I was sure clubbed this week. By two strange bedfellows. Atheists and Christians. The catalyst was a comedic piece in The Huffington Post, where a writer took a YouTube snippet out of context and created a cute, funny, mockery of something I said last week on CNN.
The original CNN story was about a mathematical study that predicted that religion is set to become extinct in nine countries studied. When CNN anchor Don Lemon asked me to explain these results I pointed out that as populations become more educated they tend to question some of the magical thinking in ancient scriptures and find that science has more answers. But, not one to ignore possibilities, I did remind viewers that science doesn’t have all the answers and that studies show that in some survivor situations “atheists die first because if they don’t believe in anything supernatural, they can’t imagine that they have supernatural abilities.”
This was live TV shorthand and the survivor studies I alluded to are “medical” survivor studies. I forgot the word “medical.” For this, I deeply apologize. It was also metaphoric language. I don’t believe in magic, nor do I think that God is this giant cop in the sky or ground control for our lives. But I do believe in having an open mind.
Survival and faith are not distant cousins. Religiosity helps people cope with illness, and may even impede the progression of disease. People recovering from open heart surgery are three times more likely to survive if they have religious faith. Black women with breast cancer have lower survival rates than white women — unless they are religious. Then they are much more likely to outlive their white sisters. In India, doctors scratch their heads as babies born to strict Muslim families in poverty have higher survival rates than upper caste Hindus with less religion. Prayer can help manage anger and lower blood pressure. And meditation (a new age version of prayer) can increase memory, self-esteem and empathy, and even slow the progression of HIV.
But the Huffington Post article came with a gift. Thousands of comments posted online or emailed to me from angry Atheists. Those who perceived me as a Christian called me “ignorant” a “church robot” and my favorite rude email that wove Christian and Sexist stereotypes together: “Your tits aren’t big enough for the ignorant things you say on TV.” I thought that dude deserved a response for his winning shot. “Dude!” I wrote, “I’m a D-cup! What more do you want?”
Reading those angry emails made my heart melt for hard working, patriotic Christian families who are trying to give their children a moral compass. They are so clearly misunderstood by “educated liberals.”
My favorite joke from the Huff Post writer suggested that since I am the author of THE BOYFRIEND TEST and THE GIRLFRIEND TEST then this should qualify me to write THE GOD TEST. Being a seriously good sport and being blessed by nature (or God) with a healthy sense of humor, my first retort was to create a humorous blog where I adapted THE BOYFRIEND TEST and wondered if Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammad might make a good boyfriend.
Then the Christians attacked.
Apparently joking about Jesus is taboo in some circles. That was the morning that my very practical twelve-year-old begged me, “Mom, please don’t piss off the Jews. I have a lot of Barmitzvahs to go to this year.”
Anyway, I was suddenly catapulted into the Atheist empathy camp. And I did some research. Atheists have organizations, ya know. And their websites are positively bubbling with love for humanity. They may not believe in prayer or God but they certainly love the planet and their fellow man and would prefer action to meditation — like they’d rather build a hospital than a church. My heart warmed to them. Sounds very Judeo-Christian without having to do time on your knees.
But what about that anger?
Let me posit this. In my opinion, there is only one human fear. It is the fear of dying. Everything that sends an uncomfortable surge of fear-bile churning in our stomachs can be boiled down to the ultimate fear of dying. Japan earth quake (We’re next!) My boyfriend dumped me (I’m going to die alone!) I lost my job (We’ll all starve to death!) They shamed me on Facebook (I’ll be isolated and eventually die!)
And one of the many roles of all world religions is to assuage our fear of dying. To provide a nice tidy answer, whether it’s an afterlife or reincarnation. That’s why people who follow religions defend their answers so vehemently and sometimes violently. They don’t want that fear of dying to creep back into their bones.
So how do atheists manage that very natural human fear? Many thoughtful people who self-identify as atheists manage quite well. They may use their analytical ability to create strength of character and trust that they are an important cog in the wheel of nature.
But not the ones who hit their keyboards and spewed in my direction. My words on CNN, however inaccurate or taken out of context, rattled the cage of a few thinkers. They hit a nerve. And the words in THE GOD TEST did the same for some Christians.
What I learned is this. Religious people selectively ignore science. Atheists selectively ignore possibilities. And spiritual people selectively ignore practicalities of life. Oh, and any club membership seems to come with discrimination against non-club folks.
Don’t worry people. This Saturday on CNN, Don Lemon and I will be talking about something we all have in common, sex.