I was pleased and surprised to hear nonbelievers mentioned in Obama's inaugural address, the first time to my limited historical knowledge that such a mention has occurred in a new President's opening words to the nation. People argue over the numbers, but anywhere from several percent to one in four Americans is an atheist, agnostic, or unassociated with any formal religious group or organization. Our numbers are legion, as the saying goes. So it was pleasing to finally be recognized as an existing sector of society, instead of the more common assumption on the part of our leaders that everyone in the entire country believes in gigantic fictional characters in the sky.

Watching Obama get sworn in was a thrilling and emotional experience for me, marred only by the lugubrious and maudlin spectacle of Rick Warren embarrassing our nation in front of the world. Putting aside for the moment Warren's atavistic urge to lock gays in irons and have them publicly flogged, he is still an offensive, corpulent slug. His peculiar style of self-congratulating self-flagellation is even more loathsome than your typical monotheist, and a perfect example of why organized religion is such a debilitating mental affliction.

Warren belongs to that particularly cloying faction of Christianity that claims nothing you accomplish in your entire life has any meaning whatsoever, unless you hand over credit to Yhwh. You can't be proud of anything you accomplish, in Warren's theology. You're a powerless, helpless slave to the eternal Cosmic Puppeteer, who deserves credit and praise for every single positive contribution you've made in your entire life. No matter that it was you and you alone who studied and strove to earn a degree, or learn a profession, or sweat in backbreaking labor for minimal pay. That wasn't you, and even if it was you still don't deserve recognition. You're a piece of garbage compared with the mighty Slave Master in the sky. Whatever you invent, build, or lead, whatever great works you contribute to, whatever good you strive to accomplish in life... in Warren's twisted ideology those efforts don't go on your resume. You were just a convenient tool to be picked up, used, and thrown away on a whim. According to Warren and his coreligionists, everything humans accomplish is instantly confiscated by an invisible, intangible creature who is omnipotent but apparently too lazy to do its own work. Nothing is beyond Its breadth and purpose and power, yet It craves your worship.

In Warren's own words, "Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can't see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story."

I disagree.

History is the story of uncounted human beings trying to live their lives and care for their families. Whatever cosmic powers lurk in the frigid darkness between stars can take care of themselves, because they've certainly never taken care of us. Our species arose on the plains of Africa, dining on grubs and carrion, until we learned how to pick up sticks and make them our tools. We evolved through bloody ages of famine, disease, and the mindless brutality of nature. We learned to out-hunt other hunters, and out-fight predators that would dine on us. We gained a following of other species who live off our largess, carrying our burdens and fetching our food, exterminating vermin for us and warming themselves by our fires. We became the brilliant, violent, contradictory ruling predators of Earth through our own hard work. Beyond the laws of physics themselves we have no master, and kneel before no throne.

If there are arcane powers watching us in the dark, they keep their own silent council, and we owe them no thanks. Did they teach us to farm, or turn wild horses into engines of harnessed strength? No, we did that ourselves. Did they show us how to turn moldy bread into lifesaving medicine? No, we did that, several thousand years after inventing bread for ourselves, too. Did they instruct us on how to fire rocks to make iron? No, we were left to figure that out for ourselves, piecemeal. We discovered the moons of Jupiter, while the self-styled agents of God dined in splendor on the labor of others, and refused to question their supremacy by looking through a telescope. We sussed out that things are made of atoms, while priests argued about angels on pinheads. We cracked the code of life, and we desperately worked out methods of feeding billions... while pious ingrates told us to keep having babies, famine be damned.

Religion is filth not only because it is demonstrably wrong, not only because it enshrines ignorance, but because it demands that humans eschew credit for their own work and abase themselves before gods who never lifted so much as a holy fingertip to get us where we are today. The very people who scream most loudly for us to credit the Invisibles for our success are the ones who work the least to ensure that success. Warren and his festering kindred are happy to sit back on their bejeweled thrones and tell the rest of us how to live and what to think, as they put their hands out for our wealth. Sometimes religious leaders like Warren will give over a bit of their riches to help a poor person here, a penniless clinic there, but always with sanctimonious strings attached. "If you take our donations," they sneer, "you must take our sermons, too." Charity for its own sake, despite protestations to the contrary, is not on the agenda.

I am a nonbeliever because I see no objective evidence for astral powers ruling the world. Instead I see the fruits of hard work and clever thoughts delivering the bounty of the universe to our species, saving us in times of horror, perpetuating our endeavors toward the future. If a god showed up today and claimed those accomplishments as its own I would spit in its face, or at the very least I would work with other free peoples to thwart and destroy the designs of such a monstrous parasite.

Gods and devils don't start wars and murder millions, but people who believe in them do. Angels don't drift down to Earth and wander about curing diseases. Doctors and scientists work their lives away to do that. Flaming pillars don't hand out moral codes. Figuring out how to live in peace with each other and not go around hurting one another is our job, as a culture and as a species. Until and unless aliens arrive to show us how to act - or to put collars around our necks, which is more likely - we're on our own. If there are demon monsters haunting our hearts they don't come from the Great Beyond, on golden chariots, craving and claiming our worship... they come from our flawed, animal brains. And those too can be rebuilt according to our wishes, once we learn how.

No, Warren does not speak for me. Not even remotely.

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Comment by Talibangelist on January 23, 2009 at 8:11am
Fuck yeah! Sorry to muck up that wonderfully sculpted piece with the dirty old eff word but I can't help it. Great rant, maybe the best I've read on here too. Very "Atlas Shrugged" undertone as well. Loved it!
Comment by Chiropteran on January 22, 2009 at 10:49pm
Great read, thanks. The belief in this imaginary god has thwarted discoveries in the sciences more than any other handicap in human intelligence. And as your piece points out, it's not because of a god that we've progressed but rather, in spite of a god.
Comment by Scott on January 22, 2009 at 10:19pm
Profound and beautifully written. Makes me wish Sagan were alive but then there you are. Please write a book! I'm sure you'll change many lives just as Sagan changed mine.
Comment by Goz on January 22, 2009 at 7:59pm
I wonder the same thing...If you think this god is so powerful,why even take your loved one to the hospital?
Michael, that was an impressive piece of writing and i agree with you 100%.
I wish that all these religious loonies would wake up and smell the coffee,I really do.
Comment by Jay Gilb on January 22, 2009 at 3:39pm
Excellent post.

I often wonder what a surgeon must feel after a 12 hour operation using the most modern tools and methods, only to hear the family exclaim that "God listened to our prayers and saved them"
Comment by Planetologist on January 22, 2009 at 2:55pm
Thank you very much. Michael: Yes, I agree, and I strongly support Obama for that and many other reasons. I wish he'd picked a different public figure for the inaugural invocation, though I can appreciate the gesture of reaching across the aisle. It would have been much more palatable if Warren had given a less bombastic, more formally ecumenical presentation... at least to me.

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