I Thank God I’m An Atheist
Excuse the long introduction and the seeming irrelevance to Thailand, but for those of you who are patient enough to read through this, the article does get there in the end.
There is a rule you should never, when drinking, talk about politics or religion. We now live in a world where the two have become intertwined. I remember when I heard Bush and Blair talking about God while invading Iraq.
Not quite so political, though the politicians waded in at the time, were the comments by former England football manager Glenn Hoddle, which the disabled were suffering some form of Karma for something they had done wrong in an earlier life. Glenn was a self-professed “Born Again Christian”, who used a faith healer in the treatment room, and managed to introduce a Buddhist concept into his faith.
Either way, when I hear people such as Bush, Blair and Hoddle talking about “God”, I thank god I am an atheist.
Four years ago, I was at the bedside of a brother in a hospice watching the last 48 hours of life draining out of him. It was a very harrowing time. I didn’t want to be there, but he asked me to come. The reason I didn’t want to be there was I think there is nothing more precious than human life, and I mourn the loss of any life. To have to watch someone you love going through their final hours is probably the worst emotional pain I can think of.
I am probably going to offend many people with what I write in this piece, and if I do so, it is not intentional, but my own personal deeply held convictions.
As I watched my brother die, all I could think of was I wished it was over. It wasn’t any callousness on my part. I knew there was no hope of a recovery, and I could see the pain he was in. I just wanted it to be over. While I was waiting, I thought back to when I was 12 years old and my grandmother was dying. I remember spending hours in the local Catholic church praying for her.
Over the years, I came to the conclusion there was no God, not because he had let me down in not keeping my grandmother alive, but as I reasoned things out, it just didn’t make sense. There are basically two theories about the beginnings of life. The first is the “creationist” view, that everything in the bible is correct, the world was created 6,000 years ago, and therefore man walked the earth with Dinosaurs. The problem I have with this is there is no proof that man and dinosaurs ever did co-exist.
The second is the “big bang” view. The universe is up to 15 billion years old. Scientists with religious views can still see a place for god in this universe. The view is that God set the whole thing in motion, and allowed for the various chemical reactions that brought about man. Again the problem I have with this is there is no evidence humans were in existence much more than 1,000,000 years ago. I find it hard to believe there is a supreme almighty being that spent 14,999 million years on his master plan to create mankind. As neither of these theories make sense to me, I am atheist.
I disagree with those people who say it is not a religion. Religion is a belief system. I believe there is no God. Long before I became an atheist, I admired them, because unlike most other religions, they didn’t go around murdering people who disagreed with their beliefs. I know someone is going to bring up the persecution of faiths by China and the old Soviet Union, but the reason for this was because the state wanted to complete control over the thought processes of its people. When Stalin decided to carve up Poland with Hitler, life was a lot easier for him if he did not have clerics shouting from the pulpit about the un-Christian nature of this act.
For all my atheism, I still admire those who have faith, but I do insist if you profess to be a Muslim for example, you don’t go around getting drunk every night and chasing women.
I live in Ireland which used to be one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world. Recent revelations about paedophile priests and the church hierarchy’s role in covering up for them has caused a lot of disaffection with the congregations, and Sunday attendances are well down on where they were even twenty years ago. Forty years ago, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe. Thanks to the “Celtic Tiger”, they enjoyed a boom that made them one of the richest. Karl Marx once said, that “Religion is the opium of the masses”. It is interesting to note the poorer a country is, the higher the attendances in churches. Apart from the pedo-priest problem in Ireland, church attendances were starting to decline by the mid-eighties as the country got richer. My theory about this supports Marx. Many of the congregation were attending in the hope God would enrich their lives materially, and once this happened, there was no need to attend church anymore.
I do not despise religion. I despise its inconsistencies. As you will have guessed, I was a Catholic. For some reason I have never been able to understand, they cannot conceive of the idea a Catholic can become an Atheist, and people like me are referred to as “Lapsed Catholics”. When I read about some of the atrocities carried out by or on behalf of the Catholic church, I think how a white South African might feel announcing his nationality in Harlem or Brixton in the 1980’s. For all that, I do admire the consistent stand that they have taken with regard to both the death penalty and abortion in the US. I would oppose their views on abortion, but at least they are consistent with their concept of the sanctity of human life. The “Religious Right” on the other hand, sees no conflict in murdering people to “protect the sanctity of human life”. It reminds me of that old bumper sticker, “Fighting for peace is like F****** for virginity”
When I am not too busy, I like to go on the Wikipedia site and press the “random article” button to see if it will throw up an item that I might be interested in learning about. Occasionally, it throws up an item on a faith or sect of a faith. In turn, there are links to relate to references made in the item.
Purely at random, I came across an article on “The Society of Friends” (The Quakers). The first time I had ever heard of them, was when I was aged about 10. I saw an inscription on a stone that was a quotation from William Penn, in whose honour Pennsylvania is named. The quote was, “I shall pass this way but once, and if I can do any good, let me do it now, for I may never pass this way again”. Not bad words to live by in my view.
The next time I learned anything about them was in the Gary Cooper film “Friendly Persuasion”. They did strike me as being people, especially with their views on pacifism. As I read Wikipedia, there were several references to the similarities between this sect and Buddhism. One that I found particularly interesting, was when giving evidence in court, they would frequently refuse to swear on the bible. They argued their faith required they always be truthful, so they should not have to swear an oath to do something that was required by their own standards in any case. Apparently, this is also a Buddhist concept.
I see a lot of logic to this actually. If you are a civil employee working on a military defence establishment in the UK, you are required to sign the Official Secrets Act before you can begin employment. I have always seen this as bureaucratic nonsense. Whether you sign the Act or not, you are still bound by it. Can you imagine: the UK captures a foreign spy, who at trial, enters the defence, “You can’t prosecute me. I never signed the Official Secrets Act”.
Anyway, I don’t really claim to know anything about Buddhism, other than it is a religion of peace, and that Buddha set down his own moral code for how people should behave. To be honest with you, I am not even sure it is a religion, and with what little I know about it, I tend to think of it more as a moral code or lifestyle.
On my visits to Thailand, I try to observe what is taking place. Being totally ignorant of the ways of Thais, I used to notice as girls were starting or finishing work in my favourite bar each day, they did a “wai” as they entered or left the premises in the direction of the mamasan. At first I thought it was oriental deference to the higher status mamasan, but on one occasion, she was standing outside bar when the girl did her wai. For the first time, I noticed the Buddha shrine above the bar.
I got to thinking about the differences between east and west and in particular, religion. I somehow couldn’t imagine a typical western streetwalker even visiting a church. Then I noticed that the ladyboys were also doing their “wais”. I have to say that on my first couple of trips to Thailand, I was particularly careful to avoid them at all costs. The longer I spent there, the more I saw of them, particularly the ones who worked bars, the more I got to like them as people. I am not entirely sure about this, but I am inclined to think of them as unfortunate victims of a trick of nature. Initially, I couldn’t even think of them as human, but more as freaks.
In spite of my reservations about them, the irony is never lost on me, if man had the power to make his own woman, most of us would make something not dissimilar from a ladyboy. Now when I see them, I think to myself, “What a marvellous piece of engineering”.
The point I am about to come to, is compared to the west, Buddhism seems to me to be a very inclusive faith. I somehow have an idea, if a ladyboy were to go into a Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland, or a Christian fundamentalist church in Alabama, or a Mosque in parts of Bradford, they wouldn’t make a second visit, and quite possibly wouldn’t be capable of a return visit. Yet we have ladyboys and bargirls practising their devotions without anybody interfering with or condemning them for their occupation.
I have always had this view that in religion, everything should be egalitarian. I have a drinking buddy I usually link up with when in Pattaya, and we talk as we watch the world pass by around about sunset. He told me his knowledge of the hierarchy of Thailand. At the bottom end, there were people from Isaan. I don’t really know what to make of this. Most of the Thais that I know are from Isaan, and I have great admiration for them. Apparently though, bargirls are further down the pecking order, with ladyboys holding up the edifice.
I have heard it said, we are all equal in the eyes of God. Maybe, but not necessarily in the eyes of God’s clergy and congregations. On the other hand, I think we are all equal in the eyes of Buddha, hence the public display of devotion by ladyboys and bargirls.
I once heard someone define a Christian as somebody who loved his fellow man (no jokes please), so I suppose I am a Christian, but I still thank God I am an atheist.
No comments from me because I prefer not to comment on religion.