‘Schadenfreude’ is a horrible word, when you think about it. Not only do you feel like a pretentious knob when you try to use it in a sentence and offend roughly 90 million people across the channel when you inevitably botch how it’s supposed to be pronounced, when you think about what it means – ‘pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’ – it’s really not something you should enjoy half as much as you undoubtedly do when you feel it.
It’s without the slightest, faintest trace of guilt, however, that I admit the word ‘schadenfreude’ perfectly described my reaction to learning of the catastrophic meltdown (warning, there’s some pretty offensive stuff on there) of popular YouTube user and early front-runner for Twat of the Year, ‘TheAmazingAtheist’, earlier this week. While telling a rape victim that the man who took so much from her when he committed the sickening act deserves a medal for doing so is pretty bloody offensive to say the least, I also couldn’t say that it was the first time this obnoxious, arrogant piss-bag had offended me.
Take, for example, his line-by-line critique of the infamous ‘I Hate Religion’ poem that surfaced just the other week. Now everyone has a right to their own views, but the way the ‘Amazing’ one decided to take this man and his harmless celebration of his own faith and beliefs and completely rip into him for every single thing he suggested in a foul-mouthed, condescending and aggressive manner was not only disrespectful, but pretty damn offensive, in my opinion.
But despite his complete intolerance for any theological viewpoint or appreciation of any kind and the unnecessarily vulgar manner in which he puts his own thoughts across in his videos, they’re not what bother me most about this guy. The main reason I get so offended by this ‘man’? Because I’m an atheist, too.
I’m a young man who has given the mysteries of life and the universe probably as much thought as any of us have and I’ve come to my own conclusions about the context of my own existence on this crazy, beautiful little speck we call ‘Earth’. Or ‘Terra’. Or ‘Zemlja’, or whatever it is in your language. While I don’t know and doubt humanity will ever get close to knowing how and why we all came to be, I’m convinced in my own mind that it wasn’t because a supernatural being willed us into existence in ‘his’ own image, and I honestly don’t think there is anything that could happen or anything anyone could say to convince me otherwise.
“But Geoff, surely this means that you must feel religious people are all ill-informed, close-minded, stupid and backward people who all place their misguided faith in the belief of an illogical and outdated concept purely to try and help them reconcile the context of their own being and somehow resist against the cold, chilling realisation that the nothingness of death renders our very existence both pointless and meaningless, doesn’t it?”
Well actually, my rather verbose imaginary friend, no. It doesn’t.
What it all boils down to for me is that some people who label themselves “atheists” don’t tend to differentiate between the social benefits and problems that come from people having faith. When I think of all the friends and neighbours I’ve had during my short life so far, those who stand out in my mind as being the friendliest, the most considerate and the most respectful have all been people of faith.
Back in Adelaide, my next-door neighbours were a Christian family and you’ll have to trust me when I say that they are the nicest people and most respectable people you could ever hope to have in your community. They live ordinary Australian lives – drinking, playing cricket, watching footy at the weekend, killing large spiders regularly – but they are all regular church goers and are extremely active in the community, volunteering for charity service and working with the Salvation Army. When I think of all the non-religious friends I’ve had (who are the overwhelming majority), I can’t think of any, myself included, who have ever done anywhere near as much for their own local community by comparison. Also, while they knew I was a non-believer, not once did they actively try to persuade me to join their church or to read the Bible or anything like that. They never tried to force their beliefs on me or anyone else and I certainly never entertained the thought of trying to do the same to them.
And this is what makes me truly despise the term ‘atheist’. Or, more specifically, the concept of ‘new-atheism’ – the idea that ‘religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.’
‘exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.’
‘wherever its influence arises.’
Herein lies my biggest problem with ‘atheism’. Just as the nice young man responsible for the ‘I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus’ video was not doing anything untoward with his poem, wasn’t trying to condemn us or tell us how we should live our lives or who to hate, but simply expressing his own relationship with God, that was all it took for the ‘Amazing’ Athiest and many others like him to think ‘yeeaaaah boys! Time to go to town on this Christian douchebag!’. Because that’s what all atheists sound like, obviously.
Not only do I think that’s a shame, I think it’s worrying. With the non-religious people on the internet and across the world becoming increasingly more vocal about genuine concerns they have around the impact of religion on politics and pushing for increased secularism (which I support 100%, by the way), what does it mean for the future of our civilisation if some of those non-believers continue to go after any religious person expressing their faith in any context, like in this case? Isn’t there a danger that we’ll start seeing people actively campaigning to get rid of all religion in the world? What will happen then? Will that mean a witch-hunt against Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, anyone with faith?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fact that there are a number of religious people who really do go too far with how they act in the name of their God. But whether it’s al-Qaeda or the Westboro Baptist Church, surely any reasonable person can recognise that those people are extremists whose actions aren’t representative of the loving, tolerant teachings of the Quran and the Bible? The men who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11, who detonated bombs in Madrid, London, Bali, countless locations in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others, slaughtering tens of thousands of women and children and innocent men in the process, they were not Muslims – they were terrorists. It pains me to see how many highly intelligent people across the Western world appear to flat-out refuse to acknowledge the separation between the two and instead choose to view those Muslims who preach love, tolerance and acceptance of other beliefs and cultural values in the same light as those extremists with anger in their hearts who preach hatred and intolerance who anyone who dares question their own beliefs.
Ultimately, I think the increased discourse about religion throughout the world can be a good thing for humanity. But it depends on how this whole debate is approached by both non-religious people and people of all different faiths as to whether this will help humanity progress as a species or whether it will lead to even more conflict and bitterness in the world. While I probably share the views of the ‘AmazingAtheist’ when it comes to the existence of God, I know for sure that if you gave me a choice between a world without religion full of people like him or a world with religion full of people like my Australian neighbours, I’d accept Christ into my life in a heartbeat.