“God lets thousands of people die in an earthquake, but he helps them win bike races?” Laura said in her best, her very best and cutting sarcastic voice that ended the conversation for then and forever, and made the Tour de France winner look like a fool. God did not exist. Which is really fine because that means this is all we have. That’s what I tell the Elders when they come around.
“I live each day as though that’s all there is. I have no idea where this day came from or if there will be another. And I sure as Hell am not waiting for Heaven.” Or something like that. I realize the Elders and Jehovah’s Witnesses who visit are sincere and concerned for my soul. I am polite, but firm. We are responsible for the world in which we live. I am focused on this life, not an after-life or another life. I believe in my fellow humans on this planet, not a deity. Why wait for Heaven, when we could transform our Earth here and now?
And faith? An atheist has more faith than all religions combined. If there is one tenant of any religion it is the ability to provide an answer. A mystical answer, a spiritual answer, but an answer nonetheless. The answer to where we came, where we are going, what we must do. Being an atheist is like flying on a trapeze without a net. It is the freedom and exhilaration to accept the unknown, and faith that there will be another day, another chance and someone to catch you.
I rarely think of God anymore. And when I do, I think that the idea of God has caused more misery than peace, more hate than love. Why do people thank God for curing their cancer when he allowed them to develop it in the first place? Why pray to be saved when God could have prevented the disaster at the start? I don’t believe it anymore. Nearly kills you to save you? I would rather believe that God doesn’t exist than believe in a God who is sadistic and fickle.
I lament all the Sunday mornings I worshipped a God who exhibits nearly every deadly sin. He is greedy, vain, selfish, wrathful, and envious. I don’t, however, regret learning about Jesus. His life remains an example of the best qualities of which we are capable. And, like Jesus, many a son and daughter have devoted their lives to others and have died to save others. I don’t see how God’s sacrifice was greater. “He gave his only son, so that you could be saved. Have you been saved?”
Yes, yes I have. It happened at dusk one January in Vermont. I was driving home with Laura. It had started to snow, a slushy slippery snow that had accumulated on the road. I was going down a hill and had to take a hard left. I stepped on the brakes to slow, pumping the brakes, but the car kept sliding past the turn and veered right nearly into a steep ditch. I couldn’t move the car. I didn’t want to end up in the ditch. We stayed in the car for several minutes until a car stopped behind us. It was our neighbor, Leonard Hammond, an old time dairy farmer. He tapped on the window and I explained what happened.
“Well, you can’t stay here. I’ll move the car for you. I’m kinda dirty and smell a bit of manure, though.”
He didn’t smell a bit of manure. He smelled a lot of manure. But I didn’t care. “That’s fine.” I said, “I just didn’t feel safe moving the car.”
Leonard told us to get out of the car and wait across the road while he turned the car around. We did as instructed and watched as he drove the car out of trouble and stopped beside us. He then went back for his car and made the turn onto our road. As I went up to the driver’s side window to thank him I watched the plow go over the hill at a good clip. It had a huge plow, as plows do in the winter in Vermont, and it plowed through the space recently occupied by my car as though it were a train speeding on tracks. Had we been in the car, the plow would have forcefully hit our car. There would have been no time to avoid us after the plow crested the hill. There is no question that we would have been killed or seriously injured if Leonard hadn’t come along.
So, when a religious type person asks if I’ve been saved, my answer is always the same, “Yes, yes I have. Leonard Hammond saved me.”