arranging to give his life savings to his church before his winnings arrived, and his preacher didn’t believe me when I told him that Dad hadn’t won squat. When my father finally died without ever appearing on The Tonight Show (a show that he never once stayed up to watch) to claim his winnings, I could at long last cancel his subscriptions to Hot Rod, Working Mother, Martha Stewart Living, and all the other magazines that he had ordered to increase his odds of winning (“God helps those who help themselves”). Of course, if he had won, I'm sure he would have shouted it to the rooftops as proof that God keeps his promises because, although believers poo-poo reason and evidence, they like it very much indeed when they think they've found some.

But what did my father’s belief have to do with believing other things about God, for example, that he was born of a virgin, or is the spiritual equivalent of 3-In-1 Oil? Everything! The evidence for God arranging for my father to win a lottery is the same as the evidence for one-third of God impregnating a young woman with a second-third of God through the agency of a third-third of God. The only difference lies in the fact that millions of people believe in a virgin-impregnating deity (there have been several of them) while few people believe that God’s check is in the mail.

“...blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” –John 20:29

Suppose someone should claim that his god is an invisible troll doll named Gertie that has green hair, lives in a microwave, and makes herself invisible to non-believers? If I express doubt, he might extol the importance of “faith,” and claim that his faith in Gertie is at least as reasonable as my faith in no-Gertie since neither can be proven. If he could then show me 10,000 books about Gertie, 100,000 hymns about Gertie, and one thousand-thousand temples devoted to the worship of Gertie; his belief might appear to have gained credence, yet the verifiable evidence for Gertie’s existence would remain nil. And so it is with all religions. It’s hard to look at an 18,000 member mega church, multiply that number a thousand times over, and pronounce all those people’s beliefs a figment of the imagination, but in the absence of objective evidence, belief in Christ is no more rational than belief in Gertie, Allah, Huitzilopochtli, or any other deity. So, why, then, do most people believe in Christ if they’re Americans; in Allah if they’re Saudis; and in Huitzilopochtli in the case of the ancient Aztecs? Because most people find meaning in the same places that their neighbors find meaning. It’s a characteristic of tribalism, and woe be to those who are seen as disloyal.

Some atheists try to make a stand for reason by saying to theists, “You and I are alike except that I believe in one God less than you do, and, oh, by the way, isn’t it interesting that the God in which you believe just happens to be the same God that you were taught to believe in from your childhood onward, and that you’ve never examined the evidence for the others?” Behind such statements is the recognition that where societal reinforcement doesn’t exist, even believers can see the emptiness of religious faith except in regard to the one religion by which their own belief is societally reinforced. This points to the irrationality of religion in regard to objective truth, although it might be very rational indeed in regard to one’s status in society. After all, atheists are not only devalued in most places, they’re hated. This causes some atheists to keep their atheism a secret, and others to shout it from the rooftops. Despite their occasional excesses, my allegiance is with the rooftop crowd. As a result, I’ve lost more friends and more readers than I can count. One such person recently wrote:

“As an imperfect Christian as I am, you’re an asshole. You are disrespectful and very rude. To me, I won’t pray for you because you deserve to go to hell. You mock God and you mock anyone who is different from you. So a big ‘fuck off’ from this imperfect Christian. Keep spewing off your hatred. I will tell God to keep his gates closed and his harps at silence. You’re the only one who has to face the ‘music.’”

Such attacks actually encourage my outspokenness by reinforcing my perception of religion as a Hyde-obscuring Jekyll that I have a moral obligation to oppose. I can only be thankful that I don’t live in one of the many countries in which I would be killed for my atheism, because I don’t know how I would respond, atheism being that important to me. Penn Gillette wrote the following in a compendium entitled This I Believe:

“Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy—you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do... But, this ‘This I Believe’ thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life’s big picture, some rules to live by. So, I’m saying, ‘This I believe: I believe there is no God.’ Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life.

He expressed my position perfectly. By making religion the default position—“the wide gate and the broad road”—while subjecting atheists to obloquy, society forces atheists to be ever aware of their identity and to reflect upon their own road more deeply. Why, then, do any of them remain silent? I’m sure I don’t know.