We Are All Atheists, Every One of Us
On April 11th, 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams. In the private correspondence, the man generally regarded to be one of the three most brilliant founding fathers confided to his fellow founder and former President, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter”.
The observation is an interesting one because it points out something that many people never consider – a truth they go their entire life without even contemplating. We are all atheists – every single one of us – when it comes to at least 99.99% of the gods mankind has worshiped throughout history. We laugh at the idea a specific god existed even though, had we been born in that time, and that place, we would have been as likely devout. Billions upon billions of men, women, and children throughout history who sacrificed their time and money, who lived in accordance with the teachings of their god, who built temples and seminaries, who got in arguments about theology that tore families apart, only to watch the sands of time tear down the belief and it be replaced by the next derivation, often built upon the remnants and ruins of the first. Some of these ancestors were so devoted to following god’s law they literally sacrificed their children to Tlaloc and Moloch.
With every new god that arises, those who follow say, “This one is the real one, all of those billions of people before us had it wrong, all I have to do is follow this set of rules and I am assured of eternal happiness despite my present suffering” demonstrate the power of what amounts to a form of anxiety management. With the same devotion and conviction, they believe that their particular take on the nature of the universe – which often completely contradicts evidence and is based on what they were taught by their parents and what is common among their specific socio-economic group – will last until the world passes away.
Imagine if a citizen of Ancient Greece could see civilization now. The idea that Zeus is thought of as little more than an interesting historical remnant useful for art and sculpture would cause them to panic and repent. He or she would fall to their knees and beg Zeus to spare the world from his judgment.
It’s an interesting thing; the fact that even the most devout Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu are as atheistic in their convictions as Richard Dawkins.