As you can imagine, the essay was well received (NOT!) but what was surprising to me was who was offended by the essay and why. The overwhelming majority of static that I received for my indirect compliment of Atheists was from Atheists themselves. It turns out I had grossly misjudged the overall construction of what constitutes a modern Atheist, specifically the default adolescent Atheist who was "born into the faith." The responses that I received were supremely superficial never engaging with my main points and instead rested on the sting of powerful counter arguments like "Fuck you" and "Ricky Gervais isn't that ugly." While I'll admit that calling an entire group of people ugly is a bit brash I expected at at the very least a few pretentious well thought out retorts from individuals encouraging me to evolve.
Yet, after almost 300 replies not one utterance seemed even remotely intelligent or worth replying to. I had accredited a great deal of respect to Agnostics and Atheists because I felt in some way that they were shouldering the same confusion and fears about life and death that I was, but I was wrong. Sadly it seemed that these Atheists were as stupid if not stupider than the devoutly religious for whom they had made it their life's work to lambaste. Then it dawned on me that somewhere along the way the Atheist movement started to parallel the evolution of rock music. What started as a form of expression so powerful it couldn't be contained or explained through modern day motifs was interpreted and shrunk into a device to indirectly tell your parents to fuck off. In other words, the thrust and importance of the movement lost all of its meaning once it became an accessory to, rather than the foundation of, ones entire existence. It was because of this thought that I started to believe that that the great majority of Theists/Atheists are guilty of spiritual theft.
The best way I can think of introducing the idea of Spiritual theft is this: Imagine that you and and some guy from 200 years ago want a hamburger. In order for the guy from 200 years ago to eat a hamburger he must first invent the hamburger. After that he must go out, find a cow, slaughter it, chop it into pieces, ground it up, harvest some wheat, (revealing ignorance) then do the next steps of turning wheat into bread, grow some vegetables, cut them up, cut down a tree, get a fire going, cook it up and eat it. For you to get a burger you have to get in your car, drive three miles, yell at someone through a speaker, wait two minutes, eat the hamburger. Both chain of events result in hamburgers being eaten but one is a more complex all consuming process. It wouldn't be fair to say that just because the two of you arrived at the same outcome that you have had the same experience.
Atheism is not a belief, it is a lack of belief. This lack of belief does not manifest because an Atheist is missing something inside of them, rather it is a realization that something is missing absolutely and wondering why. If the Atheist is not pondering then they have subscribed to a belief, a belief that makes them whole and stops them from thinking. Faith is a belief in something without proof. This notion is acceptable in and of itself, the problem arises when people of faith attempt to moralize as if their faith is fact, which it isn't. If faith could be supported with irrefutable evidence then faith would cease to exist because it would be replaced with fact. Those of us who are handed Atheism are just as guilty as those of us who are handed Religion because it churns out the same dogmatic "I am right, you are wrong, my voice is louder than your voice" creeps.
When we were young we trusted our parents with making all of our big decisions for us, we relied on them in order to survive and thrive. But then we grew up into our adult selves and we moved away. Maybe your parents got divorced and perhaps you asked yourself "Did I every really love them?" or "Did I really know them/ did they really know me at all?" Conversely they may be thinking "Where did I go tragically wrong in raising this idiot kid?" or "I can't believed I spawned a pathetic little shit asshole." When we are young we confuse comfort and security with love and we don't really understand what is what until we test and scrutinize the details.
If you haven't tested it, then you haven't invested in it. The faction of Agnosticism/Atheism that I ascribe to does not reject Religion so that I can delve into my deviant desires without fear of judgement. My thoughts and feelings about existence don't give me the warm fuzzies or any sense of solace. For all intents and purposes, I welcome the love, I welcome the happy ending. I want to be nestled in the bosom of the universe and hugged for all eternity. Unfortunately, I do not have proof to tip the scale in that direction, therefore I am left with only what I can prove.
The same goes for the religious among us. If you believe because you have always believed, then you have never really believed. You were born into a house that you never left and until you do, your free will is just an illusion. Born again believers en masse have the most transparent agenda of all. In an attempt to atone for their life of crime or sexual transgressions they double down on kissing God's ass in the vain hope that he will reconsider. It is my opinion for real faith to exist that it must be tested and cultivated through suffering and sacrifice without guarantee of reward. Any belief system that is weighted in reward destroys the altruistic desire to be good for goodness sake.
Another growing misconception is that belief/philosophy is a team sport. Like the hysteria created when a collection of athletes from different towns get paid millions of dollars to wear jerseys with the letters of cities within 60 miles of the rural pastures from which we were spawned, the process of belief has begun to resemble a franchise mentality. "Yer either fur us or again us!" no questions asked, no explanations desired. The less complex among our human ranks have rendered mans search for meaning down to a simple two party conflict. We are all given hats, foam fingers and rally towels with the expectation that we will scream in delight for the home team and boo/hiss if we see a flash of the visiting teams colors. We claim that the reason we have so much contempt for the opposing team is because they are misguided, uninformed and soulless. We'll claim that our harsh judgement is rooted in the great sense of sadness and loss that we feel at the realization that a population of people are throwing away their lives. Yet, we are rigid and we refuse compromise, to do so would blaspheme the foundation on which our beliefs have been constructed. Instead we choose ridicule because as you know, there is no better way to persuade others to conform to your way of thinking than through verbal abuse. (Not!)
The most important thing that you'll ever think or believe shouldn't be handed to you based on your geography or the running trend in your familial line. Faith or the lack of it should not be a passive pursuit that you sign on to early on in life without continued evaluation. Salvation, transcendence or scientific supremacy cannot be bought, it must be earned. Further, don't poison the well of free thought with propaganda in order to convert people to your way of thinking. Just because you won the war and left an opposing army's city in ashes does not mean that you changed their minds. Their captured soldiers may elect to fight in your ranks but it is only the threat of maiming or death that binds them to your will. In order to change people's minds you must engage in honest, open conversation. Certainly you can hold the line and stick firmly to your values but at the same time you must truly be open to changing your opinion of yourself and all of existence. Only through communication and mutual respect can we ever hope to get to the nougaty center of how we truly feel and who we really might be.