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Apr 22 2012

Why I am an atheist – Cheryl Sonnier

I’m an atheist because when I asked questions like, “Did Jesus really
come back from the dead?”, my parents said, “What do you think?”

I’m an atheist because, when given permission to think for myself as a
child, I compared the Bible stories with reality and realized they
belonged with fiction. Believing in the Bible, to me, is like
pretending that Lord of the Rings really happened. Actually, if I was
given the choice, I would rather believe in Gandalf than God, because
Gandalf is at least likeable.

Cheryl J Sonnier
United States

48 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    Actually, if I was given the choice, I would rather believe in Gandalf than God, because Gandalf is at least likeable.

    Plus Gandalf is competent, unlike Yahweh.

  2. 2
    megazeusthor

    Well said. Imagine if when we discussed Lord or the Rings, we couldn’t talk about J. R. R. Tolkien, or the politics of the area and time that he lived in, and his personal views and influences. If we could only discuss the Hobbit as if it were real — wow that would be awkward.

    We can discuss fiction and mythology from both the characters’ and the authors’ perspective. People who believe the bible is in no way fictionalized or mythologized are missing out.

  3. 3
    lutzifer

    another reason why LOTR is the better “bible”:

    it gives a good reason why our world is not magical anymore (because the destruction of the rings made the magical races leave the world for the mystical afterlife).

    also, yes, gandalf > god xD

  4. 4
    dianne

    Technically, isn’t Gandalf a god?

  5. 5
    Nick Gotts

    dianne@4,

    No, he’s one of the Maiar, or “people of the Valar” – angels might be a better description than gods.

  6. 6
    gardengnome

    Not forgetting the fact that Gandalf has a sense of HUMOUR!

  7. 7
    Louis

    KG,

    If it was at all possible to love you any more, your #5 did it for me. Anyone who knows Tolkien that well, which admittedly isn’t too profound, but means you’ve at least read the Silmarillion, is okay in my book.

    Louis

  8. 8
    dianne

    A society that had lost 99% of information about the 20th century and took LotR and related books as religious texts and began worshiping the gods in the Silmarillion would be interesting. But probably not much of an improvement over worshiping some Bronze Age character. Divine right of kings and evil races…nah, still not a good sacred text.

  9. 9
    Louis

    Dianne,

    But a society that had lost 99% of information about the 20th century and took Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World” as perhaps not a religious text, but more of an advisory one, would probably be an improvement!

    ;-)

    Louis

  10. 10
    pipenta

    Given the choice of realities, I’d opt for Discworld over Middle Earth. Not the least because I’d rather have a beer with TP than JRR. The fantasy world that really resonates with the headlines is Bas Lag from Perdido Street Station. That or maybe the Handmaid’s Tale.

    And they’re all fantasy, just like the bible. Only the bible is a crap read, whereas Prachett, Mieville, Atwood and Tolkien are good reads.

  11. 11
    Louis

    Pipenta,

    Please accept one internet for your suggestion of Discworld. Now THAT would be a world to live in.

    Louis

  12. 12
    Nick Gotts

    Louis,

    Well, I’m sorry to have to undermine your good opinion of me! I did read the Silmarillion a long time ago, but I can’t say I was much taken with it – certainly not enough to buy it! Even LotR has become rather a mixed and guilty pleasure as I’ve aged matured – a bit like gorging on junk food. I had a prolonged and somewhat testy argument with Walton here recently on its literary qualities. I consider The Hobbit to be Tolkien’s best work, as it lacks the overblown pretensions of LotR and Silmarillion, and Bilbo (in that book) is a much better-drawn character than Frodo, who’s a blank space. Tolkien himself was a reactionary Catholic, and that does come through quite strongly in his work.

  13. 13
    Louis

    KG,

    Oh noes! Heroes with feet of clay! :-)

    I confess it’s been a while since I read the Simarillion and all of the “history” books (e.g. Lays of Belariand etc), I went through a period of severe Tolkien nerdage between ages 16 and 20. My sympathies derive from that era. Anyone who has indulged Tolkien nerdage is usually good by me. To paraphrase a famous quote:

    A gentleman need not love Tolkien, but he should at least have broken up with him.

    I read LotR every few years for nostalgic indulgence, as it’s still my favourite, with the Hobbit as a close second. But I will definitely agree with your Hobbit Bilbo > LotR Frodo assessment.

    As for Tolkien’s religiosity, oh yes, it’s blindingly obvious. He was good mates with C S Lewis wasn’t he? If memory serves they created some sort of religious literary circle. Quick, Robin! To the Bat-Google!

    Louis

  14. 14
    Crudely Wrott

    Well, that’s a nice Sunday morning read.

    I see that you come by your atheism naturally, Cheryl. Organically. Honestly.
    Your parents gave you a wonderful gift. They simply asked you to think. You did and here you are.

    Do pass that gift on.

  15. 15
    jayarrrr

    After I read the “Silmarillion” I thought “You know, in about 2,000 years this could become a pretty interesting religion.”

    Same thing for “The Tao of Pooh” and “The Te of Piglet”.

    Entirely plausible. Probably how the Big Book of Bronze Age Faerie Tales got to where it is today. Of course, people would have to be willing to give 10% of their money to people who read the books to them and told them they had pissed-off Iluvatar and Gandalf was sent to try and make you behave…

  16. 16
    humanape

    given permission to think for myself as a child

    Yes. Beautiful. What a great idea. Too bad this was out of the question in the Catholic school I had to endure. I did, however, sometimes think for myself, and I figured out hell is bullshit, and I figured out the nuns who brainwashed us were insane assholes.

    Type darwin killed god in the google search box then click the I’m Feeling Lucky button.

  17. 17
    Jasper of Maine

    The Lord of the Rings is true because it has continuity and there’s a flow of events that’s just too compelling to just be made up.

  18. 18
    DLC

    The Lord of the Rings is Fiction?
    Heresy! !!!11!eleventy-onez !
    May the Valar have mercy upon you!

    Frodo Saves!

    no, seriously, he rolled a 20. I saw it!

  19. 19
    jayarrrr

    Frodo Saves!

    no, seriously, he rolled a 20. I saw it!

    But the Orc had a +30 war hammer. Frodo still took 10 damage.

  20. 20
    Matt Penfold

    The Lord of the Rings is Fiction?

    I know you jest, but there were a lot people recently who were surprised to learn the Titanic was a real ship than really did sink, and not just something made up by James Cameron.

  21. 21
    DLC

    Matt Penfold @20 : yes, Titanic’s real. and there was even a J Dawson killed in the sinking. . . Joseph Dawson, a stoker.
    With the recent centeniary of the sinking, I saw Cameron’s documentary in which he reconstructs the sinking again, using forensic engineering, historians, naval architects and even an artist. It was quite the show. well worth watching.

    But back to the evils of Denying Tolkien:
    Why do you deny Gandalf ? Why are you angry at the Valar ?

  22. 22
    rorschach

    A society that had lost 99% of information about the 20th century and took LotR and related books as religious texts and began worshiping the gods in the Silmarillion would be interesting.

    That sounds like the thought experiment by Sam Harris in “The End of Faith”, where he suggested iirc that if a global amnesia was to befall mankind, there would be no need to rediscover or reinvent Christianity for humans to keep functioning or survive.

  23. 23
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Cheryl:

    Excellent. The idea that the bible is fiction is so far outside the box for many, or most, Christians that they are thoroughly unable to grok the concept.

    Why do you deny Gandalf ?

    I don’t deny Gandalf. I’m just pissed off that he became an extremist. He used to be able to see things in shades of grey but now? Pure binarism — all is black and white.

  24. 24
    anotherplayaguy

    Jayarrr,

    Great description of the Bible. The Big Book of Bronze Age Bullshit

  25. 25
    unclefrogy

    asking questions is good then questioning the answers again on and on. I can not just leave it alone.

    For me I would also rather take “Middle Earth” as real than the self serving fantasy history of the bible. Hell I would rather take the stories of Earth Sea by Ursula Le Guin but thankfully they are none of them real but in some there are some worthy truths. Courage in facing your life and your choices, loyalty based on affection, kindness, mercy and honor not mere status.

    uncle frogy

  26. 26
    scaryduck

    Love the idea of Discworld. At least Discworld gods have sense of humour.

  27. 27
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    At least Discworld gods have sense of humour.

    The Abrahamic god has a sense of humour.

    Remember when god sent the bears to kill the kids who made fun of the bald guy? Hilarious.

    Or the time he made Job’s life absolutely miserable on a wager? Funny as hell.

    Or hiding all those fossils, in the right order, in the rocks? Side splitting.

    Or putting the Tree of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden and telling Adam and Eve that everything is good except that tree? Man, what a gag.

  28. 28
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    Brother Ogvorbis, don’t forget the hilarious Isaac episode. Yo Abraham, go sacrifice your son for me. Good, you’ve got Isaac up on the mountain, ready to stab him to death? WAIT, don’t kill him, this was all a joke. LOL.

  29. 29
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Or the whole, “Adam, go name all the animals!” and there’s, like, 13 million species. Most of which can’t be seen without a microscope.

  30. 30
    ralphday

    I can’t for the life of me read TLOTRs without skipping over the damn hobbit songs/poems, or really any of the songs (Don’t get me going on Tom Bombadil!)

    Every few years, even wore out a 3 paperback set.

  31. 31
    WhiteHatLurker

    #8 – I rather like this treatment of the “lose all knowledge but one book” genre. It certainly has more to it than most of the current religions.

  32. 32
    'Tis Himself

    White Hat Lurker,

    I remember reading that story back in the late 1950s or early 1960s. My father started collecting Astounding/Analog in 1946 and he continued until his death two years ago. I read a bunch of those stories when I was young.

  33. 33
    federico r.bar

    # 14 (Crudely Wrott)

    …Your parents gave you a wonderful gift. They simply asked you to think. You did and here you are.

    Do pass that gift on…

    That is what I did, hoping that my children would duly use their reasoning. But they preferred what I would call the easy, mythical way of praying in spite of the lack of reply. If, for instance, a near-dead relative or friend is cured, they attribute it to their request; if death is the “answer”, they bow their heads and explain that it was God’s will. They praise the Lord all the same.

    In all other aspects of life, the three of them are hard-working, helpful persons, wonderful parents; who am I to tell them that their, and their 20 children’s, churchgoing and belief are nonsense?

    Regards,
    Federico

  34. 34
    jimmauch

    I was also raised to not accept claims that are not backed up by evidence. When I later proclaimed to my parents that there is no more evidence for god that there is evidence for unicorns they told me that I should not say such things in public because they would offend the neighbors. What else I particularly noticed is that they never said I was wrong. Now that I am older and tired of having my life defined by others mindless superstitions I have now decided that despite what my patents said it is now time that the neighbors get offended.

  35. 35
    echidna

    I suspect that it is good, but not sufficient, to ask your children to think. From my own experience, it is also necessary to have enough basic facts to reason with, and a good understanding of critical thinking, the most important being that, as we know from mathematics, if there is a contradiction, then something is false or misunderstood.

    For example, Martin Luther was a man who thought hard about his religion, and was very intelligent, but got completely led astray because he took Paul’s anti-semitic writings as given, and went from there, with disastrous results.

  36. 36
    Rip Steakface

    But the Orc had a +30 war hammer. Frodo still took 10 damage.

    Frodo is clearly a rogue, he’d have at least +10 to evade. The Orc is big and slow, whereas Frodo is a fast little fucker.

  37. 37
    echidna

    Rogue halfling. I can grok that.

  38. 38
    Holms

    Person A: “Gandalf > Dumbledore LOL.”

    Person B: “A JIHAD ON ALL GANDALFISTS!”

    Every religious war ever.

  39. 39
    AJS

    If we’re allowed to have Earth’s history represented by a movie instead of a book, how about the situation in Arthur C Clarke’s “History Lesson” ?

  40. 40
    Carla

    These comments had me laughing the whole way down. Thanks for making my Monday :)

    I started to think something was up with my religion when I got more upset that Dumbledore died than when Jesus died, and when I hoped harder that Dumbledore would come back.

    @scaryduck (#26) I think, however, that living under the Discworld gods would not be so funny in reality as it is in the books. I’m not sure I want to be a living board game….

  41. 41
    Dubravko J.

    I always considered myself a Gandalfian. Much more interesting than Yahvehian.

  42. 42
    spamamander, internet amphibian

    Hmmm.

    Character of Dumbledore= gay.

    Actor who played Gandalf on the big screen= gay.

    ZOMG teh gheys are magic!!

  43. 43
    firefly

    Carla #40

    I think, however, that living under the Discworld gods would not be so funny in reality as it is in the books. I’m not sure I want to be a living board game….

    Agreed. However, I wouldn’t mind spending a semester at Unseen University… :)

    I would totally love for LOTR to be real, then I can finally go live in Rivendell.

  44. 44
    karamea

    LoTR fandom already has the sophisticated theology going for it, like eighty-page* essays on whether or not Balrogs** have wings.

    *I exaggerate, but only slightly.
    **Balrogs were also Maiar; just like with the source material Tolkien was drawing from, no sooner does an omnipotent creator make a bunch of creatures then a good third of them decide to rebel against him and go to the dark side. You’d think all-knowing creator gods would be better at staff retention.

  45. 45
    Ingdigo Jump

    Hmmm.

    Character of Dumbledore= gay.

    Actor who played Gandalf on the big screen= gay.

    ZOMG teh gheys are magic!!

    Reminds me of the joke when watching Farscape where a friend claimed the character Scorpious reached out beyond the 4th wall to steal the previous villian’s job.

  46. 46
    Cosmic Teapot, not the Antichrist.

    I started to think something was up with my religion when I got more upset that Dumbledore died

    Dumbledore? Dead?

  47. 47
    busterggi

    Gandalf?

    Pft!

    Conan would have taken care of the whole mess in one novella leaving two & a half volumes more time for wenching.

  48. 48
    Holms

    Dumbledore? Dead?

    So I hear. Same thing happened to Big G too… he just came back and got mad though.

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