Proving she’s no one-trick pony, Mary Elizabeth Williams demonstrates that she can be just as stupid about atheism as she can about Michael Vick. Oops, did I just prove her point? I’m so mean.

Unlike those who would rub what they want you to “know” in your face, Gervais has a gentlemanly, eminently British way of conveying his philosophy. He considers the astonishing number of animal species in the world and understatedly muses that perhaps the story of Noah’s Ark “isn’t totally accurate.” He refers to the Bible as “a dusty old book” that sounds “a little bit farfetched.” And in a highly entertaining “holiday message” for the Wall Street Journal this week titled “Why I’m an Atheist,” he wrote, “I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true.”

Of course, when other boogeyatheists like Dawkins or Hitchens point out the exact same things in more detail, even while taking pains to stress that they know and respect many intelligent believers, they’re accused of being condescending by reducing everyone’s beliefs to a caricature. Not everyone is a biblical literalist, you know! Some of them – like Williams herself, imagine that! – manage to be believing Christians without being tied down by all those dogmatic rules! May I make a suggestion? Perhaps she should take a moment to be grateful that there’s no church hierarchy with the power to violently punish that sort of heresy anymore, thanks to people who, uh, weren’t afraid to be confrontational and rude.
You know, you just can’t win when you allow yourself to get baited into arguing with someone’s feelings. She thinks a billboard by American Atheists is an example of “shoving your beliefs on other people” (as opposed to writing an essay in a national newspaper, apparently), which seems awfully mild to me. I see more aggressive advertisements for consumer products every day, but I don’t worry that someone’s going to think I’m stupid because I don’t care to own an iPad. But as we already learned, she’s vaguely devoted to some “spiritual” (of course) version of Christianity, so I get the impression that almost any blunt reminder of those who refuse to affirm her choice is going to be too much for her to abide.
Really, this sort of whining is only possible in a society where believers have long had the luxury of never having to be challenged at all. I get told by my friends that calling myself an atheist – in response to their own questions – is arrogant, and my repeated attempts to patiently explain the nuances of my stance don’t prevent me from having to answer the same questions again later on. I don’t complain about it; it’s just the way it is. Having a lot of unusual opinions and tastes in general means I’m more often than not having to listen to some uninformed blustering about a topic of interest or rude dismissal of something I hold dear. Eventually, you just learn to expect it, ignore it, laugh it off, or, if someone’s up for it, argue about it. Sometimes you actually even learn something by being offended, because it takes you out of a comfort zone you’d never get around to leaving on your own. But for fuck’s sake, how insecure do you have to be to be offended by someone who “thinks they’re sooo smart”?
…I left this out of the original draft of this post, figuring it was too obvious to need elucidating, but what the fuck; the holidays are for indulging in sweets, so let’s enjoy the scrumptious irony of a self-professed Christian complaining about pushy, judgmental behavior. After all, exclusivity is the entire point of Christianity — there is one true God and he had one, and only one, son who came to Earth to provide humankind with the one, and only one, path to salvation from sin. Just ask him, he’ll tell ya: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Oh, but that Bill Maher sure does smirk a lot, doesn’t he?
Yes, yes, I’m sure she, like so many other mushy modern Christians, would say that’s the sort of literal dogma that enlightened, spiritual believers like her have outgrown (which would probably sound awfully condescending to at least 40% of the population, but let’s not unduly worry her with that right now). But if you don’t believe in sin, if you don’t believe in hell (or, at the very least, some sort of painful consequences for rejecting God’s gift), if you don’t believe in the exclusivity of Jesus’s claim to divinity, if you feel that other beliefs (or a lack thereof) are just as valid and conducive to living a good, fulfilling life, then what the hell do you call yourself a Christian for? Why be saved if there’s nothing to be saved from? Strip away all the exclusivity, and all you’ve got is some deranged asshole wearing a sandwich board, wandering around making a nuisance of himself, haranguing people to heed his simplistic platitudes or face the brutal consequences when the world ends, which, by the way, will be any day now.
But don’t ever have a strong opinion or act like you know something. Perish the thought. That would be intolerant.