By Paul Krassner | May-August 2017 Issue
The Truth Seeker
It was God who instructed Bill O’Reilly to consider every utterance of “Happy Holidays” to be a verbalization of “the war on Christmas.” Whenever anybody claims that God talks directly to them, I think they’re totally delusional. George Bush is no exception. Not only was he told by his senior adviser, Karen Hughes, not to refer to terrorists as “folks,” but Bush was also being prompted by God Him-Her-or-Itself: “God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did.” As if he were merely following divine orders.
In July 2003, during a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Bush told the newly elected leader, “God told me to strike at Al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me, I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.”
Abu Bakar Bashir, an Islamic cleric and accused terrorist leader, has said that “America’s aim in attacking Iraq is to attack Islam, so it is justified for Muslims to target America to defend themselves.” That’s exactly interchangeable with this description of Bush by an unidentified family member, quoted in the Los Angeles Times: “George sees [the war on terror] as a religious war. His view is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know.”
Indeed, General William Boykin, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, said that “George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States, he was appointed by God.” Discussing the battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin explained, “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
Apparently, religious bigotry runs in the family. Bush’s father, the former president: “I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” And before him, there was Ronald Reagan: “For the first time ever, everything is in place for the Battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.” Not to mention Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, responsible for national policy on the environment: “We don’t have to protect the environment—the Second Coming is at hand.”
In 1966, Lyndon Johnson told the Austrian ambassador that the deity “comes and speaks to me about two o’clock in the morning when I have to give the word to the boys, and I get the word from God whether to bomb or not.” So maybe there’s some kind of bipartisan theological tradition going on in the White House.
But if these leaders are not delusional, then they’re deceptive. And in order to deceive others, one must first deceive oneself until selfdeception morphs into virtual reality. In any case, we have our religious fanatics, and they have theirs. In September 2007, on the eve of the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Osama bin Laden warned the American people that they should reject their capitalist way of life and embrace Islam to end the Iraq war, or else his followers would “escalate the killing and fighting against you.”
George Bush once proclaimed, “God is not neutral,” which is the antithesis of my own spiritual path, my own peculiar relationship with the universe—based on the notion that God is totally neutral—though I’ve learned that whatever people believe in, works for them.
My own belief in a deity disappeared when I was thirteen. I was working early mornings in a candy store across the street from our apartment building. My job was to insert different sections of the newspaper into the main section. On the day after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, I would read that headline over and over and over again while I was working. That afternoon, I told God I couldn’t believe in him any more because—even though he was supposed to be a loving and all-powerful being—he had allowed such devastation to happen. And then I heard the voice of God:
“ALLOWED? WHY DO YOU THINK I GAVE HUMANS FREE WILL?”
“Okay, well, I’m exercising my free will to believe that you don’t exist.”
“ALL RIGHT, PAL, IT’S YOUR LOSS!”
At least we would remain on speaking terms. But I knew it was a game. I enjoyed the paradox of developing a dialogue with a being whose reality now ranked with that of Santa Claus. Our previous relationship had instilled in me a touchstone of objectivity that could still serve to help keep me honest. I realized, though, that whenever I prayed, I was only talking to myself.
The only thing I can remember from my entire college education is a definition of philosophy as “the rationalization of life.” For my term paper, I decided to write a dialogue between Plato and an atheist. On a whim, I looked up Atheism in the Manhattan phone book, and there it was: “Atheism, American Association for the Advancement of.” I went to their office for background material.
The AAAA sponsored the Ism Forum, where anybody could speak about any “ism” of their choice. I invited a few friends to meet me there. The event was held in a dingy hotel ballroom. There was a small platform with a podium at one end of the room and heavy wooden folding chairs lined around the perimeter. My favorite speaker declared the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not take thyself too goddamned seriously.” Taking that as my unspoken theme, I got up and parodied the previous speakers. The folks there were mostly middle-aged and elderly. They seemed to relish the notion of fresh young blood in their movement.
However, my companions weren’t interested in staying. If I had left with them that evening in 1953, the rest of my life could have taken a totally different path. Instead, I went along with a group to a nearby cafeteria, where I learned about the New York Rationalist Society. A whole new world of disbelief was opening up to me. That Saturday night I went to their meeting. The emcee was a former circus performer who entertained his fellow rationalists by putting four golf balls into his mouth. He also recommended an anti-censorship paper, The Independent.
The next week, I went to their office to subscribe and get back issues. I ended up with a part-time job, stuffing envelopes for a dollar an hour. My apprenticeship had begun. The editor, Lyle Stuart, was the most dynamic individual I’d ever met. His integrity was such that if he possessed information that he had a vested interest in keeping quiet—say, corruption involving a corporation in which he owned stock—it would become top priority for him to publish. Lyle became my media mentor, my unrelenting guru, and my closest friend. He was responsible for launching The Realist. The masthead announced, “Freethought Criticism and Satire.”
In the words of the late Jerry Falwell—who once said that God is pro-war—“If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.” We salute, then, a few successful human beings:
• The individual who placed the winning bid of $1800 on eBay for a slab of concrete with a smudge of driveway sealant resembling the face of Jesus.
• The man who tried to crucify himself after seeing “pictures of God on the computer.” He took two pieces of wood, nailed them together in the form of a cross and placed it on his living-room floor. He proceeded to hammer one of his hands to the crucifix, using a 14-penny nail. According to a county sheriff spokesperson, “When he realized that he was unable to nail his other hand to the board, he called 911.” It was unclear whether he was seeking assistance for his injury or help in nailing his other hand.
• The Sunday School teacher who advised one of his students to write on his penis, “What would Jesus do?” Presumably, “Masturbate” was not considered to be the correct answer.
• And, of course, the anonymous authors of the following quotes from various state constitutions. Arkansas: “No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office.” Mississippi: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.” North Carolina: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” South Carolina: “No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor who denies the existence of the Supreme Being.” Tennessee: “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” Texas: “Nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”
Rick Warren, pastor of America’s fourth-largest church, told his congregation, “I could not vote for an atheist because an atheist says, ‘I don’t need God.’”
In 2006, the Secular Coalition of America offered a $1,000 prize to anyone who identified the highest-ranking non-theist public official in the country. Almost 60 members of Congress were nominated, out of which 22 confided that they didn’t believe in a Supreme Being, but they wanted their disbelief kept secret. Only Pete Stark admitted that he was a nonbeliever, and in 2007, he became the first member of Congress ever to identify himself publicly as a nonbeliever.
In the week following that announcement, he received over 5,000 emails from around the globe, almost all congratulating him for his courage. “Like our nation’s founders,” he stated, “I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services.” In 2008, he was elected to his 19th term with 76.5% of the votes.
In the 2008 primaries, three presidential wannabes raised their hands during a Republican “debate” to signify that they didn’t believe in evolution, although one of them, Mike Huckabee, admitted, “I don’t know if the world was created in six days. I wasn’t there.” He has also said that, “If there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment, and I deserve clemency.’”
Such western fundamentalists have been waging a battle against the teaching of meditation in publicly funded schools, as though slow, deep breathing is inextricably connected with the practice of eastern religious disciplines. What’s next, forbidding the teaching of empathy because that’s what Christians and Jews are supposed to practice? It was a pleasant surprise when Barack Obama acknowledged “unbelievers” among others in his inauguration speech. However, I don’t exempt unbelievers from criticism.
I ridicule officially atheist China’s leaders for banning Tibet’s living Buddhas from reincarnation without permission. According to the order, issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, “The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid.” That regulation is aimed at limiting the influence of the Dalai Lama, even though China officially denies the possibility of reincarnation. (I used to believe in reincarnation, but that was in a previous lifetime.)
China is a Big-Brother, slave-labor-driven, humanrights-violator, Maoist dictatorship, from which the United States borrows trillions, then proceeds to purchase their poisoned food, leaded Christmas toys, and “Made in China” American flags.
America remains a living paradox, where our citizens are force-fed misinformation and disinformation, so that we can continue to fund incompetent and illegal activities in the U.S.—even though our revolution was fought because of taxation without representation. And yet I live in this country where at least I still have complete freedom to openly condemn the government, the corporations, and organized religions that continue enabling each other to reek with greed, corruption, and inhumanity.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Paul Krassner is an American author, journalist, comedian, and the founder, editor and a frequent contributor to the freethought magazine The Realist, first published in 1958. Krassner became a key figure in the counterculture of the 1960s. We highly recommend the expanded and updated edition of his autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at paulkrassner.com
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