Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Two Young Atheists Test Their Faith

From my freshman year in high school until the end of my junior year, I probably spent as much time on a skateboard as I did in a classroom. Azmodeus wound up living about fifteen minutes away from me and we frittered away a lot of time skating at a nearby junior high school. At first, we utilized the benches and walls and just skated around. The more we hit this spot, the more “hell ollie” began to call to us.

At the school, there was a basketball court that was raised about five feet from a walkway. In between the court and the walkway was about fifteen feet of dirt. Azmodeus was the first person I ever knew that believed it was actually possible to clear the fifteen foot horizontal gap with the five foot vertical drop. He then proceed to do it. He could make it look effortless.

The feat was not technically difficult. All you had to do was go really fast, ollie, and stick the landing. Simple. Once Azmodeus started doing it, others followed. The first few times I tried it, I didn’t really commit to it. I’d go through the motions like I wanted to clear it, but I was phoning it in. I’d kick my board out from under me as soon as I took off and made sure that I landed on my feet. I kept on looking at the worst case scenario – if I landed in the gap on my board I was going to take a nasty fall due to the speed. If I landed in the gap the best case scenario was a bad fall. The worst case was going to be a broken bone or a concussion.

My phoning it in and Azmodeus’s mastery of hell ollie continued for months. It got to the point where I wanted to avoid skating that spot. Eventually, we wound up at the school with a large group of guys. Azmodeus attempted to clear hell ollie and missed.

Before he had a chance to try it again, I made up my mind that this was going to be the day. There were only two obstacles that had to be overcome – physics and fear. I knew I could handle the physics. I had been skating for a few years and had the physical ability to clear the gap. I had to put trust in myself that I was going to be able to clear it and just do it. I stopped looking at the worst case scenario, cleared my mind, and did it.

After clearing it on the first try of the day, I had one of the best feelings of my young life. I had faced fear, put my faith in myself, and accomplished a feat that only the best skaters were even trying. There were guys who we skated with every day who never did it. I did it in front of multiple witnesses and no one could take it away from me.

Now Azmodeus and I were friends, but this is/was one competitive dude! He barely acknowledged my accomplishment and went to try it again. And failed again.

On it went for the next hour. I would go and clear it. Azmodeus would watch, try, and fail. The more he missed the gap, the angrier he got. After an hour had gone by, he stopped skating and started flinging his board at the ground shouting obscenities. The rest of the group was amused by it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that anyone enjoyed watching him fail, it’s just that Azmodeus was one of skating’s alpha dogs and every now and again it’s nice to see an alpha get his comeuppance.

If you’ve read this far, you may be asking why the hell this little anecdote is being written about in an atheist’s blog? The answer lies partly in response to MJD’s question of whether or not I still talk to Azmodeus. The answer is yes and I bring up this day at every opportunity! It took his worst day of skating and my best day for me to be better than him, but for one glorious afternoon it did happen. In a lifetime skateoff, I’m sure the record would be 666-1, but I did manage one victory and he’s such a competitor that it’s fun to remind him.

The other part of the answer that actually relates to the purpose of this blog is a matter of faith. Azmodeus and I had radically different family lives and experiences during the first fifteen years of our lives. We had both come to the same conclusion - that there is no God. Every time I failed to clear hell ollie, it was not a matter of not praying hard enough. It was a matter of believing in myself. When I did manage to clear it, God Almighty did not intervene on my behalf. The rules of physics were not altered. The difference was I trusted myself and I made it happen.

On the flip side, Azmodeus’s sudden inability to clear it was not divinely inspired either. He was having an off day. For just a moment, one afternoon, he lost faith in himself. It had nothing to do with not sacrificing the right animals or saying the right prayers. He just lost his focus. It happens to everyone.

Good and bad things are going to happen to everyone. Some of the things are random. Some of them we control. Through it all we are served well by believing in ourselves and the people with whom we chose to associate with. After twenty years of scoffing at God and trusting myself, my life is going just fine.


Paul Reuben said...

"After twenty years of scoffing at God and trusting myself, my life is going just fine."

So then why scoff? Especially if he doesn't exist?

Would there be a topic to explore if things were just fine?

Too many questions?

Atheistwager said...

I scoff at God because plenty of people go around with their religious bumper sticker philosophy like "No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace." They will claim that without God or salvation everything will be ruined even in this life. I am willing to expose part of my life to those who are on the fence and want to see what life would be like without dogma, superstition, ritual, and irrational thought. Once your mind is freed and you learn to think for and trust in yourself it will amaze you what you can accomplish.

Ilja said...


But you’ll get your payback for scoffing at god in the afterlife. Prepare for fire and brimstone, infidel.


Paul Reuben said...

So things are not fine then.

I certainly do not debate the merits of believing in oneself. I would debate the merits of individuality in the Western sense, but I'm sure you'll tackle that in another post.

I've been noodling over this post and wondering what the point is. Honestly, not to be dull-witted, but I still kinda must be missing the main point, as I do not find the stop and think about it moment here.

What I have come up with, though, is a thought about a friend of mine from college, who I no longer keep in touch with. We called him "Sh#t House Rat" because we determined that he was crazier than one. He embraced this name. He was born again and incredibly intelligent. (Not necessary mutually exclusive, you know. Einstein's downfall was his faith, too, arguably one of the brightest minds to ver exist). He went to naturopathic medical school in Arizona (I can't remember the name - Southwest, I think). After two years in the program, hye dropped out, went back home to become a preacher in Pittsburgh (or somewhere thereabouts).

When we were undergrads in San Diego, we'd often debate the merits of the New Testament adn whether things were real or mythical in the Bible. Often times, I would make him physically ill. How, you ask? Because I would confront his faith head on with things he could not deny, yet clashed with his beliefs.

My point here is that obviously, our debates had no impact other than to perhaps strengthen his resolve. The willingly deluded are not easily swayed by the truth (have you been around since 2000? Have you been paying attention?). In fact, when confronted with the truth, they retreat further into their fantasy or lash out (witness abortion clinic bombings, Pat Robertston's rantings).

I posit that scoffing only helps you feel superior, which is really contrary to the point of trying to build community.

Let's tackle ritual some other time. I would liek to show you that ritual is very important and without it you become less human and more robotic, which if that is your goal, fine, but I'd like to think that you are after a more sentient reality than that.

I won't argue for dogma, because the unexamined life is not worth living. And I think superstition is fun. Right Ganesh?

Atheistwager said...

If you don't find a point that's not my problem. I don't write this blog for you are you that narcisistic? Go find something else to do.

Molly said...


Your response had my BF and I in stitches. Excellent point.

Klej Society said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Klej Society said...

Did you ever think that clearing the Hell Ollie has nothing to do with God, because I'm sure that it's so important to the cosmos weather or not one of you cleared a 15 foot gap!

Sorry didn't meant that to sound the way it reads,

But my point is that sometimes our faith has nothing to do with what we accomplish, sometimes we don't deserve the things we are reaching for and maybe that's why we don't achieve them.

Maybe that day at that gap it was destined for you to be better, because it shows people that no matter what anything can happen, and those types of events are the ones that force us to push ourselves beyond our barriers, beyond our comfort zones, they push us to make ourselves better.

And they have significance!

Paul Reuben said...

"Go find something else to do. "

Uh, sure. I'm not quite sure where that came from, but yeah. l8s

Atheistwager said...

We can agree that clearing hell ollie had nothing to do with God. That's the friggin' point! Azmodeus's failure and my success had nothing to do with destiny. It wasn't a cosmic lesson. He lost his mojo and I found mine. It came down to believing yourself - that's it.

MasterJediDan said...

@ kleg

You would have to be very confident in yourself in order to make a 15-foot jump on a skateboard. I mean, I could see some Christian skater doing that and then saying that he could only do it because God helped him. The point is that Atheistwager was able to do it simply by believing in himself instead of relying on "help" from a deity.

muraydog said...

Just for the record, Einstein was an atheist. Many times, when physicists, like Einstein or Steven Hawkings refer to 'god', they are not referring to a bearded man who wrote a sacred book and causes people to win $100 in the Lotto, but lets millions of people starve to death. Their usage of the word 'god' is similar to the term 'nature', and entire books have been written about Einstein's views on religion. (He was born a Jew, but gave up on God about the same time he gave up Santa Claus).

Klej Society said...

But what I'm saying is that this particular event is so insignificant to the workings of everything that God, if he exists, would not even dwell in the matter.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that because this example has nothing to do with destiny, or the cosmos, or whatever else that it doesn't really make an example out of anything, right?

It just seems that this same argument would make a much bigger splash in the theist pond if it was, say, a life and death matter or at least something with seemingly a large amount of importance!

I'm not saying that this particular example has no justification just not much!

Atheistwager said...

I think your making a fair point. I would say that everything is random and insignficant in the cosmic sense. I battled off my death bed to make academic honors and what does that mean cosmically? Nothing. God didn't help me do it. There was no lesson, no plan - it just was.