Heather Mallick is my favorite person tonight.  Mostly because she sounds so perfectly Canadian.  This is a “viewpoint” article from CBC news, entitled “Atheists Don’t Get It“:

May I ask for a moment of silence? Consider the plight of the old-fashioned, bewildered atheist in these times where religion is the new black, so to speak.

For I am an atheist and I am out of my depth. I watch the news about religion with a puzzled stare, unable to fathom the motives of the ultra-religious. What’s going through Mel Gibson’s tiny little brain?

I read of this new Pope, the one who blue-skies in public and makes silly, ill-considered remarks about Islam and apologizes, only to insult Jews in the next breath. This leads to ponderous BBC backgrounders asking: “How infallible is the Pope?” But to an atheist, you’re either infallible or not. By apologizing, he proved himself fallible. Does this mean he has to resign?

The BBC says no. Apparently the Pope only speaks infallibly when he announces ahead of time that he?s going to. This is the journalistic equivalent of “going on the record.”

Also, and I could have told the Pope this, never quote anyone from the 14th century. With the exception of Chaucer, people weren’t at their brightest then. Things didn’t perk up intellectually until the Renaissance. And one word reverberates: Crusades. Blood. Axes. Spikes. Takes two to go on a crusade, and I mean you, Pope Urban II.

As for the Pope pointing out that worshipping the cross was really worshipping the Jewish tool of execution of Christ, it only made this atheist think of that Lenny Bruce line about how if Jesus had been killed 20 years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.

And all of the above reveal the problem suffered by people like me when the world’s religious types get upset. Devoid of religious belief or interest, I don’t have the faintest idea what people are angry about. Atheists don’t get it. The only joy in these disputes is one I share with the British writer Marina Hyde: She loves to see mad placards in demonstrations. Her favourite was the American soccer mom who had embroidered “God Hates Fags” on the Confederate flag. My favourite is Father Ted’s “Down with this sort of thing.”

Views on mixing religion with news

All I think about religion is that it is a private matter that should never be referred to, in the same way that we are taught never to discuss money. By age six, we know it’s rude to ask what something cost, it’s double rude to say the word “underpants” and it’s double super rude to ask people what religion they are.

This is why stories about religion should never be on the front page of a newspaper. The front page is for facts. Belief should go somewhere else.

But thanks to George W. Bush getting Christian after he quit drinking and Osama bin Laden being upset about American bases on Saudi land (not for nationalistic reasons, I take it), the news just today, to pick one day, is all about Israel killing Muslim (I assume) children in Gaza (the Independent), the Pope attacking non-Christians (the Guardian), Indonesia planning to execute Christian militants for inciting attacks on Muslim militants in the 1998 riots (BBC Online) and the religious right taking over Stephen Harper’s government (The Walrus).

If you believe in one of these religions — and may I say politely, gosh, that’s awfully nice — try to imagine someone like me who can’t fathom the fervour.

Why would somebody not like Jews? You say they killed Christ? That was a gazillion years ago, surely. Also, being an atheist, this is news to me. (I swear, I thought it was the Romans. Or was that Life of Brian?) And Jews are good looking and smart, liberal in outlook and nice to know. There’s principled Lord Woolf and indomitable Seymour M. Hersh, and adorable Jon Stewart and my wonderful dentist, Dr. Klaiman, and that’s just off the top of my head. I love them all equally. I look at Dr. Klaiman’s pictures of his daughters in his office and I want him to adopt me. Anti-Semitism seems insane. I suspect it’s jealousy.

And what do people have against Muslims? They seem such prayerful people, so elegant in their movements and their dress. Yes, they oppress women, but all religions repress women. I’m told that Hindus don’t like Muslims, which is why the partition of India was a hideous slaughter you don’t hear much about because everyone is so relieved they don’t have to live in an alien neighbourhood. But what is Hinduism? Atheists find all religious details intensely boring.

I do know that all Indian food is delicious. Can we agree on that?

Next on the religion list?

Who’s next? What is a Baptist? There’s something about Episcopalians that sounds posh. Buddhism seems sensible. Am I wrong? Protestants have no fun. I don’t know any Catholics. Actually I do, but they haven’t mentioned it because they’re Canadian Catholics so they don’t want to be loud about it. But I observe that even the anti-abortion Catholics don’t have 13 children. Catholics are always described as “devout” but when it comes to birth control, not so much. I quite like them for this. “Darling, not tonight, we can feed three children, but not 17, the Pope wasn’t speaking infallibly when he said that bit.”

Wasn’t he in the Hitler Youth? I forgive him for that, sort of, so why can’t he forgive other people? Isn’t the beauty of Catholicism that it forgives all? I learned that from The Sopranos. So why is the Pope so irate?

Atheism is relaxing. I cannot grasp the nettle of any news story involving religion because it makes me sleepy. I suspect most Canadians are like me. But they won’t write letters to the CBC defending my right to be clueless about religion. Why? Because they’re Canadian and they can’t be bothered. I think that’s kind of nice.

[tags]Heather Mallick, CBC News, atheist[/tags]

  • Karen

    Very clever; she’s a fun writer. :-)

    I’m glad, however, that not all atheists are this bored with religion. Hemant, I’m glad that you were engaged enough to want to understand what you weren’t exposed to growing up (i.e. Christian churches). I’m glad that a lifelong skeptic like Eliza (from the CaTE DB) is interested enough about religious thought to participate in discussions with Christians and attend a church-based “Intro to Lutheranism” class this fall.

    It seems to me that understanding the motivations and concerns of religious people is vital for skeptics and freethinkers. Former Christians, like Dan Barker and Michael Shermer, need to stay in the forefront of important discussions. There seems to be a tendency amongst atheists and agnostics to withdraw into “they’re-all-crazy-and-I-don’t-get-it” mode. I understand that tendency, but I think if we all succumbed to it, we’d never be heard in the greater dialogue of our times.

  • Alexandre

    The column itself is rather funny (in a Canadian fashion, as per the Robertson Davies comment). The comments reveal a bit of what is going on, here in Canada.
    Religious affiliation is clearly a taboo here in Quebec. Malick observes a similar attitude in her neck of the woods (apparently, Toronto and the GTA). While living in some parts of the U.S. (Indiana and Massachusetts, mostly) I noticed that lack of religious affiliation was taboo and that religious labels were sometimes used to describe people. This is not to say that people in the U.S. are more religious than Canadians, but that there are clear differences in attitudes toward religion in general and religious belief systems specifically.
    These days, religious tolerance frequently becomes newsworthy in Canada. For instance, the kirpan case in Quebec is clearly on people’s minds, regardless of their specific opinions on the case.
    There really needs to be a public discussion of issues related to religious tolerance, multiculturalism, secularism/atheism/agnosticism, and peace.

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