Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Atheism in America; slow development of my integrity

So, after seeing Tim Minchin perform twice this summer, and reading or watching interviews while he is on tour, I wonder how he perceives us Americans. I sometimes wonder if he had any preconceptions that have turned out to be wrong, or that he has reexamined. I wonder if there are any preconceptions that have been confirmed or are worse than he thought. I’ve heard him on a couple occasions say that he knows he’s “preaching to the choir”. He knows there are a number of godless people in America, but suspects that number is actually higher than reported. I suspect that too, and suspect that number is growing.

One of the things I am really enjoying about being a little Tim-obsessed right now, is that I am finding I am feeling more comfortable being open about my religious views in other places besides church, and even more open at church as well. I’ve always felt a bit guarded and worried about being judged. I’m now asking myself why that is, and why it is OK for teachers at the school I work at to have Christian plaques on their desks, and give assignments like “What is God’s Big Plan For You?”, and for the school to have a fundie Christian group come in to teach abstinence education, while I feel too shy to be open about my atheism. (Have you ever felt relieved when you say something about your “church” to a conservative Christian, knowing they assume you mean a Christian church, and not corrected them? I have and I’m starting to feel like I can and should be more explicit that while I may go to church, I’m not Christian.)

He is touring at a time here in America, when I think there is a growing atheist movement even. I’ve seen him on video interviews and podcasts for several different atheists and skeptic groups, who may want to claim him as their new spokesperson. I doubt Tim Minchin wants to be in that role. I think a lot of us have experienced the feeling, though, that he surely articulates ideas we have wanted to express, and after hearing his songs, we feel more free to express them.

On his Fan Forum, someone asked him in 2008, about atheists in America. I am going to paste that question and response:

Forum Question- My question is about the atheist or, dare i assume, anti-theist themes in some of you songs and how they go with an American audiance. With the religious climate in the State, and atheists being generally regarded and the sporn of satan in most places there, do you change your act to accomodate these attitudes or have you had any trouble with psyco fundies?

Tim’s response- Oo. Now this one I could obviously spend hours on.

But I won't.

I'm in the US now (love the time-lapse) and it's kind of interesting. I do think there is a general feeling that Atheists Are Bad over here... and you can imagine how much that freaks me out. However I'm certainly not going to alter my material. If there is anything worthy about my show beyond pure entertainment value, I think it is in its attempt to encourage critical thought. I hope that doesn't sound condescending to anyone... but that's really what my show is about in my head.

I went out last night after the show with a couple of very smart New Yorkers... and they didn't know (for example) that the "under God" bit of their Pledge of Allegiance was added in 1951. It's not that they are not extremely well educated - they were smarter than me - it's just that critical analysis of their society's religiosity is not the norm. They even posed the question, "How do you comfort yourself in grief if you don't believe in God?", which barely makes sense as a sentence. (Not only can I list the ways one may try to comfort oneself in grief, but I don't understand how one can claim a "belief" by citing the benefits of that belief. It's like Pascal's Wager - it's useless. Just because the belief that tomorrow I will wake up with a perfect body and loads of money and a wife who likes threesomes makes me happy... it doesn't mean I can believe it. My rational mind prohibits it.)

It is obvious to me that Atheism - for all it's negative connotations - is the only possible position one can take on religion without completely discarding rational thought. And I am going to continue to treat my audiences with respect - by which I mean, I will continue giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they are clear-thinkers.

ps - I have dropped "10 Foot Cock" over here... but only because of time-constraints. I don't want half my show to be about rationalism. 1/3 is about right!

So, for next time- Let's Discuss "Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins". I'll post the video and we can discuss some more, the balancing of respecting one's freedom of religion and criticizing when people use religion to act in ways that are disrespectful, at best, violent at worst.

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