I have no problem with God.
I have no problem with the idea that there might be a force our intellect does not understand,
and perhaps cannot understand, that was involved with the creation of the universe. This
force may have views on the way we humans should live our lives, it may intervene in our
affairs, and it may even provide us with an afterlife. Or not. Maybe there is nothing but what
we see; maybe something simply set things in motion, and doesn’t really care whether we
covet each other’s wives or not. I don’t know – and I am convinced that no one else knows,
The debate about the existence of God has raged for a long time. There is nothing new to say
on the subject. So I won’t.
This is a book about people, not about God. People who have written about God, preached
about God, taken money for sharing what they say they know about God, and ordered others
about to enforce what they claim to be God’s will. “I know about God; therefore you should do
X” is my working definition of religion. While I have no problem with God, I do have a problem
with “experts” who claim they know something about God, when they really don’t. I have a
problem with people who grab money and power based solely on their insistence that they
know what God is and how God works. And I have a serious, serious problem with people who
claim their God expertise gives them the right to tell me or anyone else what to do.
I am not alone, though it sometimes feels that way. A good 15% of Americans tell pollsters
they are either atheist, agnostic, or “don’t know,” which is pretty much the same thing.
(Agnostics know they don’t know; others just plain don’t know.) That 15% is more than any
single religious denomination other than Catholics and Southern Baptists. There are more
unbelieving Americans than there are blacks. Or Hispanics. Or gays. What’s more, we are a
relatively well-educated, high-income group. Why do we get so little respect?
A far bigger number is the 60% of Americans who tell pollsters they don’t attend any church
regularly. (Quite a few observers suspect the 40% figure of those who say they do attend is
inflated, but let’s give the pollsters the benefit of the doubt.) Every religion insists that its
followers must at least attend church – after all, that’s where the money comes from. So we
have at least 45% of Americans who say they believe in a particular version of God, but when
it comes to doing the bare minimum necessary to save themselves from everlasting
damnation, they can’t be bothered. Are they really believers? Or are they just mouthing the
words, because that is the respectable thing to do?
Then there are the astonishing 44% of Americans who have changed religious affiliation at
least once in their life. These are people who were brainwashed as children into belief in a
particular category of God experts. They grew up, they thought about it, and said “No – that
can’t be right.” Most (not all) of them wound up in some other denomination. Are they really
satisfied in their new home, or have they simply left the frying pan for the fire?
There is a terrible opprobrium to admitting lack of belief in God. God is all over our money, he’
s in the middle of our pledge of allegiance, he starts every session of Congress and he worms
his way into almost every major political speech. At this writing, there are 535 members of
Congress, including several who are overtly homosexual – and exactly one who admits to
disbelief in God. (He, by the way, waited until age 75 before “coming out.”) George H. W.
Bush – the “kinder, gentler” one – insisted that an atheist could not be patriotic: “No, I don’t
know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.
This is one nation under God.”
One method of responding to this is to whine and complain, and periodically to file lawsuits
about the pledge of allegiance, the faith-based initiative, crucifixes on federal property, etc. As
a practicing lawyer, I love it when people file lawsuits – the more the merrier. I hope the
plaintiffs start to win more often. But I don’t think they will until the culture changes – until it
becomes far more socially acceptable to live proudly without religion. Judges don’t have any
more guts than politicians do.
This book takes a different tack. Rather than complain about how put upon we humanists are,
this book boasts about how courageous we are, and have been, throughout history. It takes
backbone to stand up to the God experts, since so many people treat doing so as scorning
Senator John F. Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage in 1955. Can one little book be credited
with emboldening the 60s generation to take on segregation, imperialism, and male
dominance? No – but it helped. It made would-be reformers feel good about themselves. It
taught them they were not alone, but part of a proud tradition of men (Kennedy found no
courageous women) willing to buck the prevailing wisdom even when it meant probable
damage to their own political careers.
The men and women of this book faced consequences more dire than losing an election.
Several died for their crime of putting humans at the center of their world, rather than God; the
one who remains alive today lives by grace of round-the-clock security protection. Most of
those who made it through to natural deaths faced quite credible death threats from the God
experts they challenged. They stood their ground. They knew fraud when they saw it, and
they had too much respect for themselves to look the other way just because that’s what
everyone else was doing.
Thanks to the efforts of some of these heroes, America today is a place where humanists don’t
face the threat of death. All we face is being political and social pariahs, and the spectacle of
our tax money being used against us. We will continue to do so until we start showing one
tenth of the courage of the men and women of this book by standing up and demanding
respect. Doing so will put us in some damned good company.