Religion is the most striking mental malfunction of our species. But there are mental malfunctions that don’t lead to or from religion. Sometimes people just refuse to think—nothing to do with religion.
Consider, as a case in point, the following transcript of a telephone conversation I had at approximately 7:35 PM on the evening of Thursday, January 6, 2011 with a deputy sheriff of Union County, North Carolina. I had called several times prior to this conversation to discuss the same public safety concern. On this occasion, as on the prior occasions, I was placed on hold as the deputy was summoned to the phone.
DEPUTY: “Hello. Mr. Chaney?”
ME: “Yes. Hello. The reason I called is that I wanted to follow up again on the issue with my neighbor Bob _______ and the bullets from his shooting range crossing the path of the walking trail on my property.”
DEPUTY: “Mr. Chaney, he has a right to shoot.”
ME: “I’m not trying to stop him from shooting.”
DEPUTY: “Alright. Then what can I do for you?”
ME: “Uh, something needs to be done about the safety of his range.”
DEPUTY: “I already talked to him.”
ME: “So is he fixing the problem?”
DEPUTY: “What problem?”
ME: “The bullets intersecting my walking trail. Remember, that’s what I called 911 for back on the first? It’s the same topic we have discussed four or five times now.”
DEPUTY: “Mr. Chaney, there’s a shooting range less than half a mile from your property. You realize that? You probably just heard gunshots from there.”
ME: “No. You brought that up before. As I have already told you, that’s an entirely different direction. Those folks have been there for over fifteen years and I’ve never had any problems with them. And, by the way, I didn’t just hear gunshots, sir. We discussed this before. I heard the actual bullets coming through the trees, hitting leaves and branches. One bullet struck a tree next to the trail, less than two paces from where my wife and I were. Do you remember that I asked you twice to come look at that tree and you just didn’t seem interested, sir? Do you remember that I asked you to come look at the tree?”
DEPUTY: “Mr. Chaney, where are you going with this? What do you want from me?
ME: “What I’m after is this: My property must no longer serve as the backstop for Bob’s target practice. In other words, all Bob’s bullets need to come to rest on Bob’s property. If he is going to continue shooting, he needs to build an adequate berm to stop the bullets.”
DEPUTY: “He has a berm.”
ME: “Not an adequate one. Live rounds are flying across my property, some passing right through our walking trail.”
DEPUTY: “He has an adequate berm.”
ME: “No, sir. No, sir. Not by NRA standards or even common sense standards. The top of the target is less than 18 inches from the top of the berm. If you looked at it, like you said you did, then you know as well as I do that it is not safe.”
DEPUTY: “Mr. Chaney, you are not in danger from bullets.”
ME: “Are you kidding? You’re just ignoring what I am saying. Okay, you know what, let me put it like this. Suppose I build an identical berm on the opposite side of the property line – absolutely identical in every respect: same width, same height, same material, everything – and suppose I shoot at this berm from a position precisely opposite from where he’s shooting from. Would that be safe?”
DEPUTY: “No. He has a house over there.”
ME: “Are you saying the bullets can go through brick and mortar but not through a T-shirt? Really? If people on his side of the line aren’t safe then people on our side aren’t safe. Are you even listening to what you are saying?”
DEPUTY: “Mr. Chaney, I don’t understand why you are trying to take this out on me.”
ME: “I’m not taking anything out on you. I’m asking you, sir, please, do your job!”
DEPUTY: “Alright, Mr. Chaney, I don’t have anything else to say. If you want to discuss this matter further, you should speak to my superior.”
His superior listened politely, repeatedly said he would look into the matter, but never returned my calls when he said he would and, as far as I know, did absolutely nothing. Words cannot express how frustrated and angry I was. Even the foulest words I know are not up to the task. I know because I used my full inventory of foul words to express my anger and it just didn’t work.
I decided to call the local newspaper. I hoped to get a reporter to inspect firsthand the orientation of my neighbor’s shooting range relative to the walking trail, the inadequate berm, and bullet in the tree next to our walking trail. But my wife informed me that we got a telephone message from my neighbor in which he belatedly acknowledged the danger of his shooting range, apologized, and promised to take corrective action.
Although my blood pressure eventually returned to normal, this episode permanently diminished my respect for the Sheriff’s Department. It demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the deputy has impaired cognitive capabilities. It demonstrated that his superior had no real interest in investigating this public safety issue.
Let me be clear that I am not some anti-cop activist. In fact, I think some police officers are genuine heroes. I also believe that most police officers are fairly intelligent men and women. Unfortunately, police officers reflect the American population from which they are drawn. At least one third of the American population consists of bigoted, Bible-thumping rednecks, the kind who dismiss evolution as “just a theory” and who expect Jesus to return within their own lifetime.
Atheists tend, by and large, to be far more reasonable people, but some atheists are downright loony. Some atheists are silly enough to believe George W. Bush orchestrated the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers. Some atheists believe that space aliens helped build the pyramids. We need to call out inanity whenever we spot it in a respected public authority, a close friend, a philosophic ally, or (heaven forbid) the person in the mirror.