So I had an odd thought the other day. I was browsing my own writing, actually, and I ran across my tribute to Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist and pop culture figure who simultaneously challenged many of the assumptions of his own profession, and also remade the public’s conception of what a scientist is all about. Oh, and he did it all while fighting ALS. No mean feat.

But, when he died, Hawking wasn’t universally missed by the public he so successfully addressed. He was, you see, an atheist. No, not one of those evangelical atheists who make themselves objectionable on the Web or in public forums. He was a quiet atheist. It was simply his considered opinion, based on what evidence he could see (or rather could not see) that there is no God. He was honest about it. He didn’t hide his belief, or lack there-of. But he didn’t try to force his non-religion on others.

Which, of course, made him a target to a certain kind of religious person. And so, after his passing, there were quite a few evangelists who seemed to celebrate his death, and to proclaim that Hawking was now in Hell, burning away for all eternity.

But as I thought about that, and I thought about the rather ghoulish delight such “Christians” take in believing that others are to be tormented for all eternity for not believing as they do, I remembered Ayn Rand. You recall her, of course. She …who was the author of such deathless tomes as Atlas Shrugged, and who founded her own religion substitute, “Objectivism,” and who is now more or less openly worshiped by Libertarians and Arch Capitalists the world over.

She, too, was an atheist. She detested Churches, and the whole idea of God. She wrote elaborate proofs to show that God doesn’t exist, and worked hard to convince anyone around her that He, or She, or It was only a myth. She could, indeed, be quite furious if she encountered a believer who had, somehow penetrated her inner circle, and at least once tried to get one of her acolytes to divorce his wife because she had the temerity to retain a faith in something other than the dollar. Or in Rand herself.

Yet, curiously, I almost never hear Ayn Rand decried from the televangelist’s pulpit. I hear no gristly descriptions of the torments she must endure for her unbelief. There are no references to ever-lasting fire which burns but does not illuminate. I hear nothing about pitchforks and horned fiends with sadistic appetites.

Why? It is a puzzle, given that the logic surely would indicate that such would be her fate?

I have a guess. For the televangelist in their enormous cruelty, Hawking could be damned because he was intelligent, cultured, questioning, rational, and decent. All the things, in other words, which they are not, and which they hate.

And Ayn Rand? She worshiped wealth, her own will, and perhaps her own self.

So, for the televangelist, she could not possibly be damned.

No. Because they are, don’t you see…

Exactly the same.