Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader, Op-Ed, September 11, 2017
It’s not exactly like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but still, you should know we’re out here. Living amongst you. Unseen.
Demographic survey-takers like to call us “Nones,” as in folks who when asked what religion they identify with reply, “None.” Turns out this is a large, sundry group – about a quarter of the U.S. population now and growing fast – including atheists, agnostics and people so religiously disabused they think “charismatic” refers to people who are just fun to have around. A fair number of Nones are humanists, a subgroup that emerged during the Enlightenment and today is distinguished by belief that only things that physically exist actually exist and by trying to organize their moral lives largely around the Golden Rule. Of course, a few Nones – as with all groups – don’t seem to give a rip about anything at all, not unlike some Christians and other people I know.
Contrary to popular consensus, many Nones, if not most — like Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, probably even Wiccans, for goodness sakes — are extremely nice people. They treat their loved ones with gentle, nurturing care and their pets even better. Like most of us.
Even godless unbelievers like myself are generally pretty agreeable. I mean I may not be the kind of charismatic guy you’d necessarily want to share a Budweiser Light with at an American Legion baseball game (my wife says I should have abbreviated it to “Bud Light,” because if you say “Budweiser Light” in South Dakota, people think you’re weird), but I’m a good listener and occasionally can actually add a great pun to the fun. I blend right in, in other words. I prove this by usually referring to myself as “agnostic” when actually I’m more of an atheist, because I notice that the word “atheist” tends to set believers’ teeth on edge (I mean, why scare people gratuitously?) I believe in being polite.
So, it’s not really accurate to think of us atheists and fellow travelers like something out of a 1950s horror film. We’re pretty much just like you, except when we look up at the sky, it’s empty, and we’re fine with that. So, we go about our lives as though it were true, trying to bring joy to ourselves and others in very humane, empathetic ways, while trying hard to ease the all-too-common misery we find in the world. Please don’t think we indulge our Sundays engaging in wild orgies, torturing small animals and yanking wings off flies just because we don’t believe a god exists to fear and therefore, see no need whatsoever to resist our base impulses. It’s a myth.
In fact, my Sundays are often full of the kind of awe good Christians might experience as spiritual. I relax on my deck, religiously absorbing nature’s majesty along the lovely, calming, life-affirming creek that flows past our home. Because I do not believe in an afterlife, other than the natural diffusing of my atoms and energy back into our earthly ecosystem after my body gives up the ghost (so to speak), I probably view real life with more blessed sacredness than some people. Our lives are so spectacularly brief in the grand scheme of existence, that at least in my mind, they assume almost incalculable value. As such, the greatest sins to me are those that further abbreviate our already very momentary being, or worsen it for others. Like murder, war, hatred and cruelty. Sin, to me, is a supremely and uniquely human tendency, not a violation of any imagined divine law. All of us – true believers and unbelievers alike – know private inhumanity when we see it and know to be wary.
As the proportion of Nones in America continues to expand, as demographers predict it will, don’t fret. We Nones may not share your religion, but we certainly share many if not most of others’ fundamental values – including kindness, generosity and strength of character – which at heart, are inherently human values. Don’t worry; I’m sure the country isn’t going to hell in a godless handbasket. As far as I can tell, it’s simply evolving rationally.
Honestly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers seems way scarier.