**This post is totally a rant, and probably not entirely well thought out, but I’m mad, so I’m writing it. And not editing it. Be warned**
I get a decent amount of flack from friends and family in the month of December, mostly because I actively refuse to celebrate any religious holiday in any way. This includes, but is not limited to, going to holiday dinners, taking part in holiday parties at home or at work, or any kind of Yankee Swaps or the like. I am aware that most of these holiday themed gatherings are not specifically religious themselves, but they exist because of Christmas or Hanukkah or any number of reasons all related to religion. A grand total of one secular holiday that has any bearing on me (sorry, Kwanzaa) in the month of December, and New Year’s Eve isn’t really even a holiday. There’s the winter solstice, technically, which has been sort of a go-to holiday for those atheistic and agnostic types as a celebration of nature, and that’s fine and dandy, but it doesn’t really do much for me in practice. I don’t celebrate anything except the end of the year. And that’s fine. Doesn’t bother me one bit. I have the added bonus of working for an American university and getting a free week off at the end of the year for Intercession, which is just gravy. I don’t need a week off, and wouldn’t really care if I didn’t get a week off (after all, people in other normal jobs don’t get a paid week off for nothing at the end of the calendar year, so why should my field be so special?), but I do use it as an opportunity to travel to see family and all of the things that usually happen during the holiday season.
Close friends and relatives don’t understand why I won’t participate in these things. Apparently, they think my atheism is ‘cute’ or something, and shouldn’t really have any bearing on what I actually do or participate in. I don’t have anything against my family or my friends, and (for the most part), I don’t have anything against calm, rational, not insane people who happen to be religious. I do have less respect for those people, and that’s something that I am not at all afraid to admit, but there’s no hatred, no sense of antagonism, these people aren’t my enemies. I just think they’re a little misguided. And nothing’s going to change that opinion. I guess I fall on the Richard Dawkins side of atheism and humanism, in that I do legitimately consider religion itself both in concept and in practice to be thoroughly dangerous. This is not to say that all religions at all times are dangerous entities, because they aren’t. But the potential is there at all times, as the ability to singularly sway the hearts and minds of an entire populace always has the potential for danger. It goes beyond a simple logical progression to a godless existence, and becomes a personal thing. Part of this for me also stems from public school persecution in the name of religion. I was verbally attacked pretty often in junior high and high school by the more religious people in my grade, and that was during a time when I really wasn’t hesitating to speak up about my lack of beliefs. My fervor tends to ebb and flow, heat and cool like the seasons, and it’s usually in reaction to what’s going on in the world. But it’s difficult not to feel like a white hot furnace of rage these days.
First, we had to (and I guess technically still have to, though things have died down significantly in thanks to the work of federal courts in Pennsylvania) deal with the idiocy that is intelligent design, and the vicious attempts of the religious sector of this great nation to infect science classrooms with non-scientific nonsense and to denigrate evolution because it goes against what’s in the Bible. Science, one of most important intellectual pursuits of the modern human, the discipline that allows me to sit at this computer typing this article in a building with artificial light, knowing that if I get some kind of disease or sickness I have a pretty damned good chance of surviving it, was under attack by the supernatural. We fought back, of course, with Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, which, it turns out, was too smart of a satire for some of them to even realize what was going on, and they fought back with obviously biased and unintelligent dreck like Expelled, which was chock full of misinformation and propaganda editing techniques. I really do believe that the intelligent design debacle was the moment that our culture and reputation really started to slip on the world stage. We had a President, a man often referred to as the leader of the free world, who on record said that he wasn’t sure if evolution (arguably one of the most concrete theories we have in science, with literally millions of years of evidence) actually existed. And we’re supposed to be taken seriously as a world power. It’s ludicrous. Luckily, the court system hasn’t been so silly as to fold from any of the pressure from the religious right, and have soundly defeated the attempts to get intelligent design into our public school science classrooms whenever it has gone to court. Huzzah.
Next, of course, we had the fun of dealing with Proposition 8. I am not a homosexual man, but I am friends with quite a few folks who consider themselves homosexual, and the idea that we’re still treating this sector of our society as second class citizens is just an embarrassing circumstance. Great states like California and Massachusetts went forward with the legalization of gay marriage (because why the hell wasn’t it legal in the first place?), and were immediately demonized by the religious sector for harming the sanctity of marriage. Because, you see, the Bible tells us marriage can only be between a man and a woman. So that’s obviously all that matters. Proposition 8, which was a proposition to repeal gay marriage in California, actually passed in the November 2008 election. The state went backwards. The repeal was eventually overturned as unconstitutional and is currently making its way up to the Supreme Court where we’ll finally get a concrete ruling for the whole country. I just hope it’s the right one. And now, some of the republicans in congress are saying that they’re going to attempt to ratify a federal Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage with their majority in the House. The good thing is that they don’t have a large enough majority to actually do it, but the fact that they’re trying, and the fact that the only reason they could possibly have to be against gay marriage is a religious one is another example of the degradation of society being brought along by the religious right. Every facet of our society is constantly evolving. Technology improves, travel and communications improve, virtually shrinking the size of the world, and we won’t allow other people who have no influence or bearing on heterosexual marriage whatsoever the same rights that everyone else has. It’s blatantly discriminatory and on par with racism. With everything we’ve gone through, from the Civil War to civil rights to women’s suffrage, how can we as a nation still have a population of second class citizens? How does this happen?
The most recent act of idiocy, and this one actually makes me the most angry, is the outrage that has sprung up over the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit currently at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. ‘Hide/Seek’ is an exhibit of predominantly gay and lesbian art pieces, many of which are based around or themed by the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s. Some of the art is shocking, some of it designed to be inflammatory. One specific piece, a video by David Wojnarowicz entitled “Fire in my Belly,” caused an uproar with the republican religious right, specifically calling out a section of the video involving ants crawling over a figurine of Jesus Christ. They complained, talking about misappropriation of tax dollars to fund such ‘hate speech.’ And for some shockingly unfortunate reason, the Smithsonian caved and removed the video. The rest of the exhibit is still there, but the video is gone. Which means that we’ve just had a piece of art censored by the government, for all intents and purposes. This isn’t a matter of national security or anything that could be considered legitimately damaging to the public. It’s simply an act of expression that a few outspoken republicans didn’t like because it kinda sorta pokes a bit of fun at Christianity. The video is not about Christianity. It doesn’t specifically target Christianity. It’s an expressionist video about the pain and suffering of a gay man fighting with AIDS. It’s not designed to specifically target Christianity or any religion. But it’s gone.
What worries me is the fact that the man who publicly campaigned the hardest for the removal of the piece is John Boehner, who is about to become Speaker of the House come January. He was pressured by The Catholic League. And he’s already talking about looking into the Congressional and Federal spending that goes into the upkeep of the National Portrait Gallery. What he’s basically saying is that the government is threatening to take money away from a non-profit national art museum if they choose to display art that the members of said government don’t like. They seem to think that all of this taxpayer money was used to create “Fire in my Belly,” despite the fact that the artist died in 1992. Yes, the money does pay for the upkeep of the building itself, but that’s mutually exclusive from what the Smithsonian deems important enough to display in its hallowed halls. What matters is censorship of art in the name of religion.
I’ve written before about how important art is to me and the human race as a whole. Art is one of the best examples of what separates the human race as an intelligent species. The greatest danger to any artist is the threat of censorship. When acting under the threat of censorship, the artist either ends up having to self-censor his art, which basically defeats the purpose of art as expression in the first place, or be thrown under the bus and have his art locked away for none to see, to be considered an enemy of the state for having the audacity to speak his mind. I can’t help but think of the film adaptation of V for Vendetta, with Stephen Fry’s hidden cache of illegal art, most of which was homosexual in tone. Is this where we’re headed? In normal cases, I might try to be more level-headed about these things, and talk about how slippery slopes are often thrown around as an overblown debate technique. The right has already talked about removing funding from NPR and the National Endowment of the Arts. While those two announcements were technically motivated by some twisted sense of fiscal responsibility, we’ve obviously seen over the past few days that our government has no qualms to publicly pressure artists and museums with art that they specifically object to. They act like some kind of defensive caged animal that’s been abused if not for the fact that they’ve been the abusers the whole time. The bullies acting like the bullied.
Not all religions act in the same way. Not all religions are outwardly aggressive toward other belief systems. Not all religions are prone to explosive insecurity when they feel like they’ve been wronged. But what religions do have the potential for is dangerous fanaticism. We’ve somehow let this fanaticism take root in the United States of America, and it’s turning us into a global laughingstock. We won’t repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy built on hate, intolerance, and ignorance, despite the fact that the Pentagon and the armed forces themselves have publicly stated that it won’t change anything. We refuse to let gay people marry. We may or may not believe that evolution actually exists, because it just might be possible that the world’s only been around for a couple thousand of years, and that Noah’s flood actually happened. We don’t want to further science by funding stem cell research because it makes us feel icky. We (want to) refuse to give pregnant women the right to choose. We censor that which pokes fun at religious iconography. All of this has its root in religion as a motivation. It’s holding us back as a species, stunting our ability to grow in culture and intelligence. I don’t participate in religion themed activities (and anyone who tells me again that Christmas has been commercialized so it’s okay is so entirely missing the point) because I walk by a Planned Parenthood every morning and have to walk by fanatical protestors every morning (don’t these people have fucking jobs?) screaming their own brand of hate speech, calling honest hard working people that just want to help murderers and baby killers and so on. I literally want nothing to do with religion because of what it has done to our society. And I especially don’t want to have anything to do with Christian holidays. To be honest, after the last couple of months, I’m not sure I’d be able to contain my disdain for the current Christian ethos, regardless of whether everyone follows it. The vocal ones sure as shit do. And they revel in it. December 25, 2010 is a Saturday. Good chance I’ll be wearing a perpetual scowl on my face. Maybe I’ll take in a movie, try to keep my mind off things. True Grit’s going to be opening right around that time, and it looks pretty sweet.