Today being Father's Day, Laura and I were talking about our fathers and she mentioned that her dad had once had a serious discussion with her to warn her not to become a Scientologist. This is no doubt good advice, but strange advice, since at no point in Laura's life has she ever had any inclination at all to become a scientologist. For starters, she doesn't have the money. An even bigger obstacle, of course, is that the central beliefs of Scientologists are completely wacko. Let's face it: If you get to the part where your guru (or whatever they have in Scientology--an auditor, I think) is telling you the part about the intergalactic lord Xemu and you don't break out in a broad grin and laugh at how dumb all of this is, there is no hope for you. You have swallowed the Kool-aid.
Laura's 11 year old son, Simon, hadn't heard of scientology and asked us about it when he heard our conversation. He was actually somewhat inspired at the notion that a pulp science fiction writer could invent his own religion and rope in converts, and spent the ride home from the restaurant jotting down notes for starting his own religion. He wrote out his own ten commandments, only he didn't know how to spell commandments, so he called it the "To Do" list. Also, I think he only got through about six of them. Among them were "don't be picky" and "share your food." Religions have been built on foundations nowhere near as solid as this.
Which led me to remember my second wedding. Not my second marriage, which is mostly blotted out now, with only three whiny cats to remind me it ever happened at all. But the wedding was interesting because we wanted something fancier that just going down to the courthouse, but by state law we needed some ordained pastor to perform the ceremony. We finally settled on a Unitarian minister who promised not to use the words "God" or "prayer" in the ceremony. She broke her word, alas, deviating from the script in the actual ceremony. After that, I gave serious thought to starting my own Church of Atheism. Churches have many, many advantages. They make great places to hold weddings and funerals. They are nice meeting places to socialize with like-minded folks. They also provide a terrific support net for members, a community to turn to in times of trouble and grief, or to share in celebration. Finally, they frequently have great architecture and nifty art. So, there are dozens of things I love about churches--but I can never belong to one because I'm unwilling to sit there and listen to fairy tales for an hour. I have no doubt that there are people in this world who go to church because they enjoy the fringe benefits of church without actually sharing the beliefs of the church. My old scoutmaster, who was a member of my church, loved being a church member. But get him outside the confines of the church and he was a prone to telling dirty jokes and sneaking six-packs along on camping trips. I'm not saying he wasn't a good person, or even that he wasn't, in his mind, a christian. But he regularly engaged in behavior outside the church that he would condemn within it. Something about churches seems to breed hypocrits--although, of course, that could just be the nature of the human beast. There are so many hypocrits on so many levels throughout society that the church population just reflects the general population as a whole.
But, still, there are times when I fantasize about buying an old church one day, and replacing the stained glass window on the front with a mosiac of a big, cartoon monkey winking his eye, giving a thumbs up, and saying in a big word balloon, "Darwin Rocks!" Each Friday night me and my fellow atheists could get together and socialize. (One foundation of atheism we must not surrender would be the right to sleep late on Sunday mornings.) We could distribute little Chic-style tracts entitled "There is No God" and "This is Your Afterlife." (That last one would be nothing but blank pages.)
Would we have Commandments? Or, as Simon put it, a To Do list?
Remember this is your only life: Cherish it.
Cherish your loved ones; you have only your shared lifetimes to show your love.
Live responsibly: there are no higher forces to bail you out of the messes you create.
Hmm. Only three. Maybe that's enough. Probably three too many, in some people's mind. If you must have more, how about:
Don't be picky.
Share your food.