theology heresy atheism truth secularism
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This will only take a few seconds to absorb.

But fully appreciating its massive implications might take longer.

It is an important question only rarely asked (if ever) by theologians among themselves:

“What if we’re mistaken about all of it?

This embedded “Snoopy” cartoon puts it a little differently: “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” the fictional title of a book the canine character is supposedly writing about theology.

theology heresy atheism truth secularism

Has it, indeed.

Throughout the history of Christianity, at least, it is quite evident that if serious theologians (not to mention the great kneeling masses) ever wondered whether the being they worshipped existed at all, they didn’t stay there for long.

In fact, especially in the Middle Ages, such thoughts if expressed publicly and not ultimately recanted could get you burned at the stake, sometimes after you were eviscerated and your tongue pulled out by glowing, red-hot tongs.

The medieval Catholic and later Protestant ecclesiastic establishments clearly frowned, shall we gently say, on heresy of any kind, much less atheism (which at the time was actually inconceivable to most folks, so worshipful were Western Europeans of the day). Medieval Muslim imams in the exotic East were slightly less rapacious but not much less as time passed.

Christianity in particular has a very long history of aggressively not considering the possibility that its supernatural dogma is may just be invented nonsense. In fact, venerated church “fathers” such as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinus and Protestant Reformation firebrand Martin Luther all subscribed to the idea that it was a sin to too closely investigate nature because it might cause doubt in the divine and was thus dangerously useless. All anyone needed to think about or consider in existence was the will of God, as portrayed in the Bible, they preached.

Science? Puh!

It’s not so different today except perhaps for the stake burnings. The current Republican moment is characterized by a belligerent, anti-science religiosity, in which an imagined “militant secularism” is demonized and fundamentalist Christianity is embraced. Atheists are “godless” bogeymen to the Christian Right, as is anyone who couldn’t give a fig about religion.

What makes all this so disturbing, as it has been for centuries to doubters and heathens, is that not only have the faithful never been able to materially prove the tenets of their faith, they demonize anyone who might try.

So the most likely answer to the question above — “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” — would seem to be “no” or “only briefly.”

Apparently, for true believers, it’s better not to question the question too closely, with too much reason.

But that’s exactly how hazardous religious fantasies perpetuate as truths.

Even today, I am shocked to meet people who are clearly still shocked that I don’t believe in a supreme divine, or that anyone doesn’t, in fact.

To paraphrase American author William Faulkner, the Middle Ages isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.

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“Erudite yet readable … very illuminating”

— Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” in praise of “Holy Smoke”

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...