Early one morning, as in somewhere around three, I was talking to a co-worker while waiting for the road crew to start work again. A piece of machinery had died, and they had another on standby, but it would take an hour or so for it to arrive.
“I don’t really believe in God,” he said in a near whisper.
As the only atheist most people in south Georgia have ever met, I was used to this sort of admission. In the four different offices I had worked out of in my career, three of them had at least one person to tell me their faith was for show, and in an office where I worked temporarily, two people sought me out to tell me they lacked faith.
None of these people were willing to go public with this information, and I wasn’t going to out them.
Most people who confess, or unconfess, enjoy their life the way they are living it. They like going to church functions, they like the friends they’ve met while there, and they hope their kids grow up to be part of the same community they are involved with.
They simply do not believe.
“I never have believed,” the co-worker continued. “It’s never made sense to me.”
And this is how it happened with me, too. I never have bought into the whole supernatural thing. It’s like at Christmas when you hear the older kids talk about finding presents hidden in the store room, or suddenly the store room door is locked all of the time, or some kid wakes up to the sound of a bike being put together on Christmas morning. After a while, Santa Claus seems implausible, and finally, impossible.
The problem with Santa is parents realize threatening their kids into good behavior over his visit works. The same holds true for religion. It’s not a question of actual belief but rather having a system in place to guide behavior. Sin is bad because God said so and that’s the end of the debate.
It works, to a degree, or at least enough people pretend to believe, and that also works.
The wild thing about Christianity is you can judge people harshly for not believing, and trust me here, being honest about not believing in south Georgia has no benefits whatsoever, is that the same people most condemning of atheism are the same people who have the most trouble staying faithful in the marriages. Adultery was common among the men I worked with, and some of them were the most ardent fans of going to church every time the door opened.
Oh, but no worries, they are forgiven.
Martin Luther changed the way Christians looked at the ethereal world when he nailed his writings on the church door. At the top of the list his disapproval of people being able to pay the church to forgive their sins. Yet what does American Christianity do but call people good simply because they show up for church? They pay to keep the lights on, to keep the widescreen televisions blaring out the image of the high paid preacher, they have a place to go on Sunday morning to pay to be forgiven for what they did on after work during the weekdays.
Nothing has changed since 1507, has it?