Thursday, August 02, 2007

Don't be a dick

I’ve been reading The God Delusion. In between the preaching to the choir-ness of this exercise and my desire to get out a red pen and edit the fuck out of the book, I’ve been presented with the odd idea that’s made me think. Look, it’s not like this is going to change my views on gods* or on religion (see above under ‘preaching’ ‘choir’ ‘to’) but such things do have a way of holding mirrors up to our own lives. In particular, the second to last chapter deals with childhood and childhood religion/adult atheism - the act, so to speak, of coming out. And I am suddenly grateful to my parents.

Much as I malign them, and I do – to their faces, behind their backs, always with the ‘look how you fucked me up’,** I would never be afraid to come out to them or share any part of myself with them. (Quick digression, possibly the worst thing I ever did to them, and this is an interesting lesson on morality and what matters most to people, is quit university. It was fairly inevitable that I would do so given that I was too young and too stupid and too undereducated to have gone straight from school but I did and I did and I thought my father would explode. Scary. Never shatter your parents’ dreams for you or of what they would have liked for themselves.) I have quite an open relationship with my parents (I see other parental figures behind their backs – j/k) and my sister and, theoretically, can tell them anything. That I don’t tell them anything and everything has more to do with my personality and with my irritation at having my mother worry over every little thing than of any major problems in our relationship. I cannot imagine ever having them stop loving me or of them even suggesting such a thing over anything I might have done or been or become. I am quite used to unconditional love.***

Therefore, it is things such as the non-acceptance of children by their parents over decisions they make as, presumably, logical adults that totally floor me. I have quite a lot of conversations, very mild ones, about this sort of thing with the rather endearingly young, naïve, massively prejudiced, kids I work with. I either work in a place that attracts the very young and overly religiously and ethnically prejudiced or I’ve grown up massively outside of a mainstream that I didn’t know, existed. I prefer the former option but I suspect that there is a lot to be said for the latter. There are two, or perhaps three if you include the drug clause, things that really separate my upbringing from those kids, and in many ways the two are intertwined – the attitudes of my parents to religion and homosexuality. For those kids, the avowal of homosexuality or, horrors, agnosticism or, double horrors, atheism would be enough for their parents to shun them. This may not be entirely true but it is what they believe and, as we all know, belief is all. They are, really, very little, very personal things; things that ought not to matter quite so much. My parents are fairly tolerant (I say, sweeping aside the god-awful generalisations and prejudices of their generation that they have not eradicated and my dad’s slight racism problem and my mother’s slight thoughtless-silly-prejudice problem) and, when push comes to shove, both are intelligent enough to judge people on who they are rather than what they are. They are very tolerant of sexual preference (half the family’s queer, you get over it after a while) and are not religious. What’s more, my parents did not raise my sister and me in a religion (they should have been hippies but were clearly too damn lazy). They had, I think, half-arsed notions that we would decide for ourselves once we were old enough and they’ve been quite lucky (one of my cousins had a thing for the tambourines of the Salvation Army when she was quite little – her parents had much the same ideas but I think mine got off more lightly) – neither of us has joined a cult/bizarre religious sect despite the entreaties of (yet another) cousin to do so. (Culty has been trying since I was a teenager – she just doesn’t know when to give up.) They’ve ended up with an easy going atheist (moi) and a lazy/slightly fearful non-atheist. My sister prefers to accept the status quo on most ideas of this nature. I cannot imagine my parents disowning either of us for our views. I’m actually pretty sure that my dad was the original atheist-in-the-foxhole - by which I mean I think he’s essentially an atheist but has, literally, been in a fox-hole situation and would very much like for there to be a greater purpose with someone in charge.

The point, oh yes, the point is that I have never had that moment where I suddenly realised that I didn’t believe in a god and have, funnily enough, never had the experience of shattering other people’s expectations by sharing the after effects of such an epiphany with them. (The only epiphany I’ve ever had was realising that I was in love with somebody and that absolutely nothing would ever come of it – I chased that epiphany with gulps from a bottle of vodka, thousands upon thousands of my best words, and phoning a friend – none of which actually worked.) I have never had my parents vow to disown me on such flimsy grounds and would suspect them of having been looking for an excuse to be rid of me if they had done so. The point, oh yes the point, is that I cannot understand a mentality that would allow a person to disown their own child (fair enough if it proves to be both ugly and stupid as well) over something that is really so very slight. In short, or shorter still, I just don’t ‘get’ religion and hope never to.

Also, solidarity, Dawkins, and please, for the love of all that’s cool, froody, and evolutionary get a better editor!

* Shock! Unexpected conversion to goddite-ness by NPB! I think not.
** I really must get over this, they’re quite sweet and not that bad at all really. And I’m really not that fucked up – just selfish and quite lazy.
*** Sounds weird, no? I am the youngest child of youngest children and have always been loved and protected by my family – including members of my extended family – for no other reason than simply existing. I have never had to work or fight for a place in my family or to compete for notice. This is actually a whole other post that I probably won’t write because, quite frankly, you don’t need to know that much about my psychology and I don’t want you to know.


Caz said...

... over something that is so very slight ...

Spoken like a true Atheist.

For believers, it's not slight, it's very serious, and sits at the core of their lives.

In addition, and more to the point, most religions essentially require that one stays within the religion, that is, associate and marry within one's faith.

Many religions, in this modern era, would deny that they have these standards as "requirements", and it's a little bit true, but it's far more true that all religions like to huddle with their own, and they encourage that practice.

So, the point? If a child rejects or changes religion, the perception, quite a real one, is that they are turning their back not only on the family upbringing, but the entire (safe) extended association with the religious group. They are, in essence, outcast from the protective arm of whatever faith (the "right" one) the family randomly adopted and foisted upon their spawn.

It's no small thing.

I was raised with religion, hence why my daughter was raised godless and fearless. Hasn't done her any harm. She is the better for it. Like you, she doesn't understand the fuss. She also has no need to search for "meaning", since life itself is inherently meaningful, without artificial props.

You probably would have been better off buying The Atheist Manifesto, by some French philosopher; still singing to the choir, but not trying to provoke in the way that Dawkins set out to do. The Manifesto is more considered and more intellectually compelling, I gather (must buy it myself one of these days).

Caz said...

BTW - sounds like you had a loving and safe upbringing, and continue to enjoy the benefits and adult bonds of such.

Whatever flimsy things you would like to blame your parents for (real or imagined) I will offer this: by the time people reach 30 it's time to stop blaming anyone for their childhood. It's time to accept responsibility for who you are as an adult, because by that age, it ain't nobodies fault but yours! (Harsh, but true, sorry.)

(The exceptions to that rule are in the realms of hideous realities that most of us can't seriously imagine, and from which many children never fully recover.)

Mark said...

I haven't read the book, but it sounds like an angrier version of what Bertrand Russell used to go on about. As subtle as a sledgehammer and as contemporary as the Liberal Party. Not that he's wrong or anything.

Personally, I was never taught anything about god as a child and always thought it was a pretty silly belief, but I still don't get any sense of identity from being an atheist. Religion never meant anything, so it didn't matter either way. You should ask Ross about it though - he's a born-again, of sorts.

Caz said...

"... but I still don't get any sense of identity from being an atheist.

Again, spoken like a true Atheist!

Why would you? It would be disturbing if you claimed that you did gain any sense of your identity from being an atheist.

I get very riled with the now dirt-common claim that atheism is "just another belief system". And it's a point being made early and often.


Atheism is NON-BELIEF!

There is no club!

There are no rituals.

Atheists don't even care enough to want to know if other people don't believe.

None of the guys have to wear long frocks or make proclamations.

There is no dogma.

There are no sacred texts.

There is no compulsion to treat people differently according to gender or sexual orientation.

There are no meetings to attend.

There are no buildings dedicated to the worship of nothing!

There are no symbols to wear as jewelery.

There are no rules to follow.

There is no hierarchy.

Atheists don't roam through life measuring their conduct against some random benchmark, or any external dictates, that may or may not mesh with their own conscience.

It's the antithesis of "belief"!!!!

/ sorry, enough, end rant.

nailpolishblues said...

There are no buildings dedicated to the worship of nothing! Well, fuck me, I now want to build one. What an awesome idea!

The book was lent to me by a friend, Caz, and she'll probably lend me The Atheist Manifesto in due course - though, like you, I think I might want a copy for my very own.

You're quite right, I find it hard to think like those people - I do not see that rejecting the validity of a belief system is rejecting a person/group of people - but then, I don't base my identity on a particular belief system. I just am, dudes, live with it... ;)
You're also right about my family - I think as I get older I realise how damn lucky I am and then I see them again and the urge to kill is upon me... No, really, they're great, a little bit mad but mostly great.
So I've only got a year and a quarter left of parent blaming? Man, I better burn them good, I'm running out of time! My favourite cousin's nearly forty and he's still blaming his parents for everything. He's such a complete cock but he just won't listen.

Mark, who gets a sense of identity out of it?
Dawkins, fairly obviously, goes on a lot about evolution and he also has a massive crush on Douglas Adams - it's the latter that makes him ok in my book. It's a bit of a tedious read but, you know...

Mark said...

Well, what I meant was atheism was kind of rebellious in the old days, like in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It really meant something to deny the existence of God, and it set you apart from traditional society. Bertrand Russell was cashing in on it, so were people like Nietzsche and Camus.

So, while atheism isn't a belief system - because atheists only have the one belief in common - it can give you a sense of identity by making you different from those around you. Just like listening to rock music might have given a sense of identity to kids in the fifties.

As for atheism being 'just another belief system,' maybe they mean that atheists are all materialists? It's not that simple in real life, but there might still be a point there.

Caz said...

"As for atheism being 'just another belief system,' maybe they mean that atheists are all materialists? It's not that simple in real life, but there might still be a point there.

No, the arguments are far more detailed and idiotic than that; desperately trying to draw a strong association between atheism as a "faith", no different to any other "religion". It would be funny if they weren't so intellectually lunatic. (Sorry, too lazy to outline all the different arguments that I've read. Pretty much nothing to do with materialism though.)

I think the days of claiming rebel status, or being part of some cool sub-culture, by announcing oneself to be an atheist died out about half a century ago.

Those raised without the brainwashing of religion wouldn't even understand the point being made, (and they are an increasing group). It's an old fashioned notion, especially when there is pretty much nothing left for anyone to rebel against.

So, while atheism isn't a belief system - because atheists only have the one belief in common ..."

Moot point. Atheists don't need to "believe" there is no god,they know there isn't.

It's a mundane fact, not a belief.

It requires no faith.

JahTeh said...

As caz points out, for believers it's very serious. No belief and it's eternity in Hell and no re-union in Heaven so it's not so much what happens in life but 'the soul' must be saved for the after-life.

I have no particular feelings either way. After you watch your child take his last breath, all you think is, no more pain, peace for him. No angels, no harps, no clouds.

nailpolishblues said...

Having nothing to rebel against is the sore point of my youth. I once asked for a curfew. LOL!
Everything being allowed mothing was all that exciting - the ultimate cruelty of parenting!

C. Atrox said...

Having read most of the new atheist books, I agree the Dawkins book is a bit of a mess but, nevertheless, enlightening. He certainly is strong on the scientific arguments. For a cultural rant against religion, try Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great".
I'm not big on Hitchens and his support of the war in Iraq, but this book is the best one out there on describing the cultural effects of religion. And it's hilarious in a snarky way.

Bwca said...

'god' is LOVE.
allah is love
you care about people?
you've got 'god' man.
far out.
peace and love ...

nailpolishblues said...

How very hippie of you, bwca.

C. Atrox, it's nice that there have been so many atheistic and/or anti-religious books released lately, isn't it? Always nice to know that one is not alone. Or rather, is alone but has company in that aloneness... Um.