Free thought, my assThe trouble with atheists
by Edwin Decker
So I'm strolling the busy Venice Beach boardwalk last Sunday when I come across an "Atheists United" (AU) sign-up booth. So I figure I'll stop to exchange ideas about God, or the Establishment Clause, or Scientology, and, of course, to lob rotten tomatoes at the Christian booth on the other side of the promenade.
The Atheists United tent is occupied by three men and one woman. All of whom are sitting at a table, except Charles, who is standing and preaching about the "Free Thought Movement" (also known as Atheism). At 70-ish years old, Charles is the youngest and prettiest of the group. He is thin, bald, pale and ornery-like Fred Astaire in the evil opposite universe. His congregation of three is thinner, balder, paler and older.
Bob sees me browsing the AU literature and asks if I am an atheist.
"Agnostic," I answer.
"Agnostic!" he shouts with horror and loathing. The other three nod and grumble in agreement. "I hate that word!" he shouts again. "What does it mean? It doesn't mean anything!"
Charles' livid reaction to the word "agnostic" does not surprise me. Atheists are known to disdain agnostics. But for the record, "agnostic" does mean something. It was coined in the 19th century by a British scientist named Thomas Huxley. He took it from the Greek word "gnosis," (no-sis) which means, "To know." Huxley called the Christians of his day "The Gnostics," and, because he did not believe it was possible to know all the mysteries of the universe, called himself "a-gnostic."
But to Charles, it just means "cop out."
"Look," I say, "What proof is there that God does not exist?"
Oh, does this cause Charles much glee. I just asked the question that every Christian he ever argued with stupidly asked-a question that is addressed and well answered in the Atheist pamphlets, newsletters and websites. A question for which he is well prepared.
"The burden of proof is on the believer," he snorts, shifting his weight from side-to-side. "You can't just invent something and then say, ?Now prove it doesn't exist.'"
"I totally agree," I say. "The burden of proof is on the believer. But right here and now, you are not arguing with a believer. I don't believe in anything. Compared to me, it is you who is the believer because the atheist believes there is no God. Therefore, the burden of proof is on you."
The three apostles shake their head in disgust, and Charles is jumping out of his loafers like Art Carney on an ephedrine binge. "No, no, no," he sputters. "I am not a believer! I'm an atheist! What are you, a dope?"
Now, I understand there are flaws in my argument, but I figured this was the place to pan them out. Instead, I get insults.
Free thought, my ass.
The problem with Charles is that he argues by rote. He just spews what has been preached to him by the atheist pamphlets and at the atheist meetings and the atheist orgies. He might even be right, but we'll never know because his memorized talking points are not relevant to our argument. So he becomes frustrated and reduces the discussion to insults. Even worse, the old woman at the table just snickered at me loudly through a mouthful of Chinese noodles.
I just glare at her. She is ugly-chewing and sucking Lo Mein worms with her crooked, leathery maw-so wretched and stone-faced, she makes Madalyn O'Hair look like an exotic love goddess.
"You know, lady, when you snicker at people it means you don't really want to exchange ideas. It means you want to bludgeon them with yours. Just like a lot of religious groups I know of," I say, and storm away from their choir of cruel laughter.
Alone now and pacing the boardwalk, hunched and dragging like an exiled beast, I come upon the Christian booth. The Christians are waving me over and smiling like idiot minstrels. I put my head down and keep walking. If they only knew what a semi-godless wretch I was, they would pelt me with rotten tomatoes.
Everybody hates the agnostics. The Christians hate us. The atheists hate us. In a world that detests gray areas, we just don't belong. It's like how the interracial couple is despised by both races. It's like how bisexuals are sometimes despised by homophobes and gays alike. It's like how everyone hates a mime ("Which are you, a clown or some homo SoHo performance artist?). It's this innate human need to form groups then create an outcast to complete the group. Outcasts are always the most alone. Roaming the streets at night-gnarled and bitter and avoiding light like diseased rodents-until the exiled find each other, commiserate, mingle, throw a tea party and form a little group of their own. The seedlings of a new religion.
Waaaaait a minute?
Why hadn't I thought of it before? Agnostics Unite!
I shall found the Church of Agnostiology. And our bible will be called Diagnostics. And we'll brainwash new members with hipgnosis. And they will transfer all their assets to the Church (osgnosis). Of course, I will also need sex slaves, and booze, and your Zep bootlegs. And we will live in a compound-drinking, screwing, rocking out and anticipating the arrival of Huxley's Comet, which will whisk us away to Planet Uncertania for life ever after. Amen brothers and sisters!