Jan 102011
 

Of the many cultural differences between living in the UK and the US, probably the single biggest difference revolves around belief.

In the UK, belief is very much personal, foisting ones belief onto friends and colleagues is seen as ‘bad form’ and is something that is rarely done. In general this type of behavior is restricted to the more ‘extreme’ groups. Jehovah’s witnesses, Mormons and the minority but vocal ‘Born again’ folks. In general though it is considered to be ‘poor form’ to even discuss your religious stance.

Many English churches are lovely buildings, in the village that I lived in as a teenager, we had a simply beautiful church, it was the center-point of the village and a landmark in many ways. As a family we went to church on an irregular basis, but as far as I can remember, my church attendance, or otherwise in later years, was simply not a subject of any conversation with friends and colleagues.

In the many years of living in many different places in the UK I can only remember being approached by people that wanted to ‘save’ me on a couple of occasions, there was a ‘local nutter’ that would come into the pub and try to save the sinners that ‘took the demon drink’, he would usually go away after somebody bought him a pint or two though. A small number of times I would get the Jehovah’s  Witnesses knock on my front door and attempt to persuade me that I should go to church. I had a number of interesting conversations with them as you can imagine. I had friends that subscribed to other religions, my best friend was a staunch catholic and I had a couple of friends that were (are ?) Jewish and another friend that was a Mormon, but simply, religion or lack thereof, never once threatened any friendship or working relationship.

In the US however, religion dominates many aspects of society. Politicians are judged on their religiousness, the religious lobby is huge. The influence that the church has on the government is incredible.

–          The abortion ‘issue’ is fueled by the church.

–          Stem Cell research is pretty much banned as a result of the church.

–          The teaching of evolution in many states is fought by the church.

–          Gay Marriage in California was opposed hugely by the Mormon and other churches from other states.

From my point of view I believe that there are many reasons why abortion should be legal and you should be able to go to a clinic without having to run the gauntlet of protestors screaming ‘murderer’ at you and abortion doctors should not need to wear bullet proof vests in order to go about their business.

Stem Cell research hold many appeals to me, the research could lead to a restoration of my hearing which is something that I would so love.

Evolution versus intelligent design is a whole other subject to me. ID is a great idea, but in the complete absence of proof of divine intervention, (versus the fossil records that show evolution) relegates the idea to simple whimsy. Yet due to the church lobby, ID is taught over ‘straight’ evolution in many schools in the US.

Finally ‘Gay Marriage’ and the fight that the church has put up to prevent gay couples from enjoying the same privileges as straight couples. Several of my friends are gay, the impact on them of not having the legal recognition of their relationship ranges from ‘nothing’ to not being allowed to visit their partner of 15 years in a hospital when they were badly injured –  the rule was ‘family only’ and despite their relationship, they were not considered family.

All of this is despite legal, apparent and public ‘separation of church and state’ which is built into the US’s constitution.

I cannot count the amount of times that I have been invited to church by friends and colleagues. Once they realize that I am fiercely atheist things often go downhill. A large part of the problem seems to be that people simply do not understand atheism. Atheism is not Devil worship, it is not a rejection of ‘your’ god in favor of others. It is simply a complete and utter lack of belief in any god, gods or supernatural beings. It is not that I specifically do not believe in your god, I do not believe in any of them

Let me get this straight, I have what most would consider to be Christian values. I know that it is wrong to commit murder, but I do not need, for example, the threat of an afterlife spent in hell to persuade me. I do not need the threat of eternal damnation to prevent me from becoming an axe wielding homicidal maniac.  My sense of ‘wrong and right’ are basically the same as most everyone. Except I do not feel the need to go to church to affirm these values.

So, why am I bringing this up now ?

Well, it would seem that my lack of faith is having an effect on my friends and family.

When people find out that I am a ‘non believer’, some people almost flinch, they often tell me that they feel sorry for me. Oddly the word ‘Atheist’ is avoided when discussing my belief, or lack thereof. It causes huge problems because people assume that when they say grace before a meal, or maybe have an event at a church or engage in any type of religiousness, that I will take offense and perhaps embarrass them.

The subject of ‘grace’ is something else that I find amusing. I will always pause and close my eyes in respect, but frankly some of the ‘graces’ that I have heard in recent years have caused me to stifle a laugh and/or turn it into a cough. In some cases it seems that the person giving grace is actually trying to outdo all other expressions of grace that they have heard before.

Something like this however

Let us savor our days
as we savor this meal.
Let us linger to enjoy
the bounty of each season.
Let us live to declare
we find life itself delicious.

(Which was borrowed from here http://ingridgoffmaidoff.com/product.php?id=73 )

This is truly beautiful and something that I cannot imagine anyone could object to.

I have sat through many a grace that was over-the-top religious, rambling and frankly hilarious. But one stands out in my memory.

The giver of grace must have spent five minutes praying for various things and thanking their god for a multitude of things that were only vaguely connected to the contents of our dinner, he even prayed for the safety of the delivery driver. Given that the meal was Pizza and Garlic bread, I almost expected that he was going to start breaking the bread at any moment. By the time we got to eat, the food was cold and I wanted to punch the idiot in the mouth.

But then this company had a morning prayer and even had an office devoted to ‘contemplation and worship’ so I guess that this was reasonably to be expected.

I find the whole religiousness here in the US something that is tough to live with. The fact that belief, or non belief, can influence a friendship is pretty sad. So I have decided that I am going to declare that I am actually a believer, but I am aligned with an obscure religion that nobody had ever heard of and see if that makes a difference to various relationships.

–          I thought about Scientology, but it is a pretty expensive religion, demanding that a large percentage of my income should be given to the church to help the less fortunate. It is not clear who the less fortunate actually are though.

–          My next choice was ‘Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth’, but this seems a little scary and there is certainly not a local branch.

–          Third up was ‘Universe People’, this has many appeals. Just read the blurb ‘Universe people or Cosmic people of light powers is a Czech religious movement centered around Ivo A. Benda. Its belief system is based upon the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations communicating with Benda and other “contacters” since October 1997 telepathically and later even by direct personal contact. According to Benda those civilizations operate a fleet of spaceships, led by Ashtar Sheran, orbiting the Earth. They closely watch and help the good and are waiting to transport their followers into another dimension. The Universe People’s teachings incorporate various elements from ufology (some foreign “contacters” are credited, though often also renounced after a time as misguided or deceptive), Christianity (Jesus was a “fine-vibrations” being) and conspiracy theories (forces of evil are supposed to plan compulsory chipping of the population).’ This is pretty awesome, but I am not sure.

However perhaps the winner is The Church of Euthanasia (CoE).

This a non-profit educational organization started by the Reverend Chris Korda in Boston, Massachusetts. According to the church’s website, it is “a non-profit educational foundation devoted to restoring balance between Humans and the remaining species on Earth.” The CoE uses sermons, music, culture jamming, publicity stunts and direct action combined with an underlying sense of satire and black humor to highlight Earth’s unsustainable population. The CoE is notorious for its conflicts with Pro-life Christian activists. According to the church’s website, the one commandment is “Thou shalt not procreate”. The CoE further asserts four principal pillars: suicide, abortion, cannibalism (“strictly limited to consumption of the already dead”), and sodomy (“any sexual act not intended for procreation”). Slogans employed by the group include “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself”, “Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong”, and “Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus”, all of which are intended to mix inflammatory issues to unnerve those who oppose abortion and homosexuality.

To me, this sounds ideal, except it will probably further inflame relationships with those of a more religious bent.

So I am not going to bother, I will continue to declare my non-belief, if people that know me an like me have a problem because of my lack of religious faith, then, well, that is their problem.

It could be a whole lot worse, I could be a Heathen or maybe a Jehovah Witless.

  One Response to “Belief and Cultural Differences.”

  1. You could always do what I do and declare yourself Pastafarian. Fundies hate that shit, but the “middle of the road” religious people don’t seem to care so much.

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