An Atheist Defense of Faith

Unlike many atheists, I don't believe someone is brain-damaged solely because they choose to believe in a God. However, I'm also acutely aware that religious charlatans like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson abound. Many people of faith don't believe these nattering zealots speak for God any more than I, an avowed atheist, might. They rightly believe that the egregious things the religiously insane do in the name of God have nothing to do with the spirit to whom they pray. We usually agree the best thing God could do is have a talk with the right-wing crapweasels about the ways they abuse His name - a sort of theistic trademark suit if you will.

But for every James Dobson, there's a truly good person who follows their beliefs and works hard to make the world a better place. I'm privileged to know some of these religious people - Blue Gal and Quaker Dave for example. They're unfailingly fair and evenhanded with everyone, including the Godless infidels like me. Despite the abuse that sometimes gets heaped on them, they are credits not only to their religions, but also to the human race. If the ranks of the world's major denominations were filled with more Blue Gals and Quaker Daves we'd all be the better for it and God could call off the trademark suit.

In the wake of the recent spate of school shootings, it's obvious that some religious people observe their faith with an almost superhuman will. Take the Amish school shootings in Pennsylvania.

When the twisted gunman inside the school threatened to shoot the young female students, one girl stood up. She implored her tormenter to shoot her first, hoping her desperate action would buy time for her younger classmates. Her belief in her God and her sacrifice on behalf of others is truly a selfless act - certainly one that many secular people would be unable to make. In that brief moment, she glimpsed her God and believed enough to follow the teachings she'd been given. In my book, that's something to be proud of.

Or, consider the larger Amish community's reaction. As their official mourning period came to an end, community elders announced two other incredible acts. First, they announced they would tear down the cursed school rather than force their children to return to a place they found horrific. This was no small decision for a community of limited means and shows their compassion for their children.

But the second act was the most astounding of all - they forgave the killer.

My daughter was caught up in a school lockdown this week when authorities feared a gun may have been taken into her school. Thankfully, the three-hour lockdown turned up no gun, but I did imagine what would happen if a gunman took my daughter hostage, molested her, and killed her. Let's just say forgiveness wouldn't be part of my vocabulary. The fact that people would forgive someone who'd done the same to their child is an act of moral will that I find nearly unbelievable.

Many would say it's not only unbelievable, but crazy. Those who mock religion would see it as just another example of religious lunacy practiced by a weird sect in funny hats driving black buggies. However, they would be wrong.

I don't see the weird clothing or the seemingly insane idea of forgiveness as a weakness to be ridiculed. I find it an admirable trait demonstrating that humans can rise above the awful things that happen to them in tragedies - or for the matter, every day. I see a strength of conviction I can only aspire to and I'm not ashamed to admit that. True, I'm an atheist and many of the more empty-headed Christians might say that if I believed I could be just as strong. However, I'd say they would be just as wrong as those who criticize the forgivers.

A non-religious person could, and sometimes does, exhibit that sort of commitment to an ideal and in that makes them basically no different than the Amish elders. The only difference is that the atheist does on their own while the Amish take direction from God. Either way, both would be doing some miraculous. And that is the truly astonishing thing.

It's nice to be surprised sometimes.

Bring it On!

The Poobah also appears at Bring it On!

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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