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Conversations With Raymond

Love and Atheism

Raymond knows I work during the week, and unless I've invited him, he seldom shows up on his own except on weekends. I knew something must be up when he came around early Wednesday morning. I was still having breakfast and asked him if he'd like some. When he said no, I knew it was serious.

"Well sit down then while I finish mine," I said. "Tell me what's on your mind."

He sat down across from me and was obviously thinking about how to begin. I was completely unprepared for his question.

"Are you an atheist, Regi?"

"No," I said.

He looked perplexed. "I never thought you believed in God."

"I don't," I said.

"Then you are an atheist," he assured me.

"I don't believe in the tooth fairy either. Does that make me an atoothfairiest? It's silly to identify yourself in terms of what you don't believe. Do you have any idea how much superstitious nonsense people believe. If you identify yourself in terms of all the fairy tales others believe in that you don't, it would take you a week to say what you are, and when you got done you still would not have said what you are, only what you are not. A god is only one of the stupid things people believe in that I do not."

I had no idea why that should have discouraged him so, but he looked positively crestfallen.

"So, if someone believes in God they are stupid," Ray said.

Of course that's not what I said. Many very intelligent people believe in a God. The idea is stupid, but it's only one idea, and almost everyone, no matter how intelligent, holds some stupid ideas. I knew there was something else behind Ray's questions.

After a while he spoke, forlornly: "Regi, I think I'm in love with a theist."

"Does that worry you?" I asked.

"Well, Regi, I do not believe in God. How can I be in love with someone who does?"

"How long have you known her?" I asked.

"About three months. She's a new writer in our group."

"What's her name?"

"Christy," he said with a smile as though he had just recited a poem.

"But you've been in love with her since the moment you met her," I said matter-of-factly.

Raymond looked astonished. "How did you know that?"

"Ray, I've been in love with countless Christians, even Buddhists, and women who have other outlandish beliefs. What makes you think one's love for a woman has anything to do with her religion, if she has one?"

"Ayn Rand said ...," he began, but I interrupted him before he could continue.

"Ayn Rand knew nothing about love. She confused it with sex and admiration. If you want to learn something about love you have to read Oliver Wendell Holmes. As far as I know he is the only writer who recognized that every man loves every woman. That experience you had of 'falling in love' when you met Christy was just your sudden awareness of what is true about all the women you've ever known. Don't you really love all women?"

"Well there are some I definitely do not love."

"I mean all women who love being women. Those women who have exempted themselves from that classification usually destroy in themselves all that is lovable. They're exceptions, not women."

"But there's something different about Christy," he protested.

"Of course she's different, Ray. Everyone is different from everyone else, and every woman is different from every other woman; that's what makes each one lovable in a different way, even though it is because they are women that you love them."

"Then there is nothing wrong with being in love with a theist, even though I do not believe in God? What about the conflicts?"

"Of course there is nothing wrong with being in love with her. I think there might be something wrong with you if you did not love her. I have no idea what conflicts you are talking about. Do you intend to spend all your time with her discussing religion?"

"Well of course not," he said.

"Ray, I cannot tell you what to do, and this is not even advice; just some facts you might find useful in choosing what to do. No matter who any two people are there are always going to be some, 'conflicts,' as you put it, some differences of opinion. So long as those differences do not determine some action by either of them that the other cannot tolerate, there is no reason those differences should affect their relationship, especially if that relationship is love."

That apparently made Ray feel better.

"Thank you, Regi. If you don't mind, I think I would like a little breakfast."

I hadn't asked Ray what Chirsty's particular religion was. It really didn't matter, unless it was Muslim or Christian Science, both of which require one to pretty much be a moron to embrace. I knew Ray would not have fallen for a moron.

Most of the people we will meet in this world will embrace some religion or another and in most cases the only ones who suffer from that mistake are those who make it. H.L. Mencken got it right when he wrote:

"So long as there are men in the world, 99 percent of them will be idiots, and so long as 99 percent of them are idiots they will thirst for religion, and so long as they thirst for religion, it will remain a weapon over them. I see no way out. If you blow up one specific faith, they will embrace another." [The New Mencken Letters (1977), Letter to Upton Sinclair, 14 Oct. 1917]

The following is the source for the reference I made to Oliver Wendell Holmes. I agree with the entire passage with the exception of his reference to "blackamoors," and women with "ill-favored countenances," both of whom I personally have found to be among the most lovable of women:

"The divinity-student wished to know what I thought of affinities, as well as of antipathies; did I believe in love at first sight?

"Sir,--said I,--all men love all women. That is the prima-facie aspect of the case. The Court of Nature assumes the law to be, that all men do so; and the individual man is bound to show cause why he does not love any particular woman. A man, says one of my old black-letter law-books, may show divers good reasons, as thus: He hath not seen the person named in the indictment; she is of tender age, or the reverse of that; she hath certain personal disqualifications,--as, for instance, she is a blackamoor, or hath an ill-favored countenance; or, his capacity of loving being limited, his affections are engrossed by a previous comer; and so of other conditions. Not the less is it true that he is bound by duty and inclined by nature to love each and every woman. Therefore it is that each woman virtually summons every man to show cause why he doth not love her. This is not by written document, or direct speech, for the most part, but by certain signs of silk, gold, and other materials, which say to all men,--Look on me and love, as in duty bound. Then the man pleadeth his special incapacity, whatsoever that may be,--as, for instance, impecuniosity, or that he hath one or many wives in his household, or that he is of mean figure, or small capacity; of which reasons it may be noted, that the first is, according to late decisions, of chiefest authority.--So far the old law-book. But there is a note from an older authority, saying that every woman doth also love each and every man, except there be some good reason to the contrary; and a very observing friend of mine, a young unmarried clergyman, tells me, that, so far as his experience goes, he has reason to think the ancient author had fact to justify his statement." [Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Chapter 9, (1858)]