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Adele, the “lady” who asked the question, is the nineteen-year-old partner of an ex-jailbird named Early, played by Brad Pitt, in one of his … early movies, back in 1993, “Kalifornia”. They are a couple of drifters, no-hopers, described cruelly by a somewhat more sophisticated couple with whom they were to travel across the U.S., in the most vicious serial-killer road-movie you could imagine, as “Okies”, and even “white trash”. The point is not the movie nor its frightening subject, but a certain socio-professional divide revealed in the quotation’s question of just four words.

Clearly, the less-than-enlightened young lady was meant to be typical of a significant proportion of Americans – and of people everywhere. Everyone may have equal rights, but not everyone has the same intelligence, education or cultural awareness. Some people are bright, and others are just plain dumb. But – here’s the point – many of both categories, at both ends of the I.Q. scale, are incredibly credulous. If only dumb people were, I’d say that’s par for the course. My problem is with people who, literally, should know better than to believe and practise the nonsense we call religion.

There’s nothing terribly original in that last observation. But it does pose a serious question to atheists. We sometimes arrogantly accept as normal that people who grew up in an unintellectual, if not anti-intellectual, Redneck, Ocker, hillbilly, “Okie” environment (my children were all born in Oklahoma …) are easy game for fundamentalists and smooth-talking preying mantises who hawk snake-oil, get-rich-quick Pozzi schemes and old-time religion. This is, of course, unfair not only to certain geographical areas and States, but to underprivileged social classes, whose members are often remarkably intelligent people who, given the opportunity afforded by education, become major contributors to science, art, culture, education, philosophy and … free-thinking.

The real mystery is how highly sophisticated people, leaders in Academe, in the sciences and liberal professions, can recite the Rosary, receive a white wafer at Communion and proclaim out loud their faith that it is in fact “the Body of Christ”, and pay for Masses to be said for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Why on earth can’t they see through the gobbledygook ? It would be absurd to suggest that they are all desperately in need of psychiatric help. They are not crazy. But they are blind. For reasons unknown even to themselves they have created a credulity that provides them with the comfort of illusions they need. I would be happy to help them examine their reasons for their blind belief, but only if they have begun themselves to wonder why they accepted the preposterous myths, rules and rituals of irrational religion. Atheists more talented than I may be able to convert the convinced. I will settle for Believers on the Brink.

“Karma”, by the way, is Sanskrit.