Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 7: A Little Old Lady and an Atheist Man
Time passes with the two of them carrying on this way every day. Then one morning in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted, "Praise the Lord! Lord, I have no food and I am hungry. Please provide for me, oh Lord!"
The next morning she stepped onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. "Praise the Lord!" she cried out. "He has provided groceries for me!" The atheist jumped out from behind a bush and shouted, "There is no Lord. I bought those groceries for you!" The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted, "Praise the Lord! You have provided me with groceries and You made the devil pay for them!"
-Cathcart & Klein (Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, 2007)
After outlining the benefits of religion in general as well as stating significant contributions from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam (in Part 6), it would be unfair if I skip atheism. Because not to believe is actually a belief in itself. Without a North, there won't be a South. Likewise, without beliefs in God, there won’t be atheism. The reason we don't have anti-gravity believers is because everybody believes in gravity—well almost everybody. Indeed atheism—while devoid of a belief in the supernatural, creed, sacred holidays, narrative, ceremonies and rituals—still provides meaning, spirituality and truth for non-believers.
Lacking a top-down organization, authorities, hierarchies, and theology, atheism has not contributed contemplative and evocative music as well as spectacular architecture in the forms of magnificent churches, splendid mosques, and imposing temples. On an individual level however, contributions from atheists cannot be dismissed. Contrary to popular belief—my dear parents taught me that atheists are bad people—not all atheists are savage nor harmful. (Sorry mom.) Admittedly, history is littered with tyrannical and dictatorial atheists: Napoleon, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Kim Jong-Il to name a few.
Nevertheless, there have been highly regarded atheists as well. Hippocrates (460-370BCE) is regarded as the father of universal medicine and widely credited for the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." Epicurus (341–270BCE) promoted Epicureanism "to attain a happy and tranquil life characterized by peace and freedom from fear and pain and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends." I'll take that in a heartbeat! Thomas Jefferson (American Founding Father, principal author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and 3rd President of the United States) drafted the famous sentence: "(A)ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Mark Twain (1835-1910) was an anti-imperialist and adamant supporter of the abolition of slavery and emancipation of slaves—while the Catholic church was conveniently silent about it. George Orwell (1903-1950) consistently opposed British imperialism, social injustice, and totalitarianism; while peaceniks Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) were adamantly opposed against war. While personally I would not categorize Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg as saints, in December 2010, admire them or not, these three self-proclaimed non-believers signed the "Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge", promising to donate at least half of their wealth over time to charity, and invited other billionaires to follow suit.
First, do no harm. Attain a happy and tranquil life, free from fear and pain. All men are created equal and to pursue happiness. Abolish slavery and emancipate them. End imperialism, social injustice and totalitarianism. Make peace not war. Give to charity. Believe it or not, these are all pearls of wisdom—not only in words but in actions—from atheists, non-believers.
Two separate studies even conclude that atheists are under-represented in the U.S. prison system population. In a survey of 1,916 prison inmates, American psychologist W.T. Root (University of Pittsburgh) found that almost none were nonreligious. According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1997, only 0.2 percent of inmates were atheists—while 13 percent of the U.S. population was nonreligious as per 2001 American Religious Identification Survey. Say atheists are darn lucky and seldom get caught, but what about the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) annually published by Transparency International (Berlin) since 1995? Year after year, the top ranked "very clean" countries (Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore) happen to be the least religious countries with high numbers of atheist-per-capita. On the other hand, the bottom ranked "highly corrupt" countries (Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen) happen to be the most religious countries with high numbers of believer-per-capita. Go figure.
Contrary to popular belief, non-believers have done less harm to the world than believers. Precisely because non-believers don't believe in afterlife, they have never been motivated enough to earn "bonus points" and engage themselves in savage wars, crusades, inquisitions, persecutions, airplane hijackings and suicide bombings. Indeed because atheists only focus in the present life, they don't give a damn about afterlife, martyrdom, heavenly rewards, and paradise—with or without the trappings of 40 or 72 virgins. Unlike believers, most atheists adopt Robert G. Ingersoll's view that "the hands that help are far better than the lips that pray"—as demonstrated by Warren Buffet and his buddies and the atheist man who paid for the little old lady's groceries.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter