Tim Padgett:

Yes, Christians believe that Jesus’ nativity was a virgin birth and that he rose from the dead on Easter. But if you were to show most Christians incontrovertible scientific proof that those miracles didn’t occur, they would shrug — because their faith means more to them than that. Because in the end, what they have faith in is the redemptive power of the story. In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, an agnostic says to his Catholic friend, “You can’t seriously believe it all … I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things simply because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

I’m willing to bet it’s how most believers believe. Before Hitchens died at 62 from esophageal cancer, he made a point of declaring he was certain no heaven awaited him. But that swipe at the faithful always misses the point. Most of us don’t believe in God because we think it’s a ticket to heaven. Rather, our belief in God — our belief in the living ideal of ourselves, which is something even atheists ponder — instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness (which is how people get through the wars and natural disasters I cover).

I don’t see a need to dwell on the many ludicrous points contained here, because honestly, I’m just in a hurry to to take that bet before he changes his mind. My life savings are on the table whenever you’re ready, Tim. “Most” believers, yes? Before we shake on it, you might want to take a moment and consider that not everyone is an educated, cosmopolitan, sophisticated fellow like yourself, and you might be unpleasantly surprised at how many of the great unwashed take their “stories” completely seriously.

It’s atheists who are arrogant, though, remember. And yet you see this so often from the sophisticated believers, this blithe, serene self-assurance that the author or speaker has been appointed to represent everyone else’s thoughts and feelings. I tried last night to start reading a book I picked up at a library sale last month, Poetry As Spiritual Practice, by Robert McDowell. This was in the introduction:

All human beings—Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, animist or atheist—seek spirituality in their daily lives whether they know it or not. We seek truths greater than ourselves, our individual beings.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise to you that I already gave up on the book. No, really, he just gets worse from there. Please, take my word on it.

It’s not just that “spirituality”, that endlessly elastic word that manages to be simultaneously ubiquitous and meaningless, is defined here as “anything other than strict solipsism”, apparently; it’s the eye-popping, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping way he refuses to allow the possibility of anyone truly disagreeing with him. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. I would consciously acknowledge the irony of being lectured on “truths greater than ourselves” by someone who repeatedly throughout the book makes it clear that other people only exist as screens, canvases and receptacles for him to project his thoughts and feelings into and upon, but I’m afraid that the sheer ironic density of it would act as a black hole and tear a hole in the fabric of space/time.

Seriously, though, I may be at least slightly misanthropic, standoffish and elitist, but I at least avoid treating other people as if they need me to tell them what they really think. Which do you prefer, honest rudeness or smarmy patronizing?