It all started with ‘What about the dinosaurs?’ By David Lubeck

By David Lubeck

My religious education started and ended at age 10. When the teacher began by talking about the origin of everything as detailed in Genesis, I politely raised my hand and asked “What about the dinosaurs?” The unavailability of a satisfactory answer led to more questions, and while my parents insisted I remain in the class for a while, it became a small war of faith versus reason. I never won the war, but eventually I was allowed to withdraw unscathed from the battlefield.

I have engaged in multiple skirmishes in this war in the succeeding 70 years, and I regret to report I have yet to win one. My bitterest defeat is my daughter, an otherwise bright and wonderful person, who is not only a practicing Jew but runs a Jewish nonprofit organization. I once stood in her living room wringing my hands while she lit the Friday night candles in her kitchen, asking myself “Where did I go wrong?” It was funny and sad at the same time.

In the course of the many times I have engaged in these fruitless battles I have learned a few things. They include:

1. Humor, especially sarcasm, is counterproductive.

2. The words you use matter. We unbelievers generally describe ourselves as atheists. That is defining ourselves as what we are against. It is better to use a word like “rationalist.” Then at least you are for something.

3. Questions work better than statements. All but the rarest believer have moments of doubt. Sometimes you can see them waver when you mesh with one.

4. Reductio ad absurdum does not work. It often seems to me a devastating argument, but it is always brushed off as nonsense.

5. Be polite and respectful. Laughing at the nonsense of believers may be natural, but it just raises hackles and increases defensiveness.

6. Be firm. “Yes, but . . .” loses points. The believer has no foundation but hearsay and false hope. Any concessions will strengthen that fragile underpinning.

7. The battle is worth fighting. The fantasy that this is a purposeful universe is more comforting than the truth. But since so often religion by its very nature goes to extremes that provide anything but comfort and provides excuses for all the cruelty that our nature can conceive, it must be fought and perhaps one day contained. The advanced, educated, industrial countries are slowly and steadily growing less religious. The United States is a laggard in this regard, but it is happening. There is some small hope that reason will prevail.

Having said all of the above, and without lessening the enthusiasm to bring reason to the world, there are times when we have to shut up. I was working for a hospital some years ago which was being acquired by a Catholic health care organization. I, an apostate Jew with a big mouth, was somewhat apprehensive about how I would fare in the new regime. One of my co-workers, a woman in her 50s, said something that led me to say something snarky about our new masters. It led to a brief discussion which ended when she said, with overflowing sincerity, “I don’t know how I could go on without my faith.”

I stopped. Nothing I said, witty or wise, could replace for this woman at that stage in her life, the underpinnings of her universe. However false it might be, this is what kept her going.

Don’t think that I gave up the fight. The day the merger was official, I put a large sign over my desk which declared, “The Delusion of One Is Neurosis; The Delusion of Many Is Religion.” (I have forgotten whom I was quoting.) The sign stayed there, unchallenged, until I retired 12 years later.

I really only had one run-in with the “Inquisition” in those 12 years. A nice young lady who produced the in-house newsletter picked up and reproduced an article talking about those who were delayed getting to work in the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. It went on at some length about the greatness and goodness of the God who spared them. I pointed out in an email to her that by that logic, the same omnipotent and omniscient God who had spared these individuals, by failing to act, had condemned the 3,000 to death.

I promptly received a summons to see the vice president of Mission, a rather formidable nun. We had a very spirited 20-minute discussion which ended in an armed truce. There was no further problem until I retired eight years later.

I suppose my point is that we must fight the good fight when we can, because we are very, very slowly winning, but there are times to back off.

Mr. Lubeck adds: I’m almost 80 and amazed to have made it this far, having broken many of the rules for long life. I was an English major in college, planning to be a teacher and write the great American novel. I discovered I was not patient enough to be a teacher and didn’t have the novel in me. I made my living mostly by selling things, then fell into the job that was made for me, hospital risk manager. I got to play lawyer without the bother of law school, bar exams, etc. I retired at 75 because I just couldn’t haul my tail into those 7 a.m. meetings any more. I’ve lived in New Jersey for the last 48 years but still talk, think and act like a New Yorker. I play bridge and chess and read like a fiend, mostly junk mysteries these days, but some history and politics to keep it real. By all means, let’s keep it real!

Freedom From Religion Foundation