Kirby: Hard for Utahns to choose between atheists and aliens

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: April 20, 2014 06:01PM
Updated: April 21, 2014 06:19PM
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Robert Kirby, Tribune columnist

My closest friends and I are a diverse group. What brings us together is a shared interest in the Big Bang that created the universe.

Some of us believe it was a natural random event. Others believe it was a bored omnipotent being who wanted to see what a laundry scoop of quantum gunpowder would do to an old toaster.

Either way — voila! — here we are.

Two of us are atheists. One is a staunch Mormon and another a lapsed Catholic. The fifth claims to be a Buddhist but none of us really believe him.

I’m Mormon, too. Unlike the other one, I’m a rather unconventional and skeptical Mormon. You may have deduced this if you’ve read this column more than twice.

Note: If you’re also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you may wish to argue there is no room for skepticism when it comes to church teachings.

I say 130 years of telling us that it was God who didn’t want blacks to have the priesthood — when it turns out that it was just a church policy gone awry — demands a certain amount of skepticism in what we’re taught.

Never mind. The point is that my narrow circle of friends had a spiritual choice to make on Saturday. Should we attend the National Conference of American Atheists meeting at the downtown Salt Lake City Hilton or should we go to Comic Con FanX 2014 across the street at the Salt Palace Convention Center?

One offered intellectual (and sometimes condescending) discussion and debates about the perils of religious belief, the other the opportunity to mingle with a mob infatuated with space trolls, superheroes and witches.

It’s interesting how we broke it down. One of the atheists, the other Mormon and the Buddhist chose Comic Con. The other atheist and the Catholic chose the atheist conference.

I leaned more toward the atheist conference. While it’s difficult for me to keep my thoughts to myself around arrogant people, it’s impossible to do it around a 400-pound guy in a cape, boots and a plastic helmet who thinks he looks like Darth Vader.

I would have gone to Atheist Con but for the simple fact that I got a better offer. I stayed home and skeptically colored Easter eggs with my grandkids.

This is not to say that I think atheists are fools. Many of them, including the ones whose books I’ve read — Dawkins, Hitchens, Sagan, Shermer, Harris and Silverman — are highly intelligent people. Way smarter than me.

About a year ago, I read the book “Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists” by Dan Barker.

The book was interesting and had some valid insights about human behavior. At one point Barker acknowledged that you can’t pull someone out of their faith if they don’t want to go.

Maybe I’m too cynical because an equally valid point that Barker failed to mention is that you’ll never help them want to go if you’re an @%$&*# about it.

And let’s not kid each other about that. Being a selfish, murderous and arrogant @%$&*#s comes far easier to human beings than does belief in the supernatural.

On the wall above my computer are some of my personal favorite letters in response to past columns. Among them is this one from an atheist who believed he knew how to make the world nicer:

“You people and your gods. The world would be a better place if you all just died.”

Seriously? You give human beings that much credit? Wow, talk about brainless optimism. Who knew that I was too skeptical to even be a decent atheist?

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.