So apparently Frank Newport (editor-in-chief of Gallup Poll, and recently author of God is alive and well: the future of religion in America) gave his book talk in Madison, NJ, and included a line he’s been using for some time: “There are no atheists in retirement homes.”
My mother-in-law is an atheist
In a southern retirement home
She reads Dawkins and Hitchens, and Dennett and Krauss,
And she sends me her thoughts on each tome
She’s a volunteer, there, with the hospice
So she sits with her friends when they die
Since she has no illusions she’ll see them in heaven
She just wants to tell them “goodbye”
She’s aware that her days must be numbered
And that death will arrive for her, too
I suspect, if she met with Frank Newport one day
That she’d happily tell him… fuck you!
Yeah, actually, every bit of this one is true. She sends me clippings from atheist articles in the news, was practically giddy when she heard about the Brights (I think she’s a card-carrying member), and read God Is Not Great before I did (actually, she sent me her copy when she finished).
On the other hand, she is a staunch Republican who favored prayer in public schools because Reagan did.
I think she has been an atheist for as long as I have known her. I’m not certain, though–I know that she has, in contrast to Newport’s expert opinion, become more vocal in her atheism over the years, in part because she no longer feels obliged to keep her opinions to herself. Once you have a certain number of decades under your belt, in her view, you have earned the right to speak your mind.
Newport insinuates that the fear of death–whether in nursing homes, or in the foxholes his quip borrows from–drives religious belief. I have to say, very few outside of particular professions are more familiar with death than my mother in law. She has been a hospice volunteer for decades now, becoming friends with people she knew were going to die. Many, many times she was the only one–not family, not clergy–to stay with them in their final hours. My mother in law has no illusions about mortality.
The wording of a poll has tremendous influence over the answers that are given (I’ve written before about a researcher who claimed that Americans were very accepting of atheists… but his research chose not to use the term “atheist” because so many people were put off by the very word); it seems clear that Newport has A) a chip on his shoulder and B) a book to sell, when it comes to counting atheist numbers.
I know it was only a rhetorical exaggeration, but a universal claim is disproven by even a single example. My mother in law’s existence is sufficient to prove Newport wrong. But I want more… I want the two of them in a cage match. Newport doesn’t stand a chance.