How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sharia pt. 2: Coming to Believe My Disbelief
A Joyous ABC Afterschool Holiday Special
|"I know what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown... lights, please."|
“Atheism is a very positive affirmation of man's ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems… It's about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said, 'Well, we are men. Let's start acting like it.'" -- Madalyn Murray O'Hair
“If I told you what it takes
to reach the highest high,
You'd laugh and say 'nothing's that simple'
But you've been told many times before
Messiahs pointed to the door
And no one had the guts to leave the temple!
I'm free-I'm free
And freedom tastes of reality.” - The Who
By the title and subject matter you can no doubt ascertain that this has been an essay percolating for quite a prolonged period, and I express my appreciation in advance for your active suspension of time-based reality, and wish you all a very joyful and jovial Springtime Yuletide.
It’s that time of year when the world falls in love; every sound you hear seems to say, “Merry Christmas, may your New Year’s dreams come true.” And nowhere are the holidays more festive than here in the Big Apple. Sleigh bells are ringing, children are singing, it’s back to Robert Hall’s again; and I’m snapping at tourists on 5th Ave to just keep (expletive deleted) walking. As one saunters (sometimes meanders, oftimes ambles, rarely promenades) the cosmopolitan, concrete canyons and corridors (sometimes boulevards, oftimes thoroughfares, rarely cul-de-sacs) of Gotham, one encounters the regaled Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and skating rink, the storied store windows, the unique items offered in the outdoor Christmas marts of Central and Bryant Parks, the celebrated Singing Chorus Tree at the South Street Seaport, the acclaimed Christmas spectaculars and performances presented from Radio City Music Hall to Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center; and for those with more pious predilections, the godly goings-on at Trinity Church, St. John the Divine and that hub of homosexual oppression, and subjugator of free speech and thought, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (“you’re bringing me down, you stood and you watched as my baby left town.”) New York is a true winter wonderland; so much so that even visiting red-staters can be overheard wishing others gay tidings of the season. And even for this deity denier, it’s easily my favorite time of year, and not because of the highly unlikely lore of a birth sans intimacy that a few minutes of research will reveal to be a familiar fable common to many faiths earlier and prior to Christianity, but somewhat in spite of it, for as was the case with Seuss’s Grinch after his heralded heart-enlarging procedure (thankfully, now covered by Obamacare despite being a pre-existing condition) this is one atheist who loves Christmas.
Of course, I wasn’t always a Hell-bound heathen, soon to be seeking soulless solace from siblings in sin in the deepest, darkest, dankest depths of the Netherworld – Hitler, Himmler, Hilter, Bimmler (for Monty Python aficionados), all members of the Bush cabinet and clan (including, through no fault of his own, Billy), Paul Anka, new recruit, Justin Bieber, and, of course, Ryan Seacrest. I grew up a Christian, was raised a Christian and if ever asked, would respond I was a Christian. I even have an uncle, whom I greatly respect, who is a retired Presbyterian minister; and a first cousin, whom I greatly disrespect, who is a fairly popular television evangelist. Each joined the soul-saving circuit for distinctly different reasons; the former to counsel his flock, the latter to fleece it. This malevolent mockery of a miracle-worker will sell you the dyed, slicked-back hair off his head, and his glistening, gold “faith-based” bling in between curing ills and saving sinners through the enchantment of the TV tube, like Romper Room’s Miss Mary Anne pretending she’s spying you through the magic mirror. The more you pay, the more you’re saved. There will be no revelation of the identity of this con-man-kin of Revelations partially to retain the anonymity of nycityman but also to avoid any unnecessary association with a swindling, charlatan, snake-oil salesman who, as with so many of his odious ilk, exploits sincere beliefs and the vulnerable to enrich himself; healing with one hand while freeing the faithful from the restricting confines of their weekly wages with the other. Why does benefitting from God’s glory and good graces so often cost people their fortunes?
Even as a Christian-kid, a Protestant-pup, I felt my forced flirtation with faith was just a family-fueled fellowship, as it is for so many of us “one nation under God-ers.” You are what you are told you are as a toddler, with no necessary relevance or meaning in your life. Church attendance was but a chore, an ungodly boring, bellicose and interminable hour struggled through once a week. As innocent and impressionable children we are controlled, corralled and kept in line by threats of undying damnation and Hellfire; of an existential eternity existing in one of two fictional final destinations, Heaven or Hell, dependent upon our behavior - pretty deep and heady, if not actually emotionally and intellectually abusive. After half a century of societal and familial approved pretense I came out of the unconsecrated closet and learned of the profound power and emancipation of being true to oneself.
Once you embrace Atheism and nay say the widely-accepted, but flagrantly false, negative rap and reputation of the non-believer (in actuality, we Atheists have bountiful beliefs – truth, facts, science, reality, humanity - it’s ancient myths and folklore in the guise of unwavering and uncompromising certitudes that we find troubling) there’s a certain peace and contentment, a freedom, a calm, a release. All prior judgments, all pre-judgments, all unjustified and unwarranted guilt miraculously disappear faster than a politician’s principles when spotting an NRA checkbook. Yours can be a virtuous and moral future, not based on millennia-old rules and fear of a vengeful and spiteful God, but based on benevolence, compassion and human-kindness. Reject false idols of faith, and acknowledge and welcome those whom you previously disliked and rejected “for the Bible tells me so.” What other theories over 2000 years old do we still obey and abide? Do you avoid “Love Boats” for fear of falling off the edge of the flat globe (or perhaps it’s the apparently perennially obstructed lavatories, or the lounge entertainment that keeps you at a distance?) Does anyone still think the sun revolves around the earth?
When spiritual guidance and spiritual love no longer dictates peoples for you to scorn simply for a differing belief system; once you realize that you’re not superior as a disciple of the one true faith, or visa versa, that someone is inferior because they follow what you chose to believe is a false ideology; once you recognize different cultures and see others as equals; then a true awakening can occur that you’ll never experience in any church, mosque or temple. Reject the cult of religion and all the intolerance and hatred that it spews and discover that you can accept homosexuals, equality of women, free-thought, science, self-determination, and an entire glorious array of important, worthy, valuable - or in religious terms - heretical, blasphemous, evil - thoughts, philosophies and concepts. Release yourself from the yokes, the bounds, the chains, so much of which is grounded in terror and apprehension, and on an existence spent ignoring the full experiences of living so as to structure behavior toward a future eternal life of which no evidence exists; a fantasy world concocted to constrain natural, human behavior through lies, manipulation, fear and a “good book” of tall-tales and larger-than-life characters not substantially different than Thor or Zeus or even Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. Undoubtedly, embracing my disbelief was definitely one of the best, most personally emancipating events to ever occur in my life.
Why look to a king, and not just any king but a “king of kings” when most modern societies snub such sovereignty here on earth? “Praise the Lord?” Feudal systems died out by the 16th century. In search of a savior – what, in reality, do you exactly need saving from, and why can’t you save yourself?
So, how to explain my deep abiding ardor for all things Yule (spelling not being a strength, even the “King and I” is a favorite) - it’s the feeling in the air, the days off valuably enjoyed with family and friends, the feasting, the drinking, the lights, the music, the good will, the brotherhood, the well wishes and happy moods, the relaxation - the overall cheerful demeanor of the season – basically, the secular sentiments from any Andy Williams song. And, don’t be shocked, but even for Atheists, it can be Jesus’s teachings, for there are non-religious, historical records of his being. And like the good, liberal philosopher that he was, Jesus believed in helping the poor, the downtrodden, the weak and infirmed - pretty much the exact opposite of all the GOP candidates who run on his name. So, even this hollow heathen believes in the greatness of Jesus’s message although not in his divinity. If Jesus was but a mortal and well-meaning minister and leader, he’s still worthy of a holiday and celebration, much in the way we fete the noble lives and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.
Finally, as it is the time of year (remember, we’re pretending it’s Christmas) when we bury the hatchet with our enemies, and peer for the positive in people, in the tradition of the “Wizard of Oz,” that television holiday staple, “… and several butcher’s aprons” bestows to Sarah Palin a brain (no explanation necessary, not that she’d comprehend one); to Paul Ryan (he of the proposed Draconian budget which pilfers from the poor to reward the rich), a heart; and to the Republican members of the Senate, the courage to represent those who elected them instead of greedily grabbing the graft of the gun lobby.
As always, we conclude with the added commentary of an appropriate song, in this case, The Who and "I'm Free."
Have any comments, questions, criticisms, compliments, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.