This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Grief Without God

zoro's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by zoro

Although my story certainly isn't so moving as Carol's, perhaps if I share "the rest of the story", then the reluctance of so many "nonbelievers" to "come out of the closet" (at least in the U.S.) may seem a little more "reasonable" -- and maybe those who choose to do so will be able to choose their paths more wisely, profiting from my mistakes.

And since the story is rather long, let me put the "punch line" at the outset: in many cases, "coming out" can be dangerous (for oneself and one's family). Cases have been mentioned on this website dealing with damages to one's career as a result of "coming out"; certainly there have been cases of physical harm from "religious kooks" (e.g., John Lennon and of course all the victims of Muslim fanatics); but in my case, with my now being retired and not particularly worried about my death, my concern is with possible repercussions to my children and grandchildren. Thus, although of course I agree that the more who "come out", then the safer it'll be for all of us, yet I consider it to be immoral for me to jeopardize the financial and physical well being of my children and grandchildren to benefit others. Such must be their choices; not mine -- and my grandchildren are too young to make that choice by themselves. Therefore, I continue to remain in the closet, using "zoro", here, and as author of the book posted at my website, I use the pseudonym "A. Zoroaster". But maybe others can identify better approaches for themselves.

Now for the story. I won't go back to the beginning; I sketch that in the Preface of my book (at http://zenofzero.net). Instead, I'll start with something I read (a few months ago) at the Brights homepage (http://www.brightsonline.net/) dealing with the National Public Radio's (NPR's) "This I believe" series. Moved by some of the "essays" that I read (at http://thisibelieve.org/index.php), I submitted the following (restricted to 500 words) to NPR.

****

I don't remember what I was doing when I learned that my oldest child had crashed his car. Most is just a blur. But I do remember that, during the subsequent week, I totally rejected "belief" in God, replacing it with more appreciation for human accomplishments.

During the 30-or-so years since I had refused to go to church any longer, I hadn't given the "God idea" much thought: I was too busy getting my degrees, raising my family, working in science, and so on. What rekindled my thoughts about God was an ignorant cleric who came around to the waiting room outside the intensive-care unit, where I waited days and nights for my son to regain consciousness.

Just as I had seen him do to others, he came to me and asked: "Would you like to pray with me for your son's recovery?" Angrily, I said "No." To me he seemed like a vulture, swooping down to devour the most helpless prey. Everyone in that waiting room was stressed to the limit.

Sitting there, hour after hour, I wondered: should I give in? Should I pray to God for my son's life? I remember my conclusion: "No. The 'God idea' is stupid. It doesn't have a shred of evidence to support it. If I give in and pray, I'd be abandoning science."

Within about an hour, the doctor came to me and said: "Your son has regained consciousness" – and he added: "Thank God." That blew me away: not only because my son would live, but because of that stupid "Thank God."

It wasn't God who should be thanked. Thanks go to the person who saw my son's car go into the irrigation ditch and immediately called 911, to the rescuers (one of whom jumped into the ditch to hold my son's bleeding head above the water, so he wouldn't drown), to the ambulance team, to the doctors and nurses, and so on: to the inventors of the telephone and the automobile, to all the other humans who had created everything from sirens to good roads, to a public knowing what to do when they hear an ambulance, to the developers of all the instruments and capabilities in the hospital, to the inventors and producers of electrical power, and so on, on and on.

I remember telling my other children, while driving home from the hospital the next day, that the only god that should be thanked is the "Human GOD" – an acronym for "Human Greatness On Demand."

During the subsequent quarter century, frequently I've been disturbed by how much harm has come from the ignorant "god idea" – and yet, more frequently, I've been thankful for how much help has come from human intelligence, kindness, bravery, and perseverance.

Think of 9/11 and think of the future. What's needed is not a war on terror but to continue the battle against ignorance, epitomized by the "god idea".

****

Now, for "the rest of the story" (as Paul Harvey would say). Subsequently, our local NPR station contacted me, as shown by the following e-mail (with identities removed):

****

Hello there,

The producers of This I Believe have forwarded us the scripts that have
come from [the local city] that they like, but cannot fit into the national
broadcast, they have encouraged us to use the essays on air and we plan to
do that before the end of the year. We like to invite you to record the
essay with us, but we'd also like to go a bit further and interview you so
we can mix the two elements into something more than just the essay.

Is this something you may be interested in? If so, please contact me so we
can set up a time to have you read the essay over the phone.

****

I talked to my children about the possibility of my agreeing to the interview, and although the idea didn't bother any of them, even my oldest granddaughter (who is 16) couldn't seem to make up her mind -- and it seemed inappropriate for me even to ask the younger ones. So, my decision was as described in the following e-mail, sent back to our local NPR station.

******

Thank you for your recent invitations to record my little "essay" and to be interviewed.

I've given your invitations some thought and during the Thanksgiving break, discussed possibilities with family members. Let me summarize this way:

• Given that there have been so many violent offenses against "atheists" ("nonbelievers", "infidels", etc.) -- undoubtedly stimulated by the injunctions to kill them that are found in various "holy books", including the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon,

• Given such stupid statements as the first President Bush's "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God", and

• Given the recent "hate mail" including "death threats" received by such "atheists" as Michael Newdow, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Salman Rushdie, and many others,

then I assume that you'll understand why I'm reluctant to accept your invitations, both for my own safety and for the safety of my family.

On the other hand, I think that the reluctance (even fear) of "Brights" to "come out of the closet" is, itself, an important, "news-worthy" story -- reflecting a serious social problem and one that I'd like to try to help solve. To be blunt, any society is sick when the well being of people is threatened if they express their opinions about something as seemingly esotoric as how life began and how the universe was created. After all, those are "scientific questions" and, therefore, should be "off limits" to all religions! In addition, there is the social question: is it desirable to have scientific questions settled by slick lawyers in courts, weapons in the streets, and the return of the torture rack? Besides, in reality, there are no atheists: we just think that, given the odds and the options, Pascal's wager is a foolish bet.

Consequently, my conclusion is this: I'd be willing to accept your invitations -- provided that my anonymity is preserved, e.g., through my use of the pseudonym [xxx xxxxxx]… If this is agreeable to you, then please contact me...

*****

In response to that, I received the following e-mail -- undoubtedly meant NOT for me but for others at the local NPR station.

*****

You gotta READ THIS!!!!!!! Um...do we really want this guy to do our "This
I believe?" Kinda odd.

*****

After responding to the author of that note and contacting the station manager, the Director of Programming and Assistant General Manager's response was as follows.

****

XXX [the station manager] passed along your note for my response. Please accept our apologies that one of our employees was careless in both her response and her use of e-mail.

Given that you appear to have some detailed concerns about how the content of your original essay might be received by listeners, then perhaps it is best if we close our communication on this topic.

****

To me that suggested the Program Director, also, wanted nothing to do with me or the topic. My response was twofold. One was to respond to the e-mail as follows.

****

Thank you for your response. I agree: it's best to close discussion on the topic. In this closing communication, however, perhaps you both may be interested in the following two thoughts.

1. Yesterday (with my continued writing on my current book thwarted by my anger), I spent some time looking into the origin of the This I Believe series, and found the following quotations from its founder, Edward R. Murrow, to be "inspiring":

This I Believe.

By that name, we present the personal philosophies of thoughtful men and women in all walks of life. In this brief space, a banker or a butcher, a painter or a social worker, people of all kinds who need have nothing more in common than integrity, a real honesty, will write about the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives.

Except for those who think in terms of pious platitudes or dogma or narrow prejudice (and those thoughts we aren't interested in), people don't speak their beliefs easily, or publicly...

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it...

If we confuse dissent with disloyalty – if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric, or unorthodox – if we deny the essence of racial equality then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the… confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought...

I have always been on the side of the heretics against those who burned them, because the heretics so often turned out to be right. Dead, but right...

Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information...

No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.


2. An additional idea of his (copied below) suggested something else to me. His statement is:

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising, and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales, or show business. But by the nature of the coporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this.

I have no experience with what he describes, but upon reconsidering YYYY's

You gotta READ THIS!!!!!!! Um...do we really want this guy to do our "This I believe?" Kinda odd.

my thought was this: print, radio, and television reporters, editors, directors, and executives consider themselves the "gate keepers" of communications -- as they are -- but all the walls have been breached by the internet!

So, in concluding my communications with [your radio station], I'll now get back to working on my book -- which I'll soon "publish" -- on the internet!

*****

My second response was to proceed directly to putting my (draft) book on the internet (even though I hadn't originally planned to do so until it was finished), posting an additional chapter every week, i.e., continuing at the rate at which I had been sending chapters (or letters) to my 16-year-old granddaughter during the prior 30 weeks.

And I apologize for the length of all the above, but maybe it'll help some other people who are wrestling with the questions "When will it be safe to come out?" and "How?"

Sun, 28 Jan 2007 06:37:00 UTC | #17519