“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” — Lenny Bruce
MAN WAS HIS PET, AFTER THE HOUSEFLY*
In this holy land it’s a lot easier to believe in god than it is not to.
America’s biggest holiday is Christmas.
Our coins read “In God We Trust.”
Every candidate for president must declare what a pious soul he or she is.
We say “… one nation under god…” we we pledge allegiance.
Both houses of Congress begin each day’s proceedings with a benediction delivered by a professional believer.
When someone sneezes we say, “God bless you.”
When we’re annoyed we say, “For Christ’s sake!” When we’re really mad we say, “God damn it.”
When we go to war, we ask god to help us blow the brains out of enemy soldiers’ heads.
In America, god is everywhere.
This weekend the putative creator of the universe will be the object of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of special assemblies.
There will be, for instance, a series of “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies in cities around the country. These folks believe their BFF in the sky doesn’t like sex and is miffed because employer health care plans will soon be forced to cover contraceptives.
One Way To Get Under God’s Skin
And Saturday, atheists will crowd the Mall in Washington, DC to proclaim that they have no invisible friends or protectors. Organizers hope the Reason Rally, also dubbed Woodstock for atheists, will attract some 30,000 godless souls.
When I was a kid, a woman named Madalyn Murray O’Hair made a big splash. She was America’s most well-known atheist in the 1960s. It seems her son Bill was compelled to participate in Bible readings while a student in the Baltimore City Public Schools. So she filed suit, which eventually made its way to the US Supreme Court as part of a broader case.
I was a nominal Roman Catholic at the time. My parents (Ma, mostly) still went to church and dragged me along. Ma and Dad wouldn’t drop out for another five or so years. I couldn’t drop out of the faith because I’d never had it.
However, I had some clubbish loyalty to the faithful and so felt that Madeline Murray O’Hair, who soon would found American Atheists, was a villain. She was called “America’s most hated woman.” It didn’t help that O’Hair was pretty much a lunatic.
The Most Hated Woman In America
So even though I had no particular allegiance to any god, I was on the side of those who did. But I was a kid.
By the age of 12, I’d given up childish things — like blind loyalty — and started thinking for myself. The nuns at St. Giles school had told me god was love. They’d said I must love him.
Man, I had a tough time with that one. How do I love god? I mean, he’s this big, powerful guy who doesn’t say much and is always aggravated. In fact, he’s just like my father.
So I imagined kissing god’s cheeks profusely. See, Ma always made me kiss Dad goodnight. He’d sit there in his recliner, purportedly watching TV but actually dozing noisily. I’d have to stretch and strain to plant my tender little lips on his sandpaper face. He wouldn’t budge an inch.
“Wait’ll I Get My Hands on You!”
I figured that’s the way it would be with god. I’d imagine myself up in heaven, standing on a chair on my tiptoes, raining smooches on god’s abrasive cheek. He, too, would remain impassive while I gushed over him.
By 12, that fever dream didn’t cut it anymore. I never did figure out how to love god.
I’m not going to Washington for the Atheists’ Woodstock. I’ve long believed atheism is about not being part of a team.
Christians’ll have an easier time of it at their rallies here in America, as well as in Mexico and Cuba. They can all pat each other on the back and say how great it is to be the apple of god’s eye.
What are the atheists going to do? You can’t really celebrate the non-existence of something, can you?
Actually, I don’t even like the term atheist. There is, of course, the association with Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s weirdness. Then there’s the matter of identifying myself by what I’m not.
It’s like joining a club for people who’ve never murdered anyone. After introducing yourself and proclaiming you’ve never taken a life, there isn’t much else to do.
A better term might be Other — as in the only box I can honestly check on an application that asks me my religion.
I’m a devout Other.
(* Quote from Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth.”)
My second favorite Beatle.