Actually, I prefer to call myself an ‘anti-theist’, but that usually draws empty, quizzical stares or instant loathing and contempt, both of which can be disturbingly enjoyable. For my current and long-standing atheism, I blame Arthur C. Clark, Stanley Kubrick and Johann Strauss II. Let me explain.
In the summer of 1970, my 13-year-old brain was beginning to expand in ways my pseudo-religious Father was loathe to understand or accept, much to my delight. Each and every Sunday morning, he’d force my younger brother and I to walk the 2 miles to church for the standard hour-long Catholic service, even though he never went with us. We weren’t allowed to eat breakfast until we’d gotten home later that morning, which meant two things: 1) we’d each use our collection plate dollar to buy and wolf down donuts and hot chocolate sold at the church patio before services began, and 2) we’d take forever to get home, bellies already full, because we knew Dad would have a humongous breakfast of eggs and bacon and sausage and hash browns and pancakes and toast waiting for us and BY GOD we’d have to force ourselves to choke down more food than any single small boy could manage. Already not making much logical sense, by that time church and religion and all the holy-holy trappings were looking like a giant con to me, negative breakfast-related experience notwithstanding
Adding to my burgeoning distaste for all things holy was my rabid love of science fiction, and I inhaled the written works of Asimov and Heinlein and Bradbury… and Arthur C. Clark. Their words inspired me to think on an astral level, so much more advanced and logical than the baby-talk fables being spoon-fed to us at Sunday school. When I finally got a copy of Clark’s novella ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’, I read it several times before I began to understand the ramifications it had on my failed spiritual education. As fate would have it, the theatrical release of Stanly Kubrick’s film version was screening in my neighborhood soon after I’d read the book, and I badgered my Dad to take me to see it, which he refused to do.
One fateful day in that Summer of ’70, after a series of bad junior-high schooler decisions, an ill-advised make-out session with a fine lassie, a fall and resulting huge gash on the back of my head, I found myself with many stitches and going AWOL from a Boy Scout troop meeting. As the result, Dad finally relented and we found ourselves at the Eastland Theater in West Covina (CA), watching ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’. Little did I know that a film, a movie, a director’s vision would shake me to my foundation. When Strauss’ ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ began to play, those images of a sleek transport craft and rotating space station, circling the Blue Earth, a ballet of metal and science in the gorgeous black vacuum… it changed me. I sat in that darkened theater, big-eyed, transforming totally and completely, without Dad even noticing. I would never be the same, because I had just read the novella and now, with those mental images come to life in front of me, connecting Clark’s words to the spectral visions, big screen stylie, my personal path was forever altered. Within days I would go to church as a believer for the last time. Dad still says it was the worst movie he’s ever seen.
The more I read and learned, the greater my education of all things non-religious became more important to me. It has given me a grand and enjoyable view of my life, my inevitable (but not scary) death and the realization of how my conscious existence is the only one that matters. Anything that happens after I’m dead is of no consequence, because I’ll be DEAD, and my life’s energy force will have been absorbed into the cosmic cocktail that helps to power this Small Blue Marble, hurtling through the universe.