I Heard They Play Speed Metal In Hell

It’s been 150 years since Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. There is, I hear, a re-release of Darwin’s classic, including a brand spankin’ new introduction co-written by the star of the switcheroo flick Like Father, Like Son, and Growing Pains, MEGACHRISTIAN Kirk Cameron.

Apparently, Darwin’s book is in the public domain, so anyone can write a version of it if they want. Kirk says that he’s doing a new intro with the intention of presenting a balanced view of Darwin’s work. Apparently a “balanced” view means saying ‘this book is bullshit’ in an introduction.

Ok, so he wouldn’t say “bullshit”.

When I was a bit younger and a church-goin’ person, I fell victim to just about the worst thing that could happen to a God-fearin’ fella. I was sitting in church one sunday morning, thumbing through my Bible (I think the sermon had to do with something in Luke), when I experienced only what I can call a “reverse revelation”.

It was at that moment when I suddenly stopped believing in God.

I can’t explain it any other way than to say that it was sudden, like a bolt of lightening from the heavens. Really, at that moment I felt like it must have felt for Saul on the road to Damascus, except for the fact that I was suddenly an atheist. Sitting in church, no less.

I didn’t feel too bad about it, though. While I was sitting there (beacuse it would have been rude to just get up and leave during a sermon), things became clearer and I finally understood. The heavy load of doubt had been lifted. I no longer felt the gulit of wrestling with my doubt because it had been revealed to me that the thing that I doubted did not exist. It was like God did me a little favor in whispering in my ear, “I’m going to tell you something, but don’t tell anyone else here. I don’t exist”.

I thought that I should have been feeling something about not believing… guilt, worry, a sense that I was doomed to hell… nope. Nothing. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. That morning while I was sitting there, receiving the most amazing news that I could have ever received in my life was the most singular moment of clarity that I had ever felt the entire time that I had even gone to church. All these years later, I still feel the same.

When it first happened, I thought that the problem might have been the church that I was going to. But each time I went to another one, the feeling was the same. I had even tried dabbling into “alternative” religious practices (yes, including Wicca, and no, it had nothing to do with that movie The Craft. But given my size and gender, Wicca would seem a natural choice). As if I were hit by the backhand of God, God said to me, “why are you insisting on doing this to yourself? I don’t exist!!” I finally had to admit to myself what I already knew.

I was an atheist.

The funny thing is, is when you make the discovery of your non-believingness, none but the most millitant atheist wants to admit that that’s what they are. Many of us cling to the badge “agnostic”, believing that it’s better to “keep our options open”, than to say that we flat-out don’t believe that there is a God. It’s better to say that one is non-practicing than to say that one is non-believing. Eventually, however, the charade catches up with us when we realize that we aren’t aganostic at all, that it’s not a matter of not believing that no major religion has got it on what God is, but a matter of the fact that we believe that there is no omnicompetent being that occupies any role in the galaxy (I decided to use a definite description instead of saying that “God does not exist” for some positivist-leaning butthead saying that I’ve made a negative existential claim, which is something that I cannot do). Still, after many years I hadn’t given up the hope of eventually believing in something. The idea of having no belief seemed like being lost, or worse yet, it smacked of disingenuity. The accusation towards many atheists is that we actually do believe in God, we’re just acting out. It’s not wanting to believe in God that the atheist is guilty of, not actually not believing in God.

But I knew what I felt. I felt that He did not exist. I had tried to get back the feeling that he did but failed. I had drifted from Christendom into agnosticism, theism, deism, and finally tried my hand at paganism. It was toolate for Pascal’s wager and I was too disillusioned to take Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith”. But something still nagged at my, dare I say, soul. It wasn’t long before I found myself with a copy of the Satanic Bible in my hands. I don’t think that the average misanthropic teen escapes high school without at least one encounter with the late Anton LaVey’s paean to the Dark Prince.

For those who are unfamiliar with LaVey’s tome to the Devil, the Satanic Bible includes the Nine Satanic Statements, the 9th of which reads: “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!” LaVey says that, while in his youth, he worked at a carnival, and on Saturday nights he would see the men leering at the young nubile dancers. The same men, who when they returned to the carnival grounds the next morning for the tent services, would stand next to their wives and children singing hymns to God. He saw the hypocrisy of the men who indulged their flesh on Saturday night and then begged for forgiveness on Sunday morning. LaVey says that he saw how the devil was used to manipulate people into believing that all things physical were inherently evil. But as he saw it, wanting physical pleasure comes natural to people, so how can what is natural be sinful?

After reading LaVey’s book, I didn’t come away an atheist (namely because LaVey’s “satanism” is more akin to secular humanism than actual diabolism. So one conceivably, can be a Satanic atheist), but I did see one big point to consider: namely, that LaVey’s Ninth Satanic Statement works in reverse.

It’s easy to say that God has been the atheist’s (humanist, satanist) best friend for all these yers, as he is the one that they’ve been railing about for all this time!

*although I know at this point that the Wiccans would say that since their religion has nothing to do with the Christian God, that he is not their best friend. If you don’t believe this, just cruise on up to your local Wiccan and tell her (because it will almost always be a her) that Wiccans are like devil worshippers. If you don’t know how to spot a Wiccan, just look for the “goddess” sized young lady with the flowing hair (she’ll most likely look like a heavier-set Tori Amos) and the gossamer dress if Wiccans worship the devil. Sit back and get ready to hear about the 3-fold rule and the “burning times”.

After reading Christopher Hitchens’ god is not great, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Julian Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian”, and a handful of stuff by Michael Shermer, I realized that while I may be an atheist, I am a very Christian atheist. I realize that an atheist is only an atheist if he does not believe that there is no god. So far as our culture is concerned, that god that I maintain does not exist, is a Christian one. And like Christopher Hitchens, the god that I believe does not exist is not only Christian, but decidedly Protestant as well. I quote Hitchens, “I know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism”. As a product of the Protestant tradition, my atheistic values tend to echo exactly what I learned in Sunday school. I shouldn’t kill or steal, or bear false witness. I believe that hard work will be rewarded, and that if one has a relationship with god, it is a personal one… And that the Pope is a sham. I cannot escape my Christian values even if I try to leave them behind. I find myself quoting Jesus on the subject of taxes or who we should treat the poor (heck, I even found myself referring to the feeding of the multitude when discussing health care). I still celebrate Christmas and prefer to hear traditional christmas hymns to the contemporary Christmas jingles by Michael Bolton or Boyz to Men (although I do like Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”). I say “bless you” when someone sneezes, and I still write the word God with a capital G. And unlike Richard Dawkins, I wholeheartedly disagree that raising children in a religion is the same as child abuse. I always say that my hypothetical children are Christians. They gotta get their morals from somewhere, right?

We are all influenced, in one way or another, by the dominant culture. And whether I like it or not, I live in a Christian dominated/influenced culture. I can choose whether I accept the fact and move on, or whether I waste time protesting putting up “happy holidays” signs at Target. This is why I am, as I tell my friends, the most Christian atheist I know.

Although I find those who believe in God a little delusional, I understand that I can’t be rid of him. I may say that I know that he doesn’t exist, but there is a world out there full of people who believe that he does. And so far, I’m outnumbered billions to one. Nietzsche may have been correct when he wrote that God is dead, but like Elvis, there are still a whole hell of alot of people out there who go around singing his songs.

Tuesdsays With Maury

If there is any bit of television that makes me think that deja vu is real, it’s the Maury Povich Show. Every time I tune into the show I swear I’m watching something that I’ve seen before: some bird has dragged in a number of equallly morally suspect young men (some of whom are related to each other) to have Maury erveal which fine specimen of erudite gentlemen is the sire of her child. By the time they figure out which one is, Maury has DNA tested half the guys in BFE Kentucky. Although I find the whole matter disgusting (I mean really, if there’s one thing that a woman should be keeping track of, it’s how many guys that she’s balled in one week), I can’t tear my eyes of the spectacle. And I’m so delighted when some dude is on who insists that he’s never even had sex with his cousin’s girlfriend ( he’s usually the one hurling the most insults about her easy virtue) turns out to be the father. Spectacular! Watching the moment of revelation almost beats the fact that I’ve spent an entire afternoon not doing anyting even remotely constructive, like working for an actual paycheck. It’s not that the entire experience is without shame –at least on my part. All the while I’m watching, I keep asking myself “why are you watching this crap?”. When did Maury Povich’s bi-weekly “you are NOT the father” show become something that is acceptable to air on broadcast television? I look at the parade of trash talkin’, baby makin’, semi-illiterates on Maury and I ask, from under which rock did these people crawl?!? Now, I’m not calling these people substandard to be insulting, I’m sure that when they’re at home, some of them are really wonderful people. But what gets me mad is the fact that these people aren’t just cartoons that entertain and then disappear as soon as the show is over. They’re real people, who exist among us. And if that’s the case, I think, then we, as a species, are in a bad way. I think while I’m watching, that there is no such thing as dignity anymore. Or modesty, or decorum, or shame. And I say shame on myself for watching the show in the first place. They wouldn’t be there airing out all of their dirty laundry if there weren’t an audience to watch. In an interview on NPR, Chris Hedges said that our culture has been emptied out and replaced by fantasy. He says that the worse that reality becomes for us, the more we run to distractions; what Hedges calls “pseudoevents” like, gossip, trivia, celebrity breakdowns, and the eroticization of our culture. When I was getting my poly sci degree, I had this professor who would go on rants from time to time about how things like Girls Gone Wild are ruining society by breaking down the barrier between the public and private spheres. He said that when we take our private business into the public arena, we make things that shouldn’t be acceptable to do in public (like showing your boobs and other areas) acceptable. Once we’ve broken down that barrier, he said, there’s nothing that is inappropriate. That’s degrading to the culture, he concluded. I gotta say that I don’t disagree. Everywhere is casual friday. You don’t have to look around too hard to see it, either. Cell phone calls that are way too personal and way too loud, prominently displayed undergarments, people wearing pajama pants everywhere, celebrity sex tapes dominate what we see in the media and on the street. I used to think that eventually things would get back to “normal”, that is, people wouuld see that they’re making fools of themselves in public and start to behave. So far it hasn’t happened. I used to think that acting stupidly on television would be an embarassing enough experience that people wouldn’t do it. Apparently it’s not. Because every week there’s a new batch of ladies on Maury gene testing another batch of suspected fathers. They seem happy as clams up there on the stage. The point it seems, is that the important thing is to be on TV. So long as cameras are on them, they don’t care why — it’s just to be on TV! They can go back home and watch the show when it airs and be local celebrities for awhile, jsut like all the other floks who make their living being professsionally famous. This seems to be the point of the whole thing. It doesn’t matter how you get on the boob tube, so long as you get on. We get so fascinated with ourselves that we don’t see what all of our narcissism is doing to us. In the movie Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle called it “morbid self-attention”. It’s getting so wrapped up in yourself that you fail to see that you’re destroying yourself. Because when we look at ourselves we fail to see the world around us. And if you’re always looking at yourself, then you’re never looking at what’s going on in the world. I remember when the whole President impeachment thing was going down, and Monica Lewinsky was making the rounds on the talk shows. Did it matter to anyone that she got famous for putting the president’s weenie in her mouth? No, it didn’t. Least of all, it didn’t seem to matter to her. She never said “gee, I wish I had gotten famous some other way. This was is something that I should really be ashamed of”. In our fame-based culture, you used to actually have to do something to get famous — invent something, be good at something, cure some disease, act, dance, write, or sing (or all if you’re a quadruple threat, like Justin Timberlake). There was an idea that notoriety had to be earned. Now it seems all you have to do is get on TV. Unfortunately, this is extremely easy. All you have to do is be freaky enough or better yet, have someone post your freakiness on YouTube, and you’re set. You can be famous. So you can give the pres oral, it doesn’t matter. Monica Lewinsky was going to be famous, and we were going to see her being famous no matter whether we objected or not. So is every other freak out there. That makes me think of a character in the movie The Ring, who tells a reporter to ind her own business and stop trying to find out what happened to his daughter. She tells him that she’s trying to help. his response is one that I think applies to the Mauryization of our culture. He tells the reporter that they “take one person’s tragedy and force the world to experience it… spread it like sickness”. I think that shows like Maury Povich’s have the same effect. I would think that Maury, if you asked him, would come up with some reason why having these people on his show benefits the public. He wouldn’t realize that what his show does is spread an infection. It’s a culture destroying infection. One that makes the obscene reasonable and feeds us nothing of any use for our minds or souls. Its’s all bread and circus. And we all know what that did to the Roman Empire. Chris Hedges says that our culture has devolved into a culture of moral nihilism. Funny, that I think that ultimately Hedges and the founder of nihilism (that being Nietzsche) would conclude that our culture is headed on the path of destruction. Nietzsche says that our society is so screwed up because of the “plebian bias of the modern mind”. Nietzsche laments the triumph of the common and the vulgar over the Noble and the Good. For Nietzsche, the ruination of society is in the triumph of the slave over the master. Nietzsche blamed the shift on Christianity, which places compassion among the most desired qualities of man, as the “slave” morality that has weakened the power of the master class over the rabble (that is, over you and me). Christianity elevated the poor, the weak, the meek (you know, all those inferior people who deserve to die), to the status of equals of the rulers. They did this, he says, because they had grown resentful of those who rule. So the slaves had to create a god that would tell the rulers that they must treat the slaves as equals, have compassion for those who cannot do for themselves. For Nietzsche, this is the wrong way to go. Although I don’t connect Christian ethics to the cultural degradation of society as Nietzsche did, I think he is right on one point, that is, that our culture has bee overrun by appealing to the lowest common denominator. When people get famous for blowing the president, there is something wrong with us. If we don’t have something that is the “better” morality to show us what is morally right, we’ll continue to slide down towards the abyss of the Maury P0vich show as a way of life. A little overstated, but it’s true. Back in the 60s, John Lennon famously said that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”. He was blasted for what he said, but in a way he was exactly spot-on. He was repeating what Nietzsche had said about God. For Nietzsche, we had killed God by replacing him with science. For John Lennon, he noted that his fans were more into the music of the Beatles than they were into gong to church on Sunday morning. Lennon was right in suggesting that celebrity often fills the role of god. When we talk about celebrities, we call them “stars”. Stars, of course, are in the heavens, where God lives. We look t the TV to see the stars — to see our cultural gods. This is the victory that Nietzsche was talking about, and what Chris Hedges meant when he says that our culture has been triumphed by spectacle. The victory (in our case) of the pseudo-famous and the fame wannabees over those who really should be looked at (meaning people of fine moral standing). Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you want to see it, I’m no Nietzsche. I’m not terribly eager to throw off all this spirit-destroying slave morality and live according to the will of the masters. I’ve got a feeling the the Ubermensche show wouldn’t be all that entertaining. I mean, there would probably be no chance of a fist fight breaking out on stage between a couple of two-timing lesbians.