I Heard They Play Speed Metal In Hell

It’s been 150 years since Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. There is, I hear, a re-release of Darwin’s classic, including a brand spankin’ new introduction co-written by the star of the switcheroo flick Like Father, Like Son, and Growing Pains, MEGACHRISTIAN Kirk Cameron.

Apparently, Darwin’s book is in the public domain, so anyone can write a version of it if they want. Kirk says that he’s doing a new intro with the intention of presenting a balanced view of Darwin’s work. Apparently a “balanced” view means saying ‘this book is bullshit’ in an introduction.

Ok, so he wouldn’t say “bullshit”.

When I was a bit younger and a church-goin’ person, I fell victim to just about the worst thing that could happen to a God-fearin’ fella. I was sitting in church one sunday morning, thumbing through my Bible (I think the sermon had to do with something in Luke), when I experienced only what I can call a “reverse revelation”.

It was at that moment when I suddenly stopped believing in God.

I can’t explain it any other way than to say that it was sudden, like a bolt of lightening from the heavens. Really, at that moment I felt like it must have felt for Saul on the road to Damascus, except for the fact that I was suddenly an atheist. Sitting in church, no less.

I didn’t feel too bad about it, though. While I was sitting there (beacuse it would have been rude to just get up and leave during a sermon), things became clearer and I finally understood. The heavy load of doubt had been lifted. I no longer felt the gulit of wrestling with my doubt because it had been revealed to me that the thing that I doubted did not exist. It was like God did me a little favor in whispering in my ear, “I’m going to tell you something, but don’t tell anyone else here. I don’t exist”.

I thought that I should have been feeling something about not believing… guilt, worry, a sense that I was doomed to hell… nope. Nothing. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. That morning while I was sitting there, receiving the most amazing news that I could have ever received in my life was the most singular moment of clarity that I had ever felt the entire time that I had even gone to church. All these years later, I still feel the same.

When it first happened, I thought that the problem might have been the church that I was going to. But each time I went to another one, the feeling was the same. I had even tried dabbling into “alternative” religious practices (yes, including Wicca, and no, it had nothing to do with that movie The Craft. But given my size and gender, Wicca would seem a natural choice). As if I were hit by the backhand of God, God said to me, “why are you insisting on doing this to yourself? I don’t exist!!” I finally had to admit to myself what I already knew.

I was an atheist.

The funny thing is, is when you make the discovery of your non-believingness, none but the most millitant atheist wants to admit that that’s what they are. Many of us cling to the badge “agnostic”, believing that it’s better to “keep our options open”, than to say that we flat-out don’t believe that there is a God. It’s better to say that one is non-practicing than to say that one is non-believing. Eventually, however, the charade catches up with us when we realize that we aren’t aganostic at all, that it’s not a matter of not believing that no major religion has got it on what God is, but a matter of the fact that we believe that there is no omnicompetent being that occupies any role in the galaxy (I decided to use a definite description instead of saying that “God does not exist” for some positivist-leaning butthead saying that I’ve made a negative existential claim, which is something that I cannot do). Still, after many years I hadn’t given up the hope of eventually believing in something. The idea of having no belief seemed like being lost, or worse yet, it smacked of disingenuity. The accusation towards many atheists is that we actually do believe in God, we’re just acting out. It’s not wanting to believe in God that the atheist is guilty of, not actually not believing in God.

But I knew what I felt. I felt that He did not exist. I had tried to get back the feeling that he did but failed. I had drifted from Christendom into agnosticism, theism, deism, and finally tried my hand at paganism. It was toolate for Pascal’s wager and I was too disillusioned to take Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith”. But something still nagged at my, dare I say, soul. It wasn’t long before I found myself with a copy of the Satanic Bible in my hands. I don’t think that the average misanthropic teen escapes high school without at least one encounter with the late Anton LaVey’s paean to the Dark Prince.

For those who are unfamiliar with LaVey’s tome to the Devil, the Satanic Bible includes the Nine Satanic Statements, the 9th of which reads: “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!” LaVey says that, while in his youth, he worked at a carnival, and on Saturday nights he would see the men leering at the young nubile dancers. The same men, who when they returned to the carnival grounds the next morning for the tent services, would stand next to their wives and children singing hymns to God. He saw the hypocrisy of the men who indulged their flesh on Saturday night and then begged for forgiveness on Sunday morning. LaVey says that he saw how the devil was used to manipulate people into believing that all things physical were inherently evil. But as he saw it, wanting physical pleasure comes natural to people, so how can what is natural be sinful?

After reading LaVey’s book, I didn’t come away an atheist (namely because LaVey’s “satanism” is more akin to secular humanism than actual diabolism. So one conceivably, can be a Satanic atheist), but I did see one big point to consider: namely, that LaVey’s Ninth Satanic Statement works in reverse.

It’s easy to say that God has been the atheist’s (humanist, satanist) best friend for all these yers, as he is the one that they’ve been railing about for all this time!

*although I know at this point that the Wiccans would say that since their religion has nothing to do with the Christian God, that he is not their best friend. If you don’t believe this, just cruise on up to your local Wiccan and tell her (because it will almost always be a her) that Wiccans are like devil worshippers. If you don’t know how to spot a Wiccan, just look for the “goddess” sized young lady with the flowing hair (she’ll most likely look like a heavier-set Tori Amos) and the gossamer dress if Wiccans worship the devil. Sit back and get ready to hear about the 3-fold rule and the “burning times”.

After reading Christopher Hitchens’ god is not great, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Julian Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian”, and a handful of stuff by Michael Shermer, I realized that while I may be an atheist, I am a very Christian atheist. I realize that an atheist is only an atheist if he does not believe that there is no god. So far as our culture is concerned, that god that I maintain does not exist, is a Christian one. And like Christopher Hitchens, the god that I believe does not exist is not only Christian, but decidedly Protestant as well. I quote Hitchens, “I know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism”. As a product of the Protestant tradition, my atheistic values tend to echo exactly what I learned in Sunday school. I shouldn’t kill or steal, or bear false witness. I believe that hard work will be rewarded, and that if one has a relationship with god, it is a personal one… And that the Pope is a sham. I cannot escape my Christian values even if I try to leave them behind. I find myself quoting Jesus on the subject of taxes or who we should treat the poor (heck, I even found myself referring to the feeding of the multitude when discussing health care). I still celebrate Christmas and prefer to hear traditional christmas hymns to the contemporary Christmas jingles by Michael Bolton or Boyz to Men (although I do like Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”). I say “bless you” when someone sneezes, and I still write the word God with a capital G. And unlike Richard Dawkins, I wholeheartedly disagree that raising children in a religion is the same as child abuse. I always say that my hypothetical children are Christians. They gotta get their morals from somewhere, right?

We are all influenced, in one way or another, by the dominant culture. And whether I like it or not, I live in a Christian dominated/influenced culture. I can choose whether I accept the fact and move on, or whether I waste time protesting putting up “happy holidays” signs at Target. This is why I am, as I tell my friends, the most Christian atheist I know.

Although I find those who believe in God a little delusional, I understand that I can’t be rid of him. I may say that I know that he doesn’t exist, but there is a world out there full of people who believe that he does. And so far, I’m outnumbered billions to one. Nietzsche may have been correct when he wrote that God is dead, but like Elvis, there are still a whole hell of alot of people out there who go around singing his songs.

And You Say The Devil’s A Bad Guy

I seem to enjoy doing things that really creep me out. A couple of months ago, I decided to watch The Exorcist. Now, I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, and there’s really nothing in it that wasn’t there the last time that I watched it. But somehow, that movie ends up unnerving me. That Spider walk is plain creepy. May I take a moment to say here, that it’s not so much the fact that the movie, that is the visuals, that are scary. What’s scary is Mercedes McCambridge’s voice! In that scene where Reagan does the crucifix number, and then whips her head around and says to her mother “do you know whay she did?!?”, I nearly crap my pants every time! So, I was busy creeping myself out, watching “the version you’ve never seen” ( during the daytime, with the lights on, I’ll admit). But I was alone, and that counts for something. Anyway, there’s a scent that is in this version, where Father Karras and Father Merrin have just finished a session with Reagan. They are both exhausted. As Father Karras, who is caught in a crisis of faith himself, rests, he asks Father Merrin a question. He asks, why this little girl? What purpose does possessing and possibly killing her serve? Father Merrin answers — the possession has nothing to do with the girl. The devil wants us to feel that we are unworthy of God’s love. He wants us to feel that we are sinful, vile, and lowly creatures who cannot earn or deserve the grace of God. That’s the way, Father Merrin explains, the devil gets us to turn away from God. That made me think. Now, if the devil wants me to turn away from God, he may cause a situation (say something like a demonic possession) that causes me to lose faith and turn from God. But, I have to remember that my rejection of God was due to my free choice, not because the devil made me do it (so to speak). I will burn in Hell for all eternity because I made the choice to turn from God. I have to be held accountable for the choices that I made and make freely. This is because I have free will. One of the reasons that we are given that there is evil in the world, is because people, like me, have the freedom to choose to do evil deeds. Because God made man with the ability to choose, he cannot interfere with our choices (because if he did intervene that would mean that we didn’t have very much free will). So, I thought, we make ourselves so busy asking what role that God plays in man-caused evil, that we don’t ask what role God plays in Satan-caused evil. If all intelligent beings created by God have free will, does that mean that the devil has free will as well? And if he has free will, is God bound to allow the devil to make choices that may be the source of the world’s evil (or at least a strong influence)? Ok, I know that Satan, as an angel, is what we call a fully actualized being. That means that he is all that he will ever be. He doesn not “grow” in the sense that people mature and find enlightenment or come to know the divine.As something near perfection, once the devil makes a choice, he’s locked into it. Which explains a bit as to why he cannot repent for his misdeeds. But that’s just it. He chose to fall from God. We might assume that he didn’t have to. That is, if you don’t believe that there is such a thing as determinism. So, Let’s say that Satan chose to leave God. There. He made a choice. And God seems to have respected his decision to do so. So, Satan decides that he is so thoroughly disgusted with mankind that he will forever torment God’s creation. He will make our lives so horrible that we will run to God for shelter. These all seem to be career choices that the devil made when he decided to leave the family business. If our actions aren’t determined, then is it ok to say that Satan’s actions aren’t determined, either? But then, if we assert that the devil has free will, we must account for exactly what kind of free will he has. According to the standard free will defense, man’s free will is libertarian — that is, with any choice we make, we are free to do otherwise. So, for example, if someone has a gun to my head and says that he will kill me if I don’t announce in a public place that I molest collies, I don’t have to choose to make the announcement. There is the choice, albeit a very unlikely one that I’d pick, to get shot. There are alternatives that I may take. But, the devil is fully actualized. He doesn’t get the mulligans that I do when I make mistakes or decide to change my mind (for instance, I can decide to repent from my evil ways and accept Jesus as my personal savior. It’s unlikely, but I very well could). Satan, as stated, cannot so as such. But he seems to make choices all the same. Although he free will is not libertarian as it is with people, he seems to have some, limited free will. This free will (if even the freedom to do one thing) is to create evil. So, it may be that we are hanging our coat on the wrong rack. We’re looking to God to explain why he allows evil (as if we are saying that God somehow is a generator of some of this evil), but we might take a look down and say that God “permits” evil because Satan has free will that God is bound to respect. As with any other agent, the lord of all that is unholy is free to do as he sees fit. Unfortunately for us, that means occasionally killing someone’s grandma with colon cancer, or running over the family pet, letting Two and A Half Men run for another season, or putting the desire to set the forest ablaze in the mind of an arsonist for the sole purpose of burning furry little animals to a crisp. To make matters worse, the fact that God is bound by Satanic free will means that (lest we give rise to a massively irregular world) God may, and in fact does, lose souls to the devil’s influence (This is due in two parts: 1) Satan has free will, and b) humans have the free will to follow the devil’s influences). I don’t know if I’m putting forth anything revolutionary (I’m sure that I’m not), and maybe I’m giving the devil a little too much power, but it is worth thinking that the devil’s influence on our actions may be because he has the same free will as we. Besides, it’s really a cheap way to say that we can have evil and God at the same time — resorting to that old, worn-out cliche “the devil made me do it”. I thought that this time I would try to give it some philosophic legitimacy. I don’t think it worked.