"No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country."
~ Alexis de Tocqueville
Can one be an atheist and an Episcopalian? Apparently the answer is yes, according to a recent news story about a small group of enthusiastic Episcopalians in Washington, D.C. who love the ritual, staging and drama of the church but just don't believe in god. I knew that the Unitarians were tolerant about matters of belief, but Episcopalians? But then I remembered my own experience with Episcopalian tolerance.
I grew up in an Episcopalian family. Everyone went to church. Everyone believed in God - or seemed to. I did have some doubts, but mostly I was apathetic not atheistic at the time. It all seemed the very epitome of Norman Rockwell American Christianity. There were no atheists there that I knew of, or heard of. The very idea of an atheist in church seemed ludicrous. It still seems a bit weird.
My own falling away from faith and the church was gradual but fairly complete by the time of my first marriage, scheduled for the local Episcopal church. Disliking subterfuge and hypocrisy, I gently informed Father Gary of my disbelief. He took it quite well (this was in the sixties) and, after assuring himself of my good moral character and sincere commitment to the marriage, said my lack of belief didn't disqualify me from a church wedding. "Cool," I thought; these Episcopalians were great folks. They, or Father Gary at least, seemed to be demonstrating the best aspects of Christian magnaminity. I later learned that Father Gary was eased out of that church; seemed he was a little too much of a social activist for that conservative congregation.
I hope the Washington D.C. congregation is tolerant of atheists in their midst because there does seem to be a need in many people for pageantry and ceremony. And the high churches like the Catholics and Episcopalians are full of it (pun intended). The churches also provide a social outlet and a rationale for life that many find lacking in a secular existence. It is a shame that they have to believe in fairy tales and other less salubrious things that go along with church attendance. Perhaps those Washington, D.C. atheists are on to something. Could they be the beginning of a richly ceremonial, non-doctrinaire church?
"Try God," said the little chrome-plastic sign on the rear of the smoky, grey Honda. It wasn't a bumper sticker but one of those three dimensional plastic stick-on things that try to look like they are part of the chrome trim of the car. You know the kind - on Christian cars (have these cars been baptized?) they are usually shaped like a fish or a dove.
This one was different which is probably why it caught my attention. Maybe it was just that I was bored. We were in the middle of a two-hour drive through mind-numbing familiar territory and my eyes were desperate for anything new.
My first thought was, "Another Christian proclaiming their belief." But then I remembered another meaning of the word "try." "Try God," why? What has he done that he should be brought to trial for? My mind blossomed with a cornucopia of deliciously ironic thoughts.
God did flood the earth, they say, drowning almost every living person along with almost all the flora and fauna. And he did it deliberately! That, to me, sounds like first degree murder at the very least. It probably even qualifies as genocide. These are very serious charges. They overshadow all the other crimes (like inciting murder, turning people to salt, destroying towns, etc., etc., ad nauseam) detailed in that lengthy indictment known as the Bible.
So I guess we really should "Try God." But this raises the question of who is "we?" I Assume that the Pope would be in charge of the defence, but who will speak for the people?
Should we excuse Christians from jury duty because of a presumed bias? Should Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, and all other religionists be excluded for the same reason? How about atheists? And where will this trial take place, under what legal jurisdiction?
Then there is the issue of sentencing should god be found guilty. What punishment should (could) be meted out? A fine is obviously too light a punishment for such heinous crimes, but if that were what the jury chose what would the fine be? And where would god be incarcerated should that be the jury's decision?
Then there is the matter of capital punishment, surely a fit punishment for such an arch criminal, but how do we do it? After all, Nietzsche is dead so he cannot help.
See what fun you can have on a boring trip? In writing this I've been playing around with the topic of trying god, but we might consider the idea as a semi-serious subject for an AOF event. Perhaps we could interest some McGeorge law students (or faculty) in the idea of staging a mock trial; then we really could "Try God."