Praying to the neon God
Clearly if we have energy for such in-fighting and for agenda’s on who is the better atheist it must mean that the gates have been cleared of external enemy’s. “We have won! Right? And ultimately, isn’t atheism boring? I mean not Sunday-morning-mass boring, but still: so you don’t believe in God or the Tooth-fairy, so what, are you going to fill another book with it? Are you seriously going to bring another flavor of atheism to the table or are we about done? And really, if you are not going to update it that much, should you even have an atheist blog?”
Like many Christian ministers my ‘faith’ was saved by my family. Not in the traditional sense though. They didn’t tell me I had an important role in atheism. They didn’t tell me that atheism was true and that I should persevere, mixing in covert but clear threats about how, as a minister, I brought prestige to the family while otherwise I would just be unskilled labor. Much to the opposite actually, they don’t really know what I am.
The part of the country my family lives in (remember Belgium is just the size of an Alabama county or so) was in the national news the other day. A man was going to be appointed priest and there was a minor-uproar because he was a sex-offender who had molested children in another parish he had worked. Now, the thing you need to know about my family is that they are big on religion but luke warm about the Church (with a capital ‘C’). Three generations of them were alter-boys/girls but at the same time they were privately very critical of the priests that were appointed. For the other part I’ve known them to be rather tolerant towards all sorts of people and even light-hearted towards some biblical contradictions (“How did God separated Day and Night on the third Day?” – laughter). At the same time I’ve known them to be unforgiving towards moral weakness and social transgression.
Being of sound character and valuating honesty I came out to my grandmother a decade ago: “I’m not religious”. But she told me that would come with time. I was recently seriously considering letting it slip that I held one of the rare Belgian-atheists sites, you know, posting it on facebook or so, having it be one of those things everyone talks about accept when I’m there. That was until we all got together for all-Saints on ..november 1st I’m not mistaken.
Someone, not me, raised the issue about the pedophile cleric that, according to the news, they were all to receive as a priest. Remember, priests had previously been condemned by my grandmother (and thus the family) just for being flamboyant and self-promoting in their office. So I entirely expected a burst of disapproval, just not in the direction it actually came. Turns out they all knew and liked the “poor bloke”. And everyone knew he had had ‘trouble’ in the past (that he sexually molested a child) and that he was trying to come to terms with his past (with the fact that he ejaculated inside a child that is not supposed to know the sight let alone the size and feeling of a grown penis). I can imagine that the five full years since that glorious climax has been “hell” for the guy, I’m just not sure of the reason for it. So indeed there was moral indignation, but it was towards “ the people who don’t go to church that send this story to the press”. So ..atheists, basically.
My family, who I can’t imagine otherwise forgiving such facts, let alone after a quick five years of ‘not-being-convicted’, were supporting a man to become priest. That is a function that, in that place, puts him alone into a room with children. So basically they supported placing an offender of the type of crime with the highest recidivism into a situation where such offences would be trivially easy and potentially sustainable over a prolonged period. And while they wouldn’t consider five years sufficient redemption time for any other man, when it concerns a man of the cloth they go as far as victimize him. And the evildoers? Atheists, people who don’t go to church and had the audacity to stop this by bringing it to the attention of the press.
Off course they do not have evidence for this. They also didn’t question why, in a country where State and Church are still mixed, atheists had such power. Or was it perhaps that these facts shocked other theists in equal measure so that the publication of the facts was enough to stop this appointment?
This whole situation kind of reminded me of one of my favorite, what I consider to be, atheistic songs: “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. In it there’s this ghastly phrase: “And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.” Not only does this song talk about the silence, the silence and the anonymity I am keeping as The Silent Atheist, it talks about the gods people dream up and what they will do for it. It is actually a pessimistic vision because it suggests that these man-made-gods will be continually replaced, even by mundane yet relatively recent concepts. The neon is just a metaphor for 21st century Golden Calves and other idols. Just like in the song, the people are blind to the obvious signs the idol is flashing. Worse even, this thing, this man they have placed on a pedestal must be defended, against the enemy, against atheists, against me.
I may be anonymous, I may even be “Anonymous”, and just like with the “Anonymous” -community the atheist community may contain its fair share of dimwits and *-holes, but as long as it doesn’t bow to self-appointed neon-gods I think we will be alright. A little infighting is actually much required because of what we are. We aren’t the flock of some catholic priest with a dubious past, we do not gather in the neon-light to whisper-sync a prayer in unison; we are skeptics without a god, a community without a handbook and rebels without a cause.
And though at times I have wished for more community, for freethinkers- churches and for a liberal, fair and honest economy all of that is relative. As we continue to grow we will continue to diverge and continue to be less of a community, like a cloud of gas expanding into thinness. It is not a sign we are losing, it is a sign we are winning. Because the opposite; a globally amassing community of atheists that all think alike on all subjects has lost itself along the way and might as well have found itself bowing and praying to another neon-god. If this means that we can’t all feel the same about women (because you like men better or just because you hate women), or if it means you think me or Richard Dawkins a bastard then that is perhaps unfortunate on some level, it is not unfortunate for atheism however.
Those of you that have read me before may conclude I was wrong again. I do not deny it, whatever I write is my opinion until I change it. I realize now that Atheism should not be a community at all, at least not in the long run. If atheism is to triumph over religion, which I defend and which despite all the good news is still an immensely difficult proposition (not in the least because there is also a lot of bad news), it must be like evolution or the song of the cicadas, it must be an emergent phenomenon.
So yes, there is another kind of atheism we must evolve to, there is still work to be done and plenty of opposition. I thank my family for having gotten me through this crisis, even it will be a very VERY long time before they will ever come to know it.
My fellow atheists, Heed the sound of the enemy knocking at the door and rise to the occasion.