From the land of Silent People
Four months into this blog I have come to realize I am not so much the Silent Atheist as I’m a closeted one. Make no mistake, I am telling everyone that says ‘thank God’ that I don’t swing that way. Yet in this little country there is a big difference between being an atheist and promoting it. Fair enough, many wouldn’t be more comfortable with the theist doing the same, but this negates that also here religion is all around. By contrast to the US there is not separation of Church and state here. Priests and other officials of recognized religions get subsidized by the state. Unlike in Germany ‘un-baptizing’ yourself does not reduce your taxes or reduce what churches receive. The King must attend several religious ceremonies a year, which our new king will do with glee. He named a daughter Elisabeth and a son Emanuel so I think you get the picture.
I am closeted in that only a handful of people know I am the author of these posts. None have reacted with much enthusiasm and the biggest endorsement came from a theist that complimented my form. A liberal ‘none’ asked me if I was going to put on a suicide jacket and blow up the train. In Belgium non-believers think atheists do that!
As the center of Europe the world thinks that Belgium (if they know and think about us) must be some kind of semi-socialist atheist state. This is less the case than you and I may have assumed. Rather in Belgium we have cultivated “Don’t ask don’t tell” to an art-form about many things. Politicians would say this is because Belgium was always occupied by foreign powers which shut the Belgians up. In reality only Napoleon, The Kaiser and Hitler ever occupied Belgium and each came to regret it. The reason why we are all so silent on the contrary is because it enables the radically different views on politics, culture and religion to coexist in what is perhaps the most densely inhabited nation (not counting city-states) in the world. Combine this with the lack of military might, natural resources and with a severe gap between the 1% and the 99% and it becomes clear how tense this country is. On the other hand, I think a cr*p-load of Belgians just cares about beer and soccer (yeah, I know, soccer L) and just doesn’t give a fudge. In any case the last thing this country wants is an atheist reminding them of things more advanced countries take for granted. If you attack God, do you attack the legitimacy of the King as well? If you reduce the King will you destabilize the country so it cracks where the ruptures are ever widening? “Better shut up and go to work, okay?”
That’s all we have you see, we import, we work and we export. If we don’t, we starve. Not enough room to grow even a percentage of the food we need. Not enough sun or land for solar farms. We have many roads, but they drive all the more comfortable in an all-terrain-vehicle. Seriously, you can tell when you enter Belgium by car with your eyes closed. Belgium in essence today is still what it was when it was permitted to exist in 1830. A buffer-state between the European nations, a neutral place to situate it’s center, the butler of NATO, employed as long as it has no voice.
That’s why I was a bit confused to see this Saudi Arabian pay us this rather dubious compliment. In a 2012 Gallup poll apparently Saudi Arabia had scored the same percentage atheists as Belgium:
The poll showed that the percentage of atheists in Saudi Arabia is the same as in advanced European countries like Belgium. The strangest part in the poll is the finding that the number of atheists in Saudi Arabia reached five percent.
That this is not at all to the liking of the author makes the comment all the more confusing. Is Belgium ‘advanced’ in it’s atheism? It certainly doesn’t feel that way. In fact five percent is way lower than I would have thought. Also, should we interpret this as hardcore atheists like me or more like the non-affiliates such as are currently the fastest growing denomination in the United States? Are we advanced in other societal aspects? Is the author for instance saying there is a natural correlation between technical advancement and atheism? “Wow, stop the presses! No no, I don’t have important news to print, I just want them stopped. They are spreading dangerous ideas and technologies.” Seriously? We are comparable with ‘Bin Laden-raising’, ‘tea-party ally’ Saudi Arabia? On ATHEISM!!?
Here is me thinking I was blogging to the world from a secular society feeling guilty for breaking “Don’t ask don’t tell”. However, while Belgium isn’t comparable to Saudi Arabia in the level of orthodoxy there are indeed still a lot of undefined believers. They don’t like the dogmatism and abuse of the Catholic Church, but they will pray in distress and believe in ‘something’ as may ease their anguish. Add to this the many die-hards and a God-given monarchy and things do not look too secular indeed.
Belgium currently has a gay prime-minister. Worldwide cudoo’s were received for this. These were not deserved though. Belgium is a homophobic country as much as, and more so, than many of our neighbors. As seems to be our national sport (finding compromises) the prime minister was mainly a compromise between the majority parties and it took two years to reach this compromise. After two years of post-election stalemate, him being gay seemed to mean little, when none of the other candidates could be agreed upon by the majority. Elections are coming soon, could go either way.
I hate to say I’ve come to hate the country that I have loved so much. It is to Saudi Arabia what a rescue boat is to the Titanic, a lot smaller and slightly better, yet not a real ship. I would like to have an U.S. constitution. I would like a country where at least the atheists feel like stating the atheist-case and spreading atheist ideas is commendable. Yet what we have is a small and small-minded country, where some are born more equal than others and where rocking the boat is considered worse than being wrong.
Granted, religion does not come into it on the daily basis as it does in the U.S. of A., but it does come into it. Priests, cardinals and bishops come into the political talk-shows for their superior imaginary-friend-relations. Often talking about things they are not allowed to do, as if they are experts at them. We don’t have a bi-party political arena, we have multiple parties. There is a socialist party, there is a Christian party, a party for the economic liberals and some separatists. Lest you think the socialists are atheists, they are not, they are Catholics just like all the others. There is no party that associates with the non-believer, a party that watches over separation of church and state. We are told we have separation, now move on.
It’s actually funny how religious freedom is arranged in Belgium. The state recognizes a handful of religions and calls al others ‘sects’. You are free to believe in any of the permitted religions and if you do this will be a subsidized activity. If you don’t then it’s a hobby from which you can derive no rights. Charges for ‘conspiracy’ is always an option if your hobby interferes with the government. Otherwise they leave you alone. Still there is no 1st amendment, no 4th amendment, no 5th either and, though this is debateable no real 2nd amendment either. This is not all-bad, the number of religions is limited by the State-budget. Scientology is a sect, Jehova-withnesses belong to a sect. You do not have the right to refuse blood-transfusion for your kids based on Jehova’s teachings. If you are a non-believer however, you are simply without a hobby. You are not treated the same as a believer. You don’t get money for that, though you do pay taxes (40 – 50%) from which all allowed religions are subsidized. Compare this with the USA where a religious employer doesn’t have to provide coverage for birth-control or abortion because that violates his religious sensitivity. I actually pay priests! Any ordained Catholic above the rank of priest makes more money than I do, yet none of them gets up at 5:10 am to work the day-shift. God is available 24/7, so no need to rush.
There’s a ‘Sharia for Belgium’ wannabe-terrorist movement that is as tolerated as it is tolerant. They used to be a movement, now they are outlawed. It is just an example of the influence migration has had on the diminishing secularity of this nation. Political correctness demands ultimate religious tolerance and grave exceptions notwithstanding the muslim-community is well tolerated inside our small territory. For the non-believer they are however less silent theists against whom atheism is not equally represented in the public arena. If Ahmed from work spends 45 minutes in the evening with his buttox pointing away from Mecca, this is not considered weird. Me blogging about atheism in Belgium by contrast,” jeeez’ you’re not gonna blow us up are you?”
This ‘secular’ society isn’t, it isn’t real, it is a wolf in sheepskin. Ironically atheists like myself are joined by the frustrated local priest that have started to use conditions on the sacraments to get people to come to church. They blame the IPAD-world for their dropping flock, I blame them for a society that thinks having lots of little statues of little ‘Jezus’ and countless saints is the same as morality. If we are a secular society then we’d have an atheist-party to balance-out the Christian one. If we are a secular society the head-of-state would not be take part in any religious service in any official capacity. If we are a secular society every religion would be a hobby or all would be subsidized (Welcome Pastafarians!) If we are a secular society all people are born – not created- BORN equal. All nobility would seize to exist since this social stratification was given meaning by religion only. You are not a Duke in need of money, you are a man who can’t pay his debts. You do not get to live in a castle for which I am paying the cosmic heating by way of taxes. If we were a secular society we’d have more atheists and non-believers than Saudi-blasting-Arabia.
Instead I live in a country where not baptizing your kids is considered a selfish choice since ‘you are influencing their future’ and ‘blocking their chances’. ‘You’d better not be too vocal with your opinions, some day it’ll all reverse and they will cut of your head.’ Instead I’m dragged to church forced to listen to a priest who actually gets scripture wrong since he is more interested in getting his PR across than getting his biblical ‘facts’ straight. Instead I get to fight alone, closeted, in silence, in a land of silent people.