Today we begin a new feature called “Know Your Enemy,” in which I interview, well, the enemy. I’m a firm believer in understanding the opposition so that you can then misrepresent them with believability, and that’s why I sat down with Bora Zivkovic, who, according to his biography, is “better known online as ‘Coturnix’, [and] writes ‘A Blog Around The Clock.’” In addition to blogging, he spends a lot of time being a “Jewish atheist liberal PhD student.”
That sounds exhausting.
Bora and I met in my family’s kitchen and I had my mom make us some lemonade. I was thirsty, and I had some real “hard hitting” questions.
“Why do you hate God?” I asked, squinting at him like Jack Bauer in the interrogation room.
“Which one?” he said. “There are as many conceptions of God as there are religious people.”
I admit I wasn’t expecting that answer, otherwise I would have thought of a witty response. Instead, he continued.
“I don’t mind, really, when people imagine God as Faceless Nature or Mysterious Power or a Sweet Old Grandpa. What I have a problem with is the Angry Vengeful God who, like Big Brother (or Huge Father or Enormous Holy Ghost) watches over your shoulder all the time, making you nervous and making you do vile things to fellow human beings, animals and nature.
“I don’t hate God as I cannot hate something that does not exist, but I am deeply worried about the people who are living in a moment-to-moment fear of a spiteful, whimsical, inconsistent God who appears to be suffering from a bad case of gout, and thinking that this God is talking to them personally. When their darkest wishes from the deep subconscious flow to the surface, they think it is an order from high above and tend to act upon it — act upon their darkest wishes! That is scary.”
I could just tell that after that speech, God was itching to strike Bora down with lightning, and I’m convinced the only reason He didn’t is because father just had the roof re-tiled.
“Yeah,” I said, sarcastically, “well are there atheists in foxholes?”
“Apparently,” Bora said, “there are two meanings of the phrase, both incorrect.”
“Is that so?” I said.
“I, personally, never encountered an atheist in a foxhole, but that may be because I tend not to spend much time in them.”
“And why not?” I eyed him suspiciously.
“As skinny as I am, it is really hard to get down one of those narrow tunnels, and foxes are not very good hosts.
“Anyway, back to the two original meanings — it takes more courage to die in battle if you know there is no Heaven waiting for you, so I’d argue that atheists are braver than the believers. They truly sacrifice themselves for their country, not asking anything in return and not expecting any post-death rewards. That is as selfless as can be. That takes much more courage than dying and expecting to spend millenia sleeping with the lion and the lamb, or sleeping with a bunch of virgins.
“On the other hand, atheists, being in general more thoughtful and educated, may be more likely to question the causes and reasons for any particular war, as well as the practice of war in general. Thus, being braver would lead to more atheists joining the military, but being educated would lead to fewer atheists joining the military. As we can see from the statistics, the two effects cancel each other as the proportion of atheists in the military is equal to their proportion in the general population.”
“Oh,” I said. “So the percentages are the same as in the general population?”
“There aren’t fewer atheists in the military?”
Bora shook his head.
This was not going as well as I had thought it would.
Maybe because I was flustered, I blurted out, “What about foxes? Are there foxes in foxholes?”
“Foxes tend to live in foxholes.”
“I see,” I said. “One last question. How can you say that a natural explanation is better than a supernatural explanation when supernatural has the word ‘super’ right in it?” I knew I had him here.
“Because bigger is not neccessarily better. Why do so many Americans fall for terms like ‘super’?
“Now, if you could offer me an ‘unleaded’ explanation, or ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ or a ‘sustainable’ one, I would take a second look, but supersizing does not impress me at all.
“The term ‘supernatural’ has such a corporate sound to it, like something invented by PR guys in the smoky backrooms in order to fool us into buying their lousy unnecessary products, or to vote for their unethical, duplicitous, corrupt political candidates. Isn’t that what Intelligent Design/Creationism is all about, after all?”
I looked to the ceiling, knowing if God struck, my dad would be so mad at me. Fortunately, God waited till Bora was outside. Now, I admit, I didn’t see anything bad happen to him. In fact, he seemed pretty happy. But one doesn’t necessarily see everything that happens.
It’s the nature of the supernatural.