How does one measure how civilized a country is? Good beer and soccer. By this measure, America in the late 1960s was a barbaric wasteland. The entire nation was trying desperately hard to get drunk on soapy-tasting, fizzy faux beers like Budweiser and Coors, and members of the nascent North American Soccer League were approached by slack-jawed sports yokels who pointed to the lettering on their jerseys and drawled: “Gee. What’s saw-ker?”
Nowadays things are much improved. Most Americans under 15 play soccer, and nearly all Americans can pronounce it. And some of the beer—sacre bleu—is simply amazing.
I suppered recently with a chum.
“I’ll have a water,” I said.
“And I’ll have a Pabst Blue Ribbon,” said my pal.
“Okay! So that’s two waters!” quipped the waitress. She was a beer snob. As are all truly civilized human beings. As are millions of Americans. As are you. Because you’ve realized your choice of ale is an infinitely more important signifier of cool than clothes and pop music. Hurrah for you.
Of course, there’s another good measure of how civilized a nation is: the ratio of atheists to silly people. Here, alas, America doesn’t do very well. This is because the U.S. enshrined religious toleration in its constitution, thus turning the country into a giant religious loony magnet with the horrid results we see around us today.
One such result is that religious debate in America is primarily between atheist intellectuals and fundamentalist Christians. Which is kinda like rocket scientists arguing with amoebas—no real contest.
In godless Britain, the debate is between atheists and agnostics, the latter camp represented by In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist, a new book by John Humphrys. Humphrys represents a constituency whose main objection to the “new atheism” expounded by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is not that it’s wrong so much as that it’s strident.
It’s a frightfully English complaint to which the only possible response is: Get off the fence, Humphrys, you priest’s-ass-kissing limey liberal. Either the tooth fairy, God, Santa Claus, Allah, Apollo, Frank the giant purple unicorn, Yahweh, Thor, Odin, Ra and Zeus are all made-up bollocks, or one of them is real and all the rest are made-up bollocks. And what are the odds of that?
As Dawkins brilliantly pointed out in The God Delusion, all religious people are atheists about thousands of other gods. So why not add just one more to the list—and make America a more civilized country as you do so? It’s your goddamn patriotic duty.