By Ben Love ~
Let’s think about in these terms.
The known Universe is approximately 545,509,728,000,000,000,000,000 miles in diameter. No one alive can comprehend that. It’s just a meaningless number that happens to astound us, but we cannot really fathom something of that size. All we know is that the Universe is so vast it might as well be infinite (and perhaps it is---though this author does not think so). Somewhere in that immeasurable gulf of incalculability, a tiny little speck of nothing is hurling through space. This speck is so small and so inconsequential that it doesn’t even register against the backdrop of the Cosmos, no more than one human cell matters in the grand scheme all humanity. This little speck is merely one among the countless billion other such specks that populate the Universe, and yet to us it is the only home we will ever know. We call it Earth, and everyone we’ve ever known, heard of, or learned of has lived his or her insignificant life on this speck. To them, those lives lasted, well, a lifetime. To the Cosmos, it was the blink of an eye. Less than that, really. We are, in retrospect, nothing.
And yet, let us imagine that some of the insignificant fibers walking about temporarily on this tiny speck get it into their heads that not only does absolute truth exist; they possess the final word on it. Let us imagine that these misguided souls are so sure that they are right, they are even willing to commit murder on behalf of this “absolute truth.” Let us suppose also that these people derive their knowledge of this absolute truth through the obscure and contradictory writings of a book penned by other, long-dead insignificant fibers on this tiny speck. This book, to them, is holy because they believe it to be inspired by the one who, in their minds, created this vast, immeasurable Universe, its tiny specks, and we insignificant fibers walking about upon them (assuming more specks harbor life than just our own; a likelihood that this author endorses). The book in question, known as the Bible, originated not with the speck but after it, with those who lived upon this speck. And yet, to these zealots, this book is powerful enough to shrink that 545,509,728,000,000,000,000,000 miles worth of reality down to a manageable, communicable set of truths, rules, and expectations that should, in their minds, answer any question we could possibly imagine. To complicate matters, let us also consider that other groups of insignificant fibers have their own books, different from the Bible, which compete for the role of the “final word,” and yet to these zealots only their book matters; the others are just counterfeits. It never occurs to these zealots to humbly consider that their book is just as banal as the others are. No, their book is the end-all-be-all, and from it they must derive their code for living, even if that code advocates behaviors against fellow humans that should be considered appalling.
The zealots of whom I am speaking are, of course, the Christians—narrow-minded thinkers who would stuff this entire unfathomable Universe down the throat of their own archaic beliefs. Never mind the fact that they are insignificant fibers who live for the blink of an eye upon the speck that’s so small it almost doesn’t even exist. Never mind the fact their book originated from other such fleeting fibers. Never mind the fact that they have taken their insignificance and blown it out of proportion, so much so that they have the audacity to entertain the thought that not only are they at the center of this Universe, it was created just for them! This to me, would be like a single brain cell in the flea taking it into its mind that not only is the dog merely a stage upon which his drama is to be played, but that even the species Canis lupus familiaris is simply a cosmic means to the flea’s end and nothing more.
To make matters worse, these zealots walk an insane fine line between certainty and uncertainty, and yet they would have the society of this entire speck revolve around their beliefs if it were possible. What I mean is this: these Christians do not know for a certainty that their beliefs are credible. That’s why they’re called “beliefs.” You don’t have to believe what you know; belief is utilized only when you don’t know. And so, even though they’re not completely certain, they act as though they are and thus they campaign to have the norms and mores and parameters of society and culture bent to conform toward their ideals. They would guilt others into becoming what they are, on pain of eternal torment. They would war with other groups who diverge from them in matters of theology or doctrine. They would shun entire demographics for adhering to lifestyles their precious book condemns. And they would do all of this believing that their actions are justified, because the “Creator” of this speck and the Universe in which it is to be found is on their side. Hell, he even hates the same people they hate!
And so, whenever an atheist like me enters into a dialogue with someone like them, I have to go into it knowing that they are not open-minded. They might profess to be, sure; but they are not. They cannot see how disgustingly shallow and narrow their thinking is, because they are taught through their religion to be closed off to anything that might contradict their beliefs. In fact, to even entertain whether we atheists might have a point is itself a sin, and so dialogue will never be a truly level playing field. The Christian might be listening to your arguments, but he doesn’t hear them. He can’t. And he doesn’t want to. He is threatened by that 545,509,728,000,000,000,000,000 miles worth of unmanageable reality. He is scared to death of death. He is frightened by what he might not be able to understand. An unmanageable, open-ended reality is too horrific to consider. No, a small, manageable reality dictated by a small, manageable God is much more to be preferred. The Christian chooses, by his faith, a kind of incubating world where fairy tales are still possible, all things have meaning, everything happens for a reason, and good will triumph in the end. There is no room for any other possibility, no matter what the writing on the wall might say. Thus, dialogues with the Christians will continually prove unfruitful, because the atheist is, to quote the old saying, speaking to a brick wall. It’s a shame, really, because both the Christian and the atheist might be able to learn something from each other. It’s not like we atheists know everything. We know very little, in fact. But one thing we do know is this: there is more truth in this Universe than the Christian can ever fathom, mostly because he doesn’t want to.