Sunday, November 6, 2016

Arrested Development's "Fishin' 4 Religion" to my #AtheistEar

My problems were correctable
In 1992, this band caught my head, heart, and ear with an album full of musical ideas that were not like anything else I had experienced before. Their radio hit, Tennessee, with its lyric "Although I am black and proud/problems got me pessimistic" even led to a seriously embarrassing moment when I was singing along at the top of my lungs in my car at a stoplight, and looked over to see a car full of young black men watching me sing... through the open windows of our two cars. (They looked... amused.)

But I can't blame Speech, DJ Headliner, or Baba Oje for my embarrassment; I have to own my flaws (check my hair from that time) and move on. But among the many gems I enjoyed on their number one album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... was this interesting track:

(Lyrics are available here.)

Two big things stand out when I listen to this song today. The first is that reminder of what it felt like to be in that place of doubt as a young man:

So on the dock I sit in silence
staring at a sea that's full of violence
Scared to put my line in that water
'Cause it seems like there's no religion in there

One hallmark of growing up in an evangelical Christian church is their fondness for teaching the flaws of other faiths. I recall one year in particular in which our special Revival Week involved showing up each night for a sermon warning against the evils of a different "cult" - Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, "Occult" and New Age (or paganism), Catholics (yes, that pissed off my catholic girlfriend), and two nights discussing the Mormons. The intent was to inoculate our flock against the temptations of falling for these false prophets and Anti-Christs. The effect seems to have been successful, with the small drawback of making me skeptical of Southern Baptists, as well.

My path to agnosticism was a reluctant one; I joked for a lot of years that I was a "di-agnostic," and if anyone asked what that was supposed to mean, I would say, "I don't know if there's a god or two out there, but I can tell you what's wrong with your religion!" It was a usefully tacky joke, because people who laughed were probably prepared to take my real doubts seriously, and people who were offended took themselves too seriously to be able to help me in any real way.

But hearing Speech rhyme about that feeling that there is something out there, but also feeling that the search for it is too daunting - I grokked that.

Eventually, of course, I figured out that some healthy skepticism and a materialist philosophy were the right approach for me to take. Whatever comfort others found in pretending that there was reason enough to believe in the supernatural was not there for me. While others fear the vast, empty universe, I find comfort and freedom in the idea that there is no omnipresent, omniscient Ego out there tallying up my mistakes and taking credit for my wins.

Today, I can confidently call myself an atheist, and talk about the other big thing that stands out in this old song:

The lady prays and prays and prays and prays
And prays and prays and prays and's everlasting
There's nothing wrong with praying?
It's what she's asking


What you pray for God will give
To be able to cope in this world we live
The word 'cope' and the word 'change'
Is directly opposite, not the same 
She should have been praying to change her woes
but pastor said "Pray to cope with those"

I agree wholeheartedly that the lady in this story is putting her energy in the wrong place, and I would agree with the idea Speech is aiming for: don't accept the unacceptable. But I would have to differ on the notion that prayer changes anything at all.

There are things that cause changes, though - and if you think you need to change the world around you, there is an opportunity coming up in just a couple of days. It's like 1992 all over again - and either likely outcome of Tuesday's election will repeat history - we'll end up either with a President who used to live in the White House, or a President who ran a campaign on (don't go to that site - if you don't get the joke, here's the Wikipedia article).

A lot of people I know assert that votes don't matter. I disagree, in principle, but even if you take a statistical approach, there are a few things that matter less. Prayers are in that small category. Pray, if you must - and if it makes you feel better, I certainly won't presume to tell you to stop. I'm a blogger; who am I to criticize you for pointlessly throwing words into the ether? 

But you need to go vote.