I’ve got a confession. It’s a shocking thing. It will change the way you view both me as a person, and every single word I have ever written. Swallow your coffee now. Go on. If you don’t then you’ll spit it out in a minute. All over your keyboard. Then the keyboard won’t work, and you won’t be able to send me the hate mail and the nasty comments. I know you love those.
Ready? Coffee swallowed? Nothing balanced precariously within reach of your soon to be wildly flailing arms? Okay.
Here we go.
This is it, coming up. I’m just giving you a little bit of time to settle. I thought if I went straight into it you might still be mid-swallow or something. So this is a pause.
It’s not a dramatic one. It’s an undramatic pause.
The safest kind.
Are you in work though? If you’re in work you should probably wait until you’re home, in a comfy chair eating a pot noodle, like you do at the end of a hard day at the work.
Not a fresh pot noodle, because of the boiling water. When you read this, and end up shuddering uncontrollably with newborn revulsion for the abomination that is my ongoing existence – which will definitely happen – you could spill the salty mix of near boiling water and poorly dissolved flavourings all over your lap. Just one more thing to loathe me for.
So go home, make yourself a pot noodle, allow it to cool to a given temperature of relative safety (a level that would cause no more than mild discomfort if applied directly to your genitals), take it to a comfy chair, and have a seat. Then you can read the next bit.
Okay. Here we go then.
I’m an atheist.
An actual atheist.
You’ve seen the atheists, haven’t you? Sharing memes and stuff. Talking that smack, about them christians. Using their “facts” about things that are “real”. You must have seen them. With their “science” and their “evidence”. Them atheists that they have now. The ones you’ve seen. With their facts.
Atheists. With facts.
You’ve seen them, haven’t you?
Bitter atheists, with their real facts, all complaining and stuff.
I’m one of those. I’m not really supposed to tell you that. Not here anyway, where I mostly bang on about books and stories I’ve written. If I tell you I’m one of them atheists that they have now then you won’t want to read my stories anymore in case you catch the atheism too.
Because that’s how it spreads.
Like a filthy, vile disease.
Made of facts.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re sitting out there in Internetland with coffee soaking through your shirt, wishing…
Right. You’re probably wishing you’d swallowed your coffee when I told you, instead of holding it in your mouth like it was some sort of dare. I did my best with that, honestly. There was even an undramatic pause. If not even an undramatic pause will make you swallow your coffee, then I don’t know what will.
To those who did swallow their coffee, but then sicked it up over yourself at the thought of what I am, I can only say sorry.
I’m very, very sorry.
In a minute though, when you calm down a bit about the coffee thing which isn’t my fault because of what I definitely said in the first paragraph, you’re going to be shaking your head as you stare at my confession. You’ll say “Why, Rick? Why did you have to tell us about the atheism? Why couldn’t you have left us ignorant? Why is it so wrong to be ignorant?” You might say that bit out loud. You probably definitely will, in which case I just hope you went home like I told you instead of announcing to the office how much you prefer to be ignorant. I mean that’s okay (it definitely isn’t), but people judge. They look at one thing, and they judge you.
Other people do that. Not you. I didn’t mean you. You wouldn’t do that. Judging somebody based on a tiny piece of half understood information. Not your style at all.
Anyway, at the top of this website there’s a little link that says ‘Contact Richard’. It takes you to a form thing where you can type me a lovely email about how much you enjoyed one of my books, or how much you’d like to option the film rights to one of my books no matter what outrageous sums I demand.
Nobody ever uses it for that.
Still, people who know more about this Interweb than me think I should keep it there, for reader interaction and ludicrous but unlikely future financial gain. Bit desperate. Bit needy. Bit optimistic even, but what’s the harm?
Most of you have never even noticed it was there, and that’s okay. A tiny number though, very small, zoom in on it like it’s made of flashing neon crisps that taste of delicious hate and rage.
Because that’s just what they love best.
Today I received my eighth piece of Christian* hate mail (nine if you include this Amazon review). Not much in the scheme of things. I’m not exactly Salman Rushdie. It is all about a book though.
“Which book would that be, Rick?” I hope, having learned a valuable lesson earlier on, that you did this only in your mind. You might be mentally thinking about my books, in your head, right now, trying to place which one could have filled certain christians with fiery concern. With The Flesh Market only just released you’d be correct to leave it out of the equation for now. So which of the others?
Could it be Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow, with its deviant, misogynistic, alcohol and drug-abusing titular character? No it isn’t. You’d think the entirely contemptible and perverse Grange, with his horrific view of women and his constant inability to resist whatever temptation is nearest, would really tick these people off. Not so much though. Strange.
It must be Cuckoo, surely. A book from which God is entirely absent, and which has prominent homosexual characters in it? Surely a story about what makes us human, in which homosexuals feature, but in which God has no place whatsoever, would be of concern to certain readers? A story in which God’s irrelevance is defined by his absolute absence from the narrative space? Oddly, not so much. No emails. Not a murmur.
Craven Place, then? A book in which rationality roots out belief, beats it to death, and leaves the bloody, dripping carcass in the gutter for rats and crows to feast on? Nope. Utter silence.
The book that certain people keep bending my ear about, from which they conclude that my atheist agenda must be stopped at all costs, (and which they attempt to initiate through the ancient combative technique of writing everything in FULL CAPITALS WITH MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!) is…
The one where God actually exists, from page one. So does Satan. Heaven and Hell are real. A fallen angel is one of the main characters. Demons turn up occasionally, tempting humans, destroying souls. Angels appear en masse to usher people into Heaven.
In Thy Fearful Symmetry nobody is an atheist, because all these things are not only real, but tearing through the streets setting fire to things. I can do this in my made up story book because I don’t have to worry about facts and how things really are. It’s a made up story. About God. In a book.
Despite God being central to the book in a much more proactive way than in real life, I get those emails through that ‘Contact Richard’ page. Some have accused me of trickery. If they had known that Thy Fearful Symmetry was a book all about God being real, and angels, and demons tempting men, and Heaven and Hell, that was written by an atheist, they wouldn’t have bothered reading the entire book all the way to the end, including the afterword, in which I actually mention that I don’t believe in God and send them into a fury they had not known until that point.
The email this morning promised me that I would burn in Hell.
That perplexed me a bit, to be honest.
As vehement threats go, condemning somebody who doesn’t believe in God to eternal torment in Hell seems a bit ill-considered. Like promising to banish me to Mordor, so that orcs will cut off my dangly bits and eat them. Doesn’t bother me. Can’t, really. You’d think somebody with a clear grasp of what they were intent on destroying might choose something else with which to terrify their enemy into apologetic submission.
It’s almost as though some of these people, lovers of the tasty neon crisps of hate, employ an incoherent logic through which to filter the world, that distorts it to the point of coherent collapse. I’m not saying that’s actually the case, of course.
Even though it definitely is.
What annoys me is not that I am accused of atheism. I don’t mind that. I’ve been accused of being only 5’6″ tall as well, and that didn’t bother me either because it’s one of those facts. I don’t even mind that one of my made up stories might be perceived of as containing characters, events, or even themes that oppose those in another made up story that people like. I’m okay with that.
What annoys me then?
What annoys me is that they have the wrong book.
There’s only one of these books which doesn’t, in any way, contain stuff that could (at a stretch) be linked to a proactive atheist agenda.
It’s almost as though these senders of emails don’t have a substantive grasp of what atheism is***.
Atheism is a word that they’ve seen in one of those memes that you like. You know them? The memes that you have on that Internet? The memes? Defined as an element of culture or behaviour spread by non-genetic means. The memes. That you redefined as being ‘a picture of a cat’ because that’s simpler? They’ve seen the atheism in the memes, being done by those cats, and got the wrong end of the stick. They might even have been reaching for a stick but picked up some neon crisps of hate by accident, and haven’t noticed their error yet.
That’s the only credible explanation.
The only one.
Thy Fearful Symmetry is just a made up story. A made up story about a God, and angels, and demons, and Heaven and Hell. Just a made up story about these things. In a book.
I don’t know why anybody gets so worked up about it.
Because I want to sell a million books, I should take this opportunity to highlight that The Flesh Market is not about atheism. It’s got an atheist in it, but he doesn’t bang on about it. You know. One of the good atheists that you like.
Apart from that, there’s a character who turns to God as a way to justify some of the most unconscionable and horrific acts imaginable.
That’s how you can tell this is fiction.
You wouldn’t see something like that happening in real life.
*other religions are available**
**but they’re made up too, so it doesn’t really matter. Pick your poison.
***or of reality as we generally understand it.