REWIND: Has anybody here seen my old friend Rollen?


As long as I’m on such a good, old-fashioned, heathen roll, let’s pull another one up from the archives for reposting. In this instance, it’s a News and Tribune column of mine from November 19, 2009.

On a wig and a prayer

I was watching an NBA game the other night when suddenly, in blinding and revelatory Technicolor, I had a vision recalling Rollen Stewart’s career of religious advocacy.

It used to be that you couldn’t watch a major sporting event on your rabbit-eared, non-digital television set without seeing Stewart, the man with a crazy rainbow Afro, always seated somewhere in proximity to the most prominent camera angle, and holding a sign touting John 3:16.

For the blessedly uninitiated, this number refers to a Bible verse that provides a handily terse defense of Christian doctrine, one designed to encourage all of us to sign on the dotted line and begin tithing.

Alas, the Afro was a mere wig, and Stewart himself proved to be a nut job. In due time, his fanatical religious fervor regressed to the point of stink bomb attacks on the ungodly, and in 1992 – presumably in celebration of one or the other impending raptures – he was ingloriously arrested after an attempted kidnapping. Because of this and other less-than-holy offenses, Stewart currently resides in prison, perhaps in California, but more likely on Fantasy Island.

Just for old times’ sake, I’m considering an official Rollen Stewart model rainbow Afro for the next city council meeting, along with a placard espousing a random passage selected from the wit and wisdom of Robert’s Rules of Order. I’m serenely confident that council president Dan Coffey won’t recognize what he’s never risked reading.

But the third floor lacks television cameras. If the meetings were filmed, and if Coffey’s antics were disseminated to the world at large, at least Rollen Stewart’s religious dysfunction would be supplanted by the equally frustrating political variety native to the Open Air Museum, although without Stewart’s mystical excuse.

Meanwhile, for atheists like me, it’s been interesting lately. Numerous books “devoted” to the topic of our principled absence of belief have been published, and much discussion engendered. It still surprises me that my theistic friends respond with annoyance whenever atheists have the unmitigated gall to come out of the closet and explain themselves.

That’s just a bit hypocritical, isn’t it? Think of every religious adherent who has ever come knocking at my door while I’m busy eating, drinking, sleeping or fornicating in the privacy of my home. Think of the transformational zeal of generations of ravenous Christians, traveling overseas for the sanctified purpose of subduing decadent native cultures, and conveniently spreading Western diseases even as they blamed the dying natives for falling sick and urging them to immediately find God as a cure.

Much of the history of organized western religion is one of evangelical outreach, and by its very nature, evangelism is invasive and intrusive with regard to the physical and intellectual space of non-believers. Not only that, but in the ever widening search for market share, evangelists from one sect also freely target those who ascribe to differing versions of the supernatural. You’d think that believing in any God would do, and yet it isn’t enough for them.

Either way, if an atheist dares to attempt an explanation of why he or she doesn’t believe in any of it, out comes the fear-mongering rhetoric – and sometimes worse.

Granted, I suppose that in some sense, I evangelize for good beer, and if my pal Fred in Michigan hadn’t already taken the name, I’d call myself a beervangelist. Whether non-believer or beervangelist, it isn’t like I go door to door creating a public nuisance.

Never have I posted myself at the entrance of a Christian church on Sunday morning to decry the worship therein. Not once have I sneaked up into the cathedral balcony and unfurled my Oakland A’s pennant or menacingly waved my portrait of Bertrand Russell at the minister, demanding that he repent from sin — or whatever my fellow columnist, the Rev. Johnson, insists on calling it.

Come to think of it, maybe Rev. Johnson can help with two questions that keep haunting me:

First, is it fair to say that those convicted of drug dealing got into it for the monies?

Second, do they let prisoners have Internet access?

Private joke. Take care. No offense. Just my opinion.

The way I see it, atheists offer no positive claims with respect to knowledge deriving from outside the realm of human experience and perception. In the absence of verifiable evidence, atheism is a negation. It is the theist who is obliged to prove that God exists – not the other way around.

Perhaps it’s true that some atheists go a step further and proselytize in the manner of the religionist, but the percentage surely is small. During the past two thousand years, far more people have been asked to convert to religion at the point of a bayonet, and died as a result of their refusal, than have been forcibly “converted” to atheism.

In my experience, atheists generally just want to be left alone, and prefer that religious belief remain a matter of private conscience and not a public policy stick. They respect a separation of church and state precisely because history makes it abundantly clear who that public policy stick usually is wielded against, resulting in a sad continuation of the war, violence and strife that has accompanied organized religion throughout human history.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, no more about nothing. I have a block watch meeting to catch.