For its Special Report series, CNN aired a one-hour program on Tuesday titled, Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers. With a name like that, the show was destined to feel like a National Geographic documentary about a rare and oft misunderstood species of bird, and it did. Early on, host Kyra Phillips asked, "So who are these non-believers, and what is atheism?"
That question, of course, could've been answered with a slight modification of the program's title, which stripped down to its literal elements would read: Atheists: Inside the World of People Who Don't Believe In Magical Sky Gods. Richard Dawkins, whom Phillips hyperbolically refers to as "the father of atheism," explains to her that atheism is simply the non-belief in a supernatural creator of the universe.
That wasn't so hard.
Speaking in Georgia with devout Christians John and Diane Gormley -- parents of an atheist college student named David (pictured above) -- Phillips seemed aghast to hear the young man's father, John, describe what it's like to interact with his son:
"The reality is, you're talking to a dead person."
When Phillips told him that was "heart-breaking" to hear that he sees his son that way, he replied, "It's not a matter of me seeing it that way. It's a matter of what scripture objectively declares." His son, he rued, has turned away from god.
"There was always this pressure to assume that there was God," David said of his religious upbringing, "and that if you didn't hear him or if he didn't speak to you, you weren't trying hard enough."
"I was just tired of pretending I was someone that I wasn't."
This was the most compelling profile of the hour. The others were interesting to be sure, but it was the tale of the ex-Bible-thumping David Gormley who one day realized he could no longer believe in god. And it's important to use the word realized as opposed to decided because too many mistakenly regard not believing in god as a choice. In truth it's a matter of following one's intuition and reasoning. One of these many is John Gormley.
"To see your own flesh and blood pursuing a life of rebellion against God," he said, "it is a constant burden to our hearts," noting that he and his wife "don't really have a great deal of interaction with David on a day-to-day basis."
John and Diane declined to appear on camera with their son, who seemed far more forgiving than his Christian parents:
"I would never say that they're dead people just because they believe in something that I don't... I am who I am and I'm not going to change that. I can't change that. It's just part of who I am, and as loving parents of a loving son, on some level they should be accepting of that. And they are -- outwardly of course -- but it's still lurking there underneath the surface. They'll always harbor some sort of regret or anger towards me for just being who I am, and that kind of hurts."
Like other atheists, David is incapable of believing in the existence of a supernatural deity because that's simply not how his brain works. He can't suddenly believe something that he is utterly incapable of believing. And if there is a god who demands the sort of groveling worship that many say is required to avoid eternal damnation, then it is god who deserves the hellfire for knowingly creating scores of people who are simply unable to believe in him.
Image credit: CNN