Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

The joke goes that a man traveling to Belfast was stopped at a checkpoint and asked if he was a Catholic or a Protestant. Learning that the man was an atheist, the guard asked, “So are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

I guess I’m what they’d call a Protestant atheist in Belfast, but I would say that, even more so, I’m a sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god atheist. I’m from the south (we can have a fight about this, but I’ll win; Florida is definitely the south) and it took moving 1,800 miles west to realize how much of southern culture I took for granted. I don’t mean the superficial things, such as knowing that the plural of “y’all” is “all y’alls” (which is awesome); I mean the deeply rooted, nearly universal conviction that some god is watching you and is probably going to send you to Hell.

I go to school with some great Christians — Christians who are universalists, who are trans*, who are straight but nevertheless are fighting with their whole hearts for marriage equality. These are great people. These are people who vote for good candidates and show up at important rallies. But sometimes I feel that this moralistic therapeutic deism has all the intellectual integrity of customer service departments at large, soulless corporations. If you are going to assert that your god is the god who created everything, you damn well better have a ready theological answer for HIV.

In other words, a loving god makes no sense to me. None at all. At least an abusive, authoritarian god makes good narrative sense.

One of my best friends from Florida is a fundamentalist Christian. We can be friends because I admire intellectual honesty more than I resent being prayed for. Her Jesus brought a sword. Her Jesus turned over tables and whipped people. When I go down there for the holidays, I’m hoping to get her to discuss an exegesis of Judges 19 — and I like that I can assume she has read it.

I don’t understand how anyone could devote a whole life to a book-based religion and simultaneously ignore entire chapters. Oh, I know that it’s done. And I know that liberal Christians are really happy with some of their explanations — some of which are totally awesome (Latina feminists who find the plight of the woman migrant in Judges 19) and some of which stink (the next liberal Christian who tells me that the Bible is “metaphorically true” is going to receive a copy of Moby Dick and an a pointed question about why he or she doesn’t worship that book’s metaphorical truth).

When people tell me that atheists can be fundamentalists too, I laugh. What is the doctrine to which we’d adhere? What these people mean is “uncompromising,” not “fundamentalist.” But in my case, maybe I am a fundamentalist atheist in that, if I were a Christian, I’d be moved to take the Bible pretty damn literally. Otherwise, what’s the point?

After all, Moby Dick is a better book.