Yesterday at the pharmacist’s I discovered that I had lost two centimeters … in height ! Of course I hadn’t : you can’t trust weighing machines, especially those that at the same time as telling you how much weight you have lost or gained, take your blood-pressure and record your height. However I do wonder about that word “lost”, when we apply it to losing kilos and especially to losing one’s faith. You lose your wallet or your watch or your keys or your credit-card (I lost my signet ring once, “From Illusions to Illumination”, pp. 123-127). Hopefully you find them again. But when we say we “lose weight” (more often than not I do the opposite), we usually mean that we have succeeded in getting rid of a certain amount of excessive fat (unless, of course, the reduction in weight is both unwelcome and unhealthy). When we say that someone has “lost the faith”, atheists do not mean, as non-atheists do, that s/he has lost something valuable, and that pains should not be spared in helping the person to find it again. We atheists, especially those with an itinerary like mine, do not feel we have lost something of value but something, like unwanted kilos, which we are glad to be rid of. The difference, of course, is that while weight-watchers are in constant danger of putting lost weight back on, converts to atheism have little risk of burdening themselves once again with the folly of faith. Successful, medically indicated and prescribed dieting and adequate exercise result in liberating oneself from the restrictions imposed by obesity and from the multiple dangers it represents for our health. Becoming an atheist is not a loss but a liberation from the silly beliefs, rules and rituals of religion.
Although its author, Juvenal, created the motto as an encouragement to pray to the gods to restore health to the sick, “Orandum est, ut sit mens sana in corpore sano” (“One must pray so as to have a healthy mind in a healthy body”) – the Aussie Rules club of Carlton, Melbourne, has retained the Latin motto minus, thank God, the first four words – weight-loss can contribute to the health of a “corpus sanum”; deliverance from faith, credulity and religion is a precious aid to a “mens sana”.