Why I am an atheist – Bob Macias

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.

Bob Macias


  1. says

    Actually, I think Clarke’s 2001 is a novel rather than a novella, even if it’s a little small by today’s paving stone standard. I think the formal definition is over 70,000 words.

  2. pa747sp says

    I can’t help but think that Mr Clarke would be quietly thrilled to think that his work helped a samll boy to simultanously reject bullshit and embrace the beauty of knowledge

  3. McC2lhu saw what you did there. says

    If only there were more movies that could inspire the rejection of all things stupid in favor of the exquisiteness of nature. The old guard of science fiction has almost dried up, to be replaced by something that translates nicely into explosions and gratuitous boob shots, derivatives of already published works (plagiarism isn’t flattery, it’s hack writing and laziness trying to make a quick buck), franchise-itis and pandering to focus-group demands, instead of artistic and imaginative narrative integrity.

    I quit buying sci-fi and fantasy for a very long time because everything that came across the desk made me think “I’ve read this already, and the thing that ‘inspired’ this was infinitely better.” I still haven’t overcome the aversion, really. I still tend to just look for re-prints of the old authors at the bookstore.

  4. says

    I’m glad I saw the movie 2001 before I read the book, I’m usually let down if I read the book first. If I read the book after I like how it expands so much on the movie. My dad took me to see in Cinema Scope (wooooo) while we were visiting relatives in the Big City of Cleveland.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Clarke’s work in this vein started with a short story, “The Sentinel”. Kubrick took that and ran with it; Clarke then novelized Kubrick’s elaboration.

  6. darwinharmless says

    I was disappointed in “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. When he did the close up of the magnetic running shoe I thought, this is 1930’s science fiction. What a yawn. Maybe I was too old to really see anything amazing in that movie. And the fact that Kubrick spent a fortune creating that stupid obelisk just pissed me off. What a wast of money.
    Glad to hear the movie had an impact on you. I was past it. Or maybe the drugs had just worn off. Now here we are in 2012, and 2001 seems like an empty promise.

  7. yankonamac says

    Interesting piece of writing, Bob, thank you. I was left with questions though–you start the piece by identifying your anti-theism, but the story really just follows your route to atheism. From your narrative I can grasp how you’ve come to celebrate the life you have, but it didn’t seem like you fought through something onerous enough that you would come out the other side not only free of theism, but intent on destroying it. That is not to disparage of your struggle for freedom, or to suggest that religion was not onerous to you, but the interesting story about 2001: A Space Odyssey just doesn’t explain your progression from atheism to anti-theism. If you happen to come across this, I would be interested to hear how that story unfolded, or continues to unfold.

  8. Dick the Damned says

    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 …

    I still have the image of the rear view of the flight attendant (with the 24 jewel movement) sashaying up the aisle. Her beauty, & that of the music, has left a lasting impression.

    My apologies if i’ve lowered the tone for some.

  9. Lou Jost says

    Dick, that is the only scene I can remember (complete with Nancy Sinatra’s song “Boots”) from the movie, which I saw when I was the same age as our writer Bob Macias, 40-some years ago. I sort of vaguely remember Hal’s voice, and the apes, but I’m not sure if these were remembered from the movie or from excerpts shown on more recent shows.

    I was not even really sure the scene that sticks in my mind, and the song, had come from “2001”, but your comment led me to investigate, and sure enough it did.

    It is amazing that this one scene could make such a lasting impression, and I am fascinated to know that it had this effect on others.

  10. Lou Jost says

    Hmm, looks like my brain may have played some tricks with me….the song may not really have gone with the original scene …..

  11. Ant (@antallan) says

    @ Pierce #6

    Clarke collaborated with Kubrick on the screenplay; the novelization is Clarke’s.

    @ Dick 10, Lou 11

    At 8, I must’ve been too young to be particuarly engaged by those aspects of that scene! But I do remember being hugely engrossed by the whole thing.

    I cant remember now if I was already reading Clarke (my first of his books was Earthlight), but Clarke — and Asimov — pushed me firmly towards humanism/atheism.


  12. kreativekaos says

    Clarke, Kubrick, 2001 and its sound track,…. Ahhh, what memories!!!

    Among others of course, three of the most influential and cherished factors which bolstered my already deep appreciation of science, reason, idealism, the future, classical music…even to the present day. (The Lost Worlds of 2001 was an interesting follow-up.)

    Read The Sentinel much later on, and for a short story, found a depth of inspiration and sense of discovery in it as the seed of 2001.

  13. kreativekaos says

    Bob,.. good to see that those early experiences had the same effect on you as they had on me, and no doubt others. Thanks for sharing those memories, experiences and inspirations with us.
    It’s nice to know there are others out there who feel the same, with shared experiences to the arts and sciences, and how they’ve influenced our thinking and feeling as we’ve grown.

  14. mrevan says

    When I first moved to West Covina, that was a discount theater. I couldn’t afford to go to new movies so it was a place I enjoyed. Before I moved away, it had become a church. What a waste.

  15. marella says

    Interesting, this is the second WIAAA that started with young boys being forced to go to church hungry!

    I saw 2001 when it came out, and my main memory is thinking that it was in desperate need of editing and would have been three times better if it had been half an hour shorter.

  16. kreativekaos says

    Concerning 2001, a week after its premiere, Kubrick edited about 20 minutes out of the movie due to criticisms of it being too long.
    Yeah,.. there is a segment or two that I think may be too long for the actual ‘engagement content’ of them (the changing of the Alpha Echo communication equipment being the prime focus of those critiques), but a small price to pay for the overall movie, its themes and presentation.
    [Apologies to Bob Macias for dragging his account of his developing atheism into a 2001 specific talk.]