So are stamp collecting clubs, but it's not that hard to join even if you are only interested in getting high licking glue.
This is a reference to an old comment of mine, defending religion when it is practiced sanely, but pointing out that, by its very nature, religion is exclusionary.
Not like stamp collecting. If you are a philatelist, you are not telling everyone else in the world that you and people like you are the only ones who have figured out the meaning of life, the secrets of life, and the proper way to live your life. You are not privately laughing at the poor fools who, unlike you, think God is an elephant who rides a mouse, or fail to understand that the only way to eternal salvation is to worship some guy who died 2,000 years ago, or cannot possibly comprehend the obvious fact that to speak ill of some dude who lived 1,300 years ago means you should get your face cut off, or, speaking of getting things cut off, that you have to do it to a penis exactly 8 days after it is born or else the world ends. Or whatever.
But, in general, religion is okay.
Abram cannot sleep, tossing and turning from side to side ... Finally his wife Sarah protests: "Abram, what's bothering you?" "I owe Moishe 20 rubles, but I have no money. What shall I do?" Sarah bangs on the wall and shouts to the neighbors: "Moishe! My Abram still owes you 20 rubles? Well he isn't going to pay!" Turning to her husband she says: "Now you go to sleep and let Moishe stay awake!"
This makes no sense. Both Moishe and Abram would remain awake. You are no Jew.
I'm a not a Christian. I used to say that I am an atheist, but I've picked up some pagan-ish views over the years that makes that label not quite appropriate. Still, I don't pray, no matter who it is to or what it is about. The mere presence of prayer does not bother me. Whether it is before a graduation, at a city council, anywhere, I just simply don't. I remain quiet and seated - out respect for the believers around me - and I simply do nothing. I don't pray, I don't say "Amen", I don't bow my head. Whatever "we" is going on does not include me. A few minutes later, the ritual they so clearly require is over and we can get down to real business. It's just not that hard. I do think the Supreme Court erred in the decision, though. There's a a valid church/state objection, especially with more sectarian prayers. But that it occurs doesn't make me uncomfortable in any way, and I don't see why it would bother any other non-believers either. Just don't participate.
Well, you are very sensible about this, and it is a wise stance to take. I think the key to why it doesn't bother you is in your second sentence; you are not really an atheist. You have some spiritual stuff banging around in there, and kind of get the whole idea of religion, on some level. Which is just fine.
Imagine, though, if before the meeting that was going to decide whether you got your zoning variance to build a rec room addition to your house -- you really want that rec room -- everyone in the room is asked to bow their heads in silent deference to Baal, toadlike prince of Hell. Now, in your mind you'd know that was nuts and primitive and vaguely awful, but you'd also know this was pretty darn important to everyone in the room, so much so that if you voiced any sort of objection to this, you'd risk losing that variance. You would know you were the Other in a forum in which there should BE no other.
Might you not feel a little -- just a little, I am not trying to directly equate the two situations -- like a light-skinned black person in the old segregated, Jim Crow south, trying to keep your head low, minding your p's and q's, co-opted by the entire system?
This is what it means to be not-Christian in our society: My kindergartener came home with a letter saying he was going to be singing "God Bless America" in an assembly (at the most liberal, multicultural public school in the most hand-wringingly open minded county in the godless liberal mid-Atlantic), and to please send him to school on X date wearing nice clothing in red/white/blue. My beliefs, my philosophies, all of it blithely assumed to be okay with this. And I've been through ten drafts of an email, and I've come to the conclusion there is absolutely no way to state my objection that doesn't either single him out at school to be treated as "other" (it's all the kindergarteners, not just a small group) or potentially mark him for the next _five years_ in this school as the child of a troublemaker. I have no power, no public allies (because what educator will publicly admit to being reason-oriented as opposed to faith-oriented, amirite), and no options besides raising a stink and opening my family up to abuse and threats. Go ahead, google what happens to people that publicly object to religious indoctrination of their children. I'll wait. Right, you see why I don't want to do it. But damn it all, I shouldn't have to. If there's a war on religion, I certainly don't see it here, and I shudder to imagine what it must be like in parts of the country where religion plays a REALLY active role.
"God Bless America" is an interesting case study. Irving Berlin wrote it during World War I and revised it for the oncoming World War II. And it leads pretty beautifully into the last question below, involving Mark Twain.
I never minded "God Bless America" much, mostly because it seems more political than religious, and because the "God" in it seems almost secular, sort of a trope, the way I use "God" in columns sometimes, to indicate an Implacable Truth. Here are the lyrics, as revised in 1938, with war clouds in Europe:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.
I think, in light of world events in 1938, it's kind of hard to be at all critical of this song. But in light of the next posting, it takes on a different cast, I think!
During the run up to the war to free Iraq from WMDs and so forth, I printed off copies of the prayer part of Mark Twain's "War Prayer," then posted them about in public places like the library, college classrooms, and a bulletin board at Wal Mart. It lasted longest at Wal Mart, about 3 and a half weeks. Not sure if this signals some kind of tolerance on the part of Wal Mart, or illiteracy. Oddly my little protest did not even bring about the fall of the President, let alone stop his war. Unsure why not.
Well, well. Smite me down, why don't you? This is something I'd never before read. A perfectly crafted little piece! We will end with it.
This was written by Twain in 1903, and remained unpublished until his death. He wrote it in protest of the Philippine-American war, which was a dirty little war he opposed, largely because we were killing Filipinos who wanted to be free of us.
Here it is:
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation
*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*
Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.
"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.