Is it not a good feeling when you find yourself reading a book you've been meaning to delve into for a long time? An old friend reminded me recently that he once recomended Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End as, to reproduce his father's praises, a must read science fiction text. Five years later and upon discovering that I still hadn't read any of Clarke's work, my good friend went to the trouble of bidding for a copy of it on Ebay. Now, sitting with the book half-read in my lap as I communicate with you, dear reader, I believe that had I actually read it half a decade ago at the age of fifteen much of Clarke's masterpiece would have been left unexplored and untainted by my then largely inexperienced mind. I might add that, in so far as experience goes, I refer mostly to the theories, ideologies and textual accounts of those who have lived a more practiced life than my own. At the age of twenty and as a mere undergraduate one is often reminded of his unrealistic principles and of the expectation that he shall eventually conform to the reality of his elders.
I am particularly fond of 'Supervisor Karellen'; the alien charged with the task of restructuring human society so as to improve the quality of life for every citizen of Earth, put an end to animal cruelty (only for food or in self defense may a person slay an animal), and:
'though Karellen was often asked to express his views on religion, all that he would say was that a man's beliefs were his own affair, so long as they did not interfere with the liberty of others.'
It is with this quotation in mind that I look back upon the wedding of my girlfriend's cousin and her fiance of eighteen months; Amy and Paul… how does an atheist deal with Church and religious ceremonies? Is it considered rude to move one's lips in accordance with the God fearing lyrics of the hymn sheet and not actually pronounce them? Does the black sheep of the flock, upon the command of the shepherd, bow his head and pray like those in the congregation who buy into the concept of nonsensical, omnipotent beings or remain upright and wide eyed? This is where I find another perfect theory conflicting with the same oppressive reality.
Perhaps one places far too much importance on his own complete lack of belief in the Almighty? Who am I to have the vicar, who looks like everybody's favorite Grandpa, catch me in the act of passive resistance; failing to project my voice sufficiently? Why must those around me go to the effort of jabbing my selfish self in the ribs, or thrust their hymn sheet towards my face when it fails to animate itself appropriately during the songs of praise? Why can I not just compromise and vocalize these lies like the newly weds, who are not much older than my own twenty years, do convincingly?
Refusing to turn up is just plain silly, ex-communication is not a price worth paying. Yet the odd looks from distant relatives and members of the local community continue to harass one's principles: 'I didn't want to hear that,' was my mother's response upon hearing my declaration of non-belief; 'I'll pray for you'. Saying such words to an atheist may conjur anything from indifference to annoyance; it is considered a grave insult to make apparent one's belief that practicing Christians are irrational. In truth I believe one wouldn't have to vocalize such thoughts if only religious types would stop advertising their commodities in the belief that doing so gives them a better chance of surviving past the death of their brains.
It is mostly tiresome and sometimes painful depending upon who you find attacking your non-beliefs this day or the next. Is it any wonder that we have people like Richard Dawkins out on the offensive for the universal atheist these days? He is slammed for being far too passionate, even rabid in his arguments against organized religion. Yet surely he only puts onto paper what those of us who self-define as entirely secular dare not let out of our heads or, at most, speak of before being shouted down by parrot-like recitals of ambiguous scripts and tracts?
Why does it feel like climbing an insurmountable object knowing that the day will come when one announces to his friends and relatives of his own engagement to his beautiful girlfriend, and that the marriage will take place without submission to the uncaused cause? Why did Amy and Paul transform themselves from mostly secular beings into practicing religious types upon announcing their engagement to each other one year ago? As far as I am aware, at no other point in their adult lives did they attend Church on Sundays. Did they think of it as the correct thing to do? Did they truly believe themselves called into the service of an all-powerful deity once engagement rings had been exchanged?
'Beneath the fierce and passionless light of truth, faiths that had sustained millions for twice a thousand years vanished like morning dew. All the good and all the evil they had wrought were swept suddenly into the past, and could touch the minds of men no more.'
I am prepared to forgive Clarke for the gender-specific language that he often employed when authoring Childhood's End in the early 1950s; he was merely a product of his generation as we are of ours. He addresses a topic that has been plaguing society for a multitude of generations now and dispenses beautiful, poetic images of love and affection for the human condition via the words on each page of his wonderfully written secular bible. Still, it is a damn shame that we must rely upon an improbable invasion of super-intelligent aliens to address such imbalances and contradictions.Powered by Sidelines