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The Sermon

By Carl S ~

On weekends, when the weather is fair, my wife and I go to yard sales and flea markets. Last Saturday morning we went to a Lutheran "charity" fund raising sale. While there, I was approached by a member who asked me, "Do you wear that cap (which has the words "U.S. Atheist" on it) to all church sales?" I said, "I wear this cap everywhere." She wanted to know how people responded to it, and I told her the majority of them either say nothing or are positively encouraging.

This lady told me it's a good thing I'm living now; I would have been killed in other times. I pointed out that atheists are still being killed in these present times. My wife, overhearing this, said that people are being killed for many reasons, even for their faiths. For example, the shooter in Oregon was said to have asked his victims, "Are you Christian?" Then, when he got a ‘yes’ response, he replied, "I'm sending you to heaven;" killing them instantly. Their conversation continued. How it went, I don't know, as my wife asked me to go pay for my headphones. I did, meanwhile sharing small talk and good humor with the others standing round. And we left.

The day before this, I read an item about the "Good News" movement, which often proselytizes innocent and unsuspecting children, luring them with goodies in public places. In one case, secular humanists got wind of this and warned parents in the neighborhood that their children might come home frightened, even terrified, because those well-intentioned true believers truly believe they will save those kids from going to eternal torment if they scare the hell out of them by giving them lurid accounts of what they and their friends are in for if they don't accept and obey their faith. My Wife found it "terrible" and immoral to do these things to innocent children. (That changed two days later.)

Ironically, the day before the reports of the shootings in Oregon, CNN featured the story of Andrea Yates and her drowning of her five children. She said that she was "sending them to heaven." (Note that this was the same reason Christian apologist William Lane Craig gave for why it was okay for the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanite children and babies: they would then enter heaven.)

Which brings us to Saturday afternoon and the ongoing reporting of the Oregon massacre, now including the live reactions of some of the victims’ parents and of the shooter's father.

Writing has left me with a discipline to put things together as coherently and as precisely as I can. Heretofore I had not been verbally clear in my reasoning. I decided to state my case without the use of pen or keyboard, with my wife.

On that Saturday afternoon, while the news played, I brought up the subject of eternal life. My wife said, “Is this going to be a sermon?" I told her that, "No. Sermons are what you get every Sunday morning. This is about what you and others believe. It is what religions teach: that an eternal life is all that really matters." And that's why killing people doesn't matter; you're sending them to eternal lives by ending their temporal lives.

I mentioned all the examples that I've cited in this article, adding the 35 Muslims who slammed airplanes into absolute destruction in order to fast-track themselves into some eternal-life paradise. (I did not mention the 909 followers of Jim Jones, nor the Heaven’s Gate cult members, all of whom committed suicide for the same reason.) Eternal life is the goal of religious martyrs. "These are the facts, not a sermon. This is what your religion teaches."

"Do you know that in all the years I've had letters to the editors published, every time I've claimed that believers really believe their dogmas and beliefs are more important than human lives, not once have I been contradicted?" (What disturbs me is the fact that she did not contradict me. To me, this Christian attitude is un-compassionate and mentally unhealthy for those who truly embrace it.)

As an atheist/humanist, I'm disgusted by religious propaganda that labels us atheists as nihilists, because we don't offer the delusional hope of an after-death existence. I know other atheists besides me who find life an overflowing glass. What do we mean when we say everyone is living a mortal life?

Living is what humans do when their eternal life delusion is relegated to the shadows. Living is what we accomplish and fail to accomplish for one another. Living means patting ourselves on the back and having regrets, too. Living entails arguments and reconciliations, being angry at injustices, and attempting to try and do something to stop them to the extent we can, sometimes over and over. Living is falling down and getting up.

Living is learning, doubt, apprehension, and getting back to our level of peace after bodily and emotional traumas. Living is knowing that as long as we live we can care. Living means seeing or imagining the smiles on the faces of those you've helped. And the fact that it's all going to end one day for each one of us makes it all the more worthwhile. What matters is what happens in life, for nothing happens after life. The very thought of being forced to live a life otherwise is disgusting to me, and if you think about it, is anti-human. Living loses its precious meaning whenever the eternal life belief dominates.

Recently, scientists predicted that the universe is running down. One day, all its energy will be gone and it will die. How arrogant it would be of me to presume I should outlast the universe! I wouldn’t throw away one second of my life or any other’s for that possibility. Believing an eternal life is the only one that matters is depressing. Anyone who believes in it obviously hasn’t thought about it. Don't gamble your life on it. (Is this a sermon?)

The following Tuesday, I told my Christian wife about a time when I asked my friend George, "Why aren’t there any Christian Scientist hospitals?" I said that he didn't seem to know about Christian Science. She was surprised by this. I said, "If prayer really works, you'd expect to find Christian Scientist hospitals everywhere." She said, "You wouldn't need them; in fact, you wouldn't need any hospitals." Was this a sermon?