I've been harboring a secret for many years now, but I think it's time I came out of the closet and nailed my colours to the post. I'm sorry to disappoint those of you that were labouring under the misconception that I'm actually a nice person but, in fact, I'm a Godless heathen. I am the work of a Devil that I don't believe exists. I am an Atheist. I also don't believe in ghosts, psychic abilities or any superstition.
I say Atheist, but in reality all Atheists are, in some small way, actually only agnostic. I believe that there is no God. No creator. No great, celestial, watchmaker. Just an incomprehensibly massive and cold universe that doesn't give a shit about you, I, your religion, my lack of religion or whether or not you walk under a ladder whilst crossing someone on the stairs with your shirt on inside out. That said, if the oceans parted and Poseidon rose up, or if the clouds parted and some kindly old guy with a bushy, white beard revealed himself and stated "Actually, here I am, I've had enough of this enigmatic existence, now behave or suffer in hell. Oh, and where do I sign up for 'I'm a celebrity...'?" I would laugh, shake my head, apologise and become a believer. Agnostic. We (Atheists) all are really.
I have never attacked someone for their religious beliefs. I've defended my beliefs (Yes, they are beliefs, not lack of beliefs. I believe we're evolved from slime, the ingredients of which were created in exploding stars and flung out into the vastness of space.) against the pious which has resulted in my being accused of attacking religion. I have no need to attack religion, or faith. No one's beliefs cause me difficulty in my day to day existence.
Those who follow a religion are almost Atheists themselves. There are approximately four thousand two hundred recognised religions. Atheists don't believe in any of these. A Christian, Jew, Muslim or Wiccan doesn't believe in approximately four thousand one hundred and ninety nine. That's not far off Atheism, is it?
An American lady from Virginia I used to chat to, many years ago when the internet was still new and exciting, on "Yahoo!" was extremely religious. My lack of faith in her God came up one day.
"So are you a Jew?"
"No, an Atheist."
"WHAT? That's even worse."
Anti-semitism apart, she told me she would pray for me and that she wanted to cry because she "knew" I was heading for an eternity of damnation and suffering in the fiery pits of the hell that, if her religious beliefs are correct, was basically created by the loving Deity her parents had chosen she should side with. How very fucking Christian of him. Our conversations up until this point had been about our children or our jobs, never anything important or deep. Just chit chat. From that point on it changed. She tried to gently, and later not so gently, persuade me that I was wrong. I tried not to get embroiled in any theological debate with her but this proved ultimately futile and I was forced to ask her to stop. She never spoke to me again, other than one email in which she described me as "the most disgusting human being" it had ever been her misfortune to come across and added that she would "rejoice in my eternal damnation". How very fucking Christian of her.
I have been a support worker for many years. About five years ago I was assigned to an adult male with severe Autism. I'm good at that job. I was spat at and punched, had faeces and crockery thrown at me on a daily basis but never once let it affect me or my behaviour toward my service user. (We have to call the people we care for "service users" at the moment. At some point it will be decided that this is just as politically incorrect as clients and the industry (Yes, it is an industry. There's a lot of money in care. And they don't pay much more than minimum wage so a lot of companies involved are making a LOT of profit.) will spend fortunes training us all to say "assistance requirers" or some other such ridiculous title.) Phew, I was beginning to think I'd never escape those brackets. Anyway, I digress...
The chap I looked after back then became very poorly. I was on shift the night he began pissing and shitting blood and took him to hospital. He is a non-verbal gentleman and very aggressive. The only person that he would allow to take his temperature or blood pressure was me. I have never felt as tall as the day I walked onto his ward to be greeted by a nurse who said "Oh, thank God you're here" and handed me the sphygmomanometer. He remained in hospital for several weeks and so I spent my shifts at the hospital with him. One Saturday I was waiting for the third of the four buses I needed to get home. Two young gentlemen approached.
"Hi," said the first in a lovely, American accent. "do you have a moment?"
I was tired, I had poo under my fingernails and a split lip (My service user hadn't liked his pudding and had demonstrated this in his usual charming way) and it was cold, but the man was smiling so I smiled back and said yes.
"Where would you go to find God in this town?" The young, smartly dressed man enquired.
"Have you tried the church?" I smiled back. No malice, just a little joke. His eyes narrowed.
"I'm serious. Have you heard the word of God?"
"I'm an Atheist, pal."
"Oh nooooo! Don't you want to be able to make a difference to someone's life?"
Now, as I've mentioned, I don't attack people's beliefs. But I wasn't having that. I explained...
"I'm a support worker for a disabled man. I'm on my way home after a twelve hour shift caring for him in hospital. I've spent today teaching him Makaton and dodging his blows. I've done this everyday for a fortnight and will be back again tomorrow, which I believe is your God's day off, at six in the morning to do it all again. Enjoy your lie in."
I was attempting to demonstrate, with as much good humour as I could muster at that point, that you don't need a religion to be a good person and that I was making a difference in a practical way to this poor individuals life. (Yes, I was getting paid the princely sum of £6.50 per hour less taxes to do it, but a Vicar get's paid too, we all have to eat.) His response? He pointed out to me that it didn't matter how many noble things I did with my life, if I didn't accept his God before I died I would rot in hell. How very fucking Christian of him.
(I'd just like to point out that I'm not singling out Christianity here, but I come from England and that's the religion whose followers I come across most often.)
I have many devout friends. They don't preach to me and I don't mock them. Their religion gives them a purpose. It also serves to comfort them and prevent them from fearing death. Those are good things. My belief that all that awaits me after my demise is blessed oblivion does exactly the same thing. It forces me to enjoy the time I have whilst clinging to this rock and hurtling through space as my atoms become further apart.
I'm aware that some people will, upon reading this, now dislike me. I'm also aware that some people will have read a few paragraphs, decided they don't like me and stopped reading (Those are all sociopaths and hurt small animals with knives and shit, they're horrid.) but I'm the same person I was before you began reading and you didn't think I was evil before, did you? I have led, and will continue to lead, a good life. I don't, and won't, break the law. (One caveat, if I get much poorer I MAY be forced to steal food from Tesco's bins.) I will continue to love animals (Except cats - see my previous post "Pearly whites at the pearly gates" for why.) give money and time to charitable causes and let Patty have the crispy roast potatoes that she thinks I don't like but which really I love and miss. I have no fear of damnation, but I do have a great deal of empathy.
If I'm wrong and you're right I'm in trouble. If you're wrong and another religion is right we're in trouble. If you're wrong and I'm right we're all okay. Which one do you hope for? Think about it, it'll tell you a lot about yourself.
Fingers crossed, we're all okay.