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Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006 | Last week I used one of the two most opprobrious words in the English language to describe myself. It’s the one that does not start with “F.” I said I was an atheist. Folks have a terrible time with that word. An old friend expressed surprise that I could be both an atheist and compassionate. Other letters haven’t even been that nice.

Silly me! Here I thought standing up for a minority viewpoint and defending it with facts was in the highest tradition of American journalism, even American citizenship.

But, if it touches on religion, facts come in second! Tell most folks you believe dancing with rattlesnakes is a good way to salvation and they’ll likely tell you “That’s nice. Everybody should believe in something.”

Justify your belief with “Scientists don’t know everything” and you’ll be given plaudits for your sagacity, even by folks who have no idea of what sagacity (or science) means. Just don’t dwell on the point that faith means accepting something without proof.

Still, being an out of the closet atheist isn’t all bad. It gets you out of a lot of weddings, and most funerals except your own. Then someone will likely try to sneak in a preacher, “just in case.”

I gave up on religion long ago because I did believe in science and saw none of it in a discipline based on the idea that a woman talked to a snake. Before quitting though, it was a tussle trying to keep up with all the various ways I could displease the deity. Once, years ago, I stood in line a good half hour to cash a Navy pay check.

The teller was good. ZIP ZIP ZIP the stream of twenties fell neatly into a pile. Her ability to count money fast wasn’t the only thing that fascinated me. Her patented motions caused an interesting jiggle barely inside her low cut dress. I didn’t bother to try to think pure thoughts, not standing this close. The thoughts I was having were more interesting and while they were sins, they were likely only venial – something that wouldn’t consign me to everlasting torment but for which I’d have to pay a price.

I figured it was a cost/benefit thing.

Then, I was sure she plopped two twenties down as one. Twenty bucks was a lot of money. I wasn’t sure where the break point between venial and mortal lay, but it had to be less than a double sawbuck.

I said, “I think you ought to count it again.” She cut this gawking sailor off with a curt “Sorry, I’m very busy today.”

I dutifully took the money, stood off in a corner and counted it. Yep. I was right. While I realized I could easily keep it, I had to return the money.

Back I went. When I finally made it to the head of the line I asked Jiggles to retrieve my check and accept my 20 so she could balance out. I had atoned myself, but felt a bit silly standing in line to return money to an institution that had more than I (and probably the teller) could count.

Maybe the bank had religion to thank for that 20 bucks. But I would have done it anyhow. Years earlier mom taught me that I should never take anything that wasn’t mine. I bet she had no idea which commandment pertained. Mom was simply good at common sense.

Religion? Do we need it to be good? Of course not, but it comes in handy politically. And it works best when laced out with a bit of bravado. In 1997, when Duke Cunningham’s suspicious enthusiasm for projects going to Brent Wilkes’s companies was noted by the press, the congressman stated, “I’m on the side of the angels here.” Anyone who questioned his intentions, said Duke, can “go to hell.”

Boy, did they cheer him for that! Duke never hid his religiosity behind a barrel, and it served him well – until the evidence against him became overwhelming. Then he became very remorseful and cried.

And while all have feet of clay, why does repentance only follow being caught? I’m sure Jimmy Swaggart impressed the true believers when he blubbered over his sin of hiring a hooker to come to his room, but only after it was reported by the media. If a god was going to get mad at him for doing it, wouldn’t he have been just as upset if he hadn’t had to wait and read about it in the paper?

And this hypocrisy is bipartisan. Clinton was so remorseful after his transgressions that that he brought in three clergymen to control his run amok desires, but not until DNA testing of a soiled dress nailed him.

The list goes on and on. I am hoping for a weeping plea for forgiveness for Tom DeLay’s sins. But wouldn’t it be nice if someone like him actually apologized for the cheap shots that aren’t prosecutable? In DeLay’s case I’d love to see him say he was sorry for his diatribe after the Columbine, Colorado massacre. He managed to tie in the teaching of evolution with the killings.

Even I can’t see anything funny about that.

Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer living in Chula Vista. Send a letter to the editor.

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