Religion, atheism, the Interweb, and margaritas

By Johann Galloway

Though there are bar & grills in my neck of the woods that have ocean views, fresh food and buxom staff, I usually prefer a particular locals pub when I’m in the mood for a stiff drink and good conversation. The uninspiring view through the tinted plate glass windows is a parking lot, but it’s the friendliest place around. And, of course, everybody knows my name. But they don’t know anything about my religious views or who I plan to vote for next year, because in this dive the first amendment doesn’t apply. House rules: Religion and politics are off limits. When the ego is bloated by alcohol, and when natural inhibitions fade away, these topics can quickly lead to uncivil discourse. Talkin’ politics can cause friction between friends, but when it comes to real resentment and rancor, the topic of religion takes the cake.

In the world of bits and bytes where face-to-face is replaced with imagination and fantasy, it’s easy to forget about the give and take necessary for successful social interactions. Condescending religious memes mocking atheism and condescending atheist memes mocking religion are graffiti on the wall in the neighborhood of social networks. (And who can resist a provocative piece of graffiti as they pass by?) Though I’m a relatively laid-back agnostic, I’ve fiercely rebutted more than a few threats of hellfire from sanctimonious virtual pulpiteers. And I have wondered how many of my friends from the locals pub have a spiritual or religious belief. Surely, it’s the majority. And therefore I see it’s okay to have such a belief, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect clear thinking and good judgement. Not all religious beliefs lead to flying planes into buildings or bigotry, any more than science always leads to honorable innovations and beautiful inventions (machine guns, mustard gas, Hiroshima, pollution). For some, religion is a source of comfort that helps with fear and anxiety in a chaotic world, and may even add excitement to dreary days. We’re not all wired the same: Some are more analytical (and naturally great at math), others may be more creative and intuitive (and better at language).

Carl Sagan said, “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.” And the reverse is true also. Someone that does not have that need to believe won’t be convinced without evidence. (And if the claim is extraordinary, then the evidence will have to be extraordinary.) So, trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced is like trying to persuade an alcoholic on a bender to quit drinking. Debate is essential for a healthy society, but what’s the purpose of the mean spirited rhetoric often spewed on social networks? Ego? Boredom? Frustration? Revenge? I’m not sure, but it may be worth contemplating. However, I am sure there’s more to life than winning an argument. I’m in the mood for a margarita; see you at the local watering hole.