A minor ripple was made in the blogosphere last week when the accurately named blogger 1 The Raving Atheist, two days before Christmas, announced his conversion to Catholicism. Predictably half his readers greeted the news with shock and anger, while the other half greeted it with joy and cries of “hallelujah!” Though Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon predicted as much as two years ago that Raving Atheist (who I will from this point refer to as “RA,” as his real name doesn’t appear to be available anywhere on his blog) would eventually embrace religion, as he wouldn’t be able to continue reconciling his lack of belief in God with his virulent pro-life stance, some readers are calling bullshit on his “conversion.” I’m inclined to agree initially (though I must clarify that I had never read RA’s blog before this point)–this smacks of “social experiment,” one of those charming pranks in which someone says something controversial like “the Jews are responsible for the economic crisis” on a bulletin board or LiveJournal, then sits back and watches the internet collapse in on itself for a little while, under the weight of indignant protests and no small number of those nodding their heads and saying “Well, at least someone has the guts to say it!” It’s similar to trolling, the working theories behind these “experiments” being that everybody is either terribly gullible or a secret racist/anti-Semite/homophobe/etc. Borat apparently didn’t do a thorough enough job weeding them out.
So did RA troll his own blog? Initial evidence seems to point towards this: his “hooray, I’ve converted!” post consists solely of the Apostle’s Creed and a picture of a Caucasian Jesus that looks like something you’d see framed on top of a television in an old Italian widow’s house. He’s only made one post since then, in which he claims to be assisting in the publication of a children’s book about hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy-related condition that results in severe vomiting and dehydration. He hasn’t responded to a single comment in either of his most recent posts, and while the banner on his website now reads The Raving Theist (Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever), all of his atheism-related links, as well as a “basic assumption” that starts with “First, there is no God” remain (there’s also the matter of his web address). One would assume that he would offer an explanation to his readers for such a huge, life-changing decision, or at least make more than the barest effort to change the format of his blog. And yet, after spending some time reading back on the blog, I’ve come to three conclusions: 1.) RA’s writing is almost incomprehensible at times, 2.) he seemed to be wavering on the atheism thing as long ago as last year and 3.) the “pro-life atheist” thing is really, really weird, almost as much of a contradiction in terms as “pro-life feminist.” Given the second conclusion, now I’m no longer sure that RA’s embracing of religion is bogus. Nevertheless, if it is a “social experiment,” setting out to prove that Christians are gullible and atheists really are hypocrites, he succeeded admirably.
I personally identify as an agnostic, and agnostics get shit from both sides of the fence for our failure to make up our minds one way or the other. We acknowledge that organized religion is bunk, but just don’t want to face the possibility that there may not be something out there bigger than us. This is considered wishy-washy, cowardly, what have you, but there you have it. At least I’ve stopped referring to myself as “spiritual but not religious,” once I realized how stupid that sounds. I did my time in the Catholic Church (my penance, if you will) and too much of its tenets went against both my sense of logic and personal morality, so I eventually fell away from it. While I never made any sort of formal renouncement, I’ve been away from the church long enough that for a few moments I couldn’t remember the name of the prayer Raving (A)theist posted at his blog. Still, spending too much time pondering the notion that God might not exist makes me deeply depressed, so I try to avoid it. I prefer to think that He has a funny way of running things, and maybe I’m not supposed to know why certain things happen. To be honest, my reluctance to identify myself as either a Christian or an atheist mainly comes from my belief that some of the most outspoken representatives, if you will, of both sides are terribly obnoxious and blatantly hypocritical, and I don’t want to align myself with any of them. Truth? Y’all really aren’t that different from each other, save from that believing in God thing. Christians and atheists spend an equal amount of proselytizing and trying to recruit new “converts” to their cause. They both claim to suffer intolerance for their beliefs, or lack thereof, on a daily basis yet exhibit an astonishing lack of tolerance towards others. Christians claim atheists are “lost,” while atheists claim Christians are merely stupid or, at best, naive. Christians point at the Bible as proof of God, atheists worship at the altar of science. Christians like to threaten atheists with the notion of Hell for unbelievers, while atheists enjoy taunting Christians about the “invisible sky fairy.” In 2008 Ben Stein appeared in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a film lamenting the failure of public schools in the US to teach intelligent design, while Bill Maher starred in Religulous, in which he “exposes” Christians as uneducated hicks; both films only resulted in reinforcing the fact that Stein and Maher are insufferably smug and self-congratulatory. Both sides love “pwning,” as the kids call it, the other side. It’s not good enough for either side to take a live and let live, “you have your beliefs and I have mine” stance, instead it’s unconscionable that someone may think differently from you. Tell me, where is the real difference?
Let me clarify, I’m not painting all Christians and atheists with the same brush, just those who are under the impression that they’re the designated spokespersons for their cause. Stridency and intolerance is ugly in all forms, no matter how right you think you are. I’ll likely keep an eye on Raging (A)theist’s blog for the next couple of days, mainly to see if this did turn out to be some sort of not entirely original prank. Either way, I’d like to see how he addresses his now presumably former friends and readers who, without waiting for an explanation on his part, immediately turned on him in a flurry of name-calling and accusations that he must have been brainwashed. This would seem to take credence away from the idea that atheists are more rational and level-headed than Christians. On the other hand, his Christian readers just accepting this “conversion” without some degree of dubiousness, despite the fact that one of the links on his page still reads “Godidiot of the Week,” reinforces the naivete of which they’re so often accused. I may not be sure of what I believe in terms of God, but I’m pretty sure that much of what you read on the internet is largely bullshit. That seems to be the safer, more rational bet.
1I almost misspelled this as “blooger,” which for some reason made me giggle.