As a 14 year old boy of modestly religious opinion (i.e. God is there, but the natural world is his method) I found my self in a peculiar argument. An off hand remark about the end of the world (it was the 1990’s) irritated my friend’s rather religious 17 yr old sister. She scolded me for my blasphemy and my defense that the remark was innocent led us to a 2 hour argument about what it means to be Christian and religious. As teenage arguments go, it was not spectacularly deep. Nevertheless, walking home I had a rather unsettling thought: both of us cannot be right. Therefore, one of us is wrong. But if one of us is wrong, the thought continued, could it be that both of us were wrong as well? And if that is possible then what makes our version of the divine more “correct” than an Ancient Greek’s?
Over the next decade, as I went through college and studied Anthropology, and as I argued with dozens of friends and less-than-acquaintances, I swayed back and forth…am I an atheist? Am I an agnostic? What do those mean? Are they the same? Steadfastly my thoughts evolved, growing ever more distant from the tolerance of non-explanatory explanations of the universe.
As I completed my studies and joined the US Army as a combat officer, I found my self continuously challenged to explain what I experienced without resorting to the inexplicable. The more I thought the more I found that the most intellectually honest version is one of man’s insignificance in the face of nature, and supreme significance in the minds of men. And as a human, I found myself more than content to see the significance of mankind and the beauty of mankind’s existence as spectacular, while recognizing that it is so only because I am one. I could also see that the wars we fought, I fought as a professional, were, through a combination of nature, decision, and chance, of our own making.
The result of all this was an avowed atheism and a rejection of the stories men tell explaining the world, even though I recognize that those stories are rooted in human nature and experience. But that was not the end. I found my self also evolving an unmistakeable anti-theism toward religions that professed monotheism and promoted evangelism. Monotheism required that the question I asked my self as a 14 yr old, “who is right?”, be answered categorically. Monotheism only tolerates one version of reality, a monotheist one. And the impulse to exclude makes it difficult for monotheists to accept even other monotheists with a different details. You see, two polytheists, who have an impulse to plurality, could accept the notion that one’s moongod was possibly the same as the others, except that the moongod had a different history of interaction and even different expectations of ritual with different peoples. A monotheist, exclusionist, point of view cannot stomach plurality without generating self-doubt. As for evangelism, it is a singular evil. It arrives, divides, pits family member against family member, neighbor against neighbor, and destroys the existing order to create one anew. Evangelism + monotheism = destructive evil. One may find all kind of barbarism in cultures to take offense to, but sans the evil duo of evangelism and monotheism that barbarism tends to be restrained to its creators and their unfortunate children.
So yes…I am atheist. But on occasion I am anti-theist. And I still fight my country’s wars in the belief that the prosperity of the country I live in is a worthwhile goal for that is the country my children will live in. But I also fight the rhetorical fight at home, to make the country’s wealth is not just material, but also intellectual and philosophical, and not rooted in the bronze age imaginations of Levantine shepherds.