Monday, June 21, 2004


In 1963 when I was a young man at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, I read Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and was very impressed. I was impressed by the figure of Satan in the opening passages as, down in the caves of hell, giving a speech to all his demonic friends, he shook his fist in the face of god. He vowed eternal battle with the King of Heaven.

Later, as I wrestled with my own troubles, two divorces and many defeats afterward, I saw myself one night, in a sort of waking vision, as Satan, in that all my life I had been dedicated to battle. I was always shaking a metaphorical fist in someone’s face, judging them as lower than a snake’s belly and challenging them to debate. I saw myself for the first time as others may have seen me: angry, judgmental, controlling.

I was 40 at the time and at the lowest point of my life, facing failure on every hand and suicidal much of the time. I was giving up drink too. A good friend spoke to me about “opening up my fist”. Another friend described to me how her friends would get up from a table in the coffee shop when they saw me coming because I made them so uncomfortable with my intense anger.

Eventually, though, I gave up the religious idea of Satan. I gave up believing in demons and devils all together, and I found that giving up the hypothesis of Satan was the first step in giving up Christianity itself and, then, in giving up religion all together. I began to realize that for many Christians Satan and sin are the bases of Christianity rather than the “Yes boss, Christ” of Milton’s poem. They just don't realize it themselves. Some critics have pointed out that even Milton may have preferred Satan to Christ without even knowing it because he made Satan such a powerful intellectual figure (like Milton himself) and Christ such an obedient wimp.

Soon, I realized that it was Christianity itself which had made me feel lower than a snake’s belly and, thus, made me judgmental and angry and one who lashed out at others. Just last Sunday, on Father’s Day, I heard a minister judging the fathers in his audience, exhorting them to be better fathers, listing their shortcomings and sins. Judgment is so much a part of religion that I doubt the minister was even capable of realizing the effect he had on the self worth of those in his audience. Given that moralizing in all religions, how can any person escape religion with any sort of self worth in tact?

Later still, however, as an atheist, I took back some of Milton’s satanic behavior because I also realized that religious leadership is always trying to pacify people, to get them to bow their heads to authority and hand over the money to the priesthood. So now, I again shake my fist in the face of cultural conformity and in the face of conformist thinking. I always look for a better explanation than conventional wisdom.

Their conformity to powerful figures is why our American Christians have no trouble with a prig like Bush. They’re trained to bow down to unbending, rigid authoritarian types who feel comfortable to them, like their Biblical god in fact. They’re uncomfortable with human-like presidents and leaders who can admit to mistakes. They prefer an unbending sort of fellow rather than a Clintonesque type with human failings. They crucify the human and uphold the man who can’t recognize a mistake when he makes one. If there were a softy like Christ who did return, they’d be the first to crucify him, but, fortunately, none of that Jesus story is anything but wishful thinking. They’ll have to stick to crucifying their fellow men day in and day out for the rest of human history. As for me I’ll forever keep a little of the devil hypothesis in me and oppose the men who can recognize no mistakes and who seek to command us all to obedience.


As I read news stories about America’s influence around the world, I keep coming across the idea which some Americans express that America should pressure this country or that country to do as America wishes. Will somebody please explain to me why some Americans think we have the right to force any sovereign nation to do anything! I don’t see a written agreement in the world to abide by America’s will. We don’t belong to a world government that I’m aware of, and the Bush tyranny, as far as I can read, seems not even to believe in using the United Nations to any good effect so why should any member of the United Nations pay any attention to renegade American ideas?

As far as forcing the Saudi’s to oppose the religious people in it’s body politic, who are we to do that? Bush and his people want to force Christianity on all of us, so Bushmen, of all people, ought to accept that the Saudi government, for reasons known only to them, does not wish to oppose those religious elements within the Saudi borders which hate America and everything that America stands for. Saudis have every right to hate America if they want to, don’t they? Why should we expect their religious leaders to like Americans any more than our Robertsons and Falwells love Islam? Americans seem very arrogant to other nations because of this failing of ours to realize that we are just one nation in a globe of nations.

The main problem on both sides is the inability to be objective and to get outside their rigid belief systems to understand the other’s side of the story. It takes a really intelligent liberal to be that objective and peaceful, a real liberal to be that Christlike in behavior. It takes a really Christianlike atheist like myself to be that understanding of other positions.


"You'd be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap." —Dolly Parton

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