As promised. Sometimes dreams really do come true…
Questions of religious belief — or the lack thereof — can touch every aspect of our everyday lives. The effect can be obvious or unconscious; powerful or subtle. And yet it is in these everyday applications where theology or the lack thereof can touch us most deeply: in our approach to commuting, to home electronics, to long distance providers, to auto maintenance.
And, of course, to plumbing.
The theistic approach to plumbing is well-known. Drains that are clogged or free-flowing; toilets that flush or overflow; water heaters that are reliable or inefficient — all of these are seen as the work of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent Great Plumber, who ultimately has our best interests at heart. The clogs and overflows, the scalding or freezing showers: these are seen as punishments for sins against God. Or as tests of faith. Or, if all else fails, as that last-ditch, circular excuse: mysterious ways.
But the evidence does not bear this viewpoint out. Even a cursory glance at the workings of the world shows that good and bad plumbing strikes good and bad people in roughly equal proportions, apparently at random. In fact, recent research shows that countries with high rates of religious belief are more likely to suffer from bad plumbing, not less. And while few would argue that religious belief actually causes bad plumbing (it’s far more likely that poverty and poor education results in higher rates of both), it is clear to all but the most fervently close-minded true believer that, if God is handing out good and bad plumbing as reward and punishment for good and bad lives, his systems and pipe fittings leaves a great deal to be desired.
Many theists cling to their belief in the Unclogged Clogger as a source of great comfort, and find it impossible to imagine how anyone could find meaning in a world where clean flushes and dripping faucets are doled out by an unconscious and therefore indifferent universe. But the atheist approach to plumbing is not only better supported by the evidence — it is far more effective as well. Atheists see good or bad plumbing as resulting simply from cause and effect in the physical world. And therefore, I believe, we are better equipped to deal with them: to see with clear eyes which of life’s clogs can be plunged, which can be Dranoed, and which must simply be accepted.