Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back in the 20th . . .

I was an atheist, only a younger one. Anyway, I was a police office in the long ago and far away, which never failed to provide exciting interactions with random people. 2 questions I used to get fairly frequently were 1.) what's it like being an atheist, and 2.) when did you first decide to be gay.

Both of the questions belie a lack of careful thinking, but I tried to make sure that each time I heard it I realized that it's this person's first time asking it. So, despite the fact I'd heard it hundreds of times, I would respond as though it was the first - at least people were asking instead of just defining me for themselves on their own prejudices, right?  Progress is slow, but amusing at times.

Anyway, my stock answers go something like this:

1.) well, the meetings are great.  Old business? No god - sweet. New business? Still no god - sweet; let's drink!
2.) when did you decide to be straight?

It's surprising how little effort went into almost immediately reversing the question and putting it into a frame of reference the questioner would immediately recognize.  Plus, it made them answer the question for themselves, instead of my having to give a four part harmony oral history of my life-to-date.

Little did I know that there would actually be meetings for the atheists in my then-future, as there weren't any back then, well, such that I was aware anyway.

So, here's my question for you:

when you were an atheist back in the day and people asked you what it's like, how did you answer?
 I think I'm curious to know if I was just being flip back then, or if others might have taken a similar approach.

Anyway, let me know in the comments!


Phil Giordana said...

I honestly couldn't answer that one. In my country it has never been an issue (since I came to be, I mean). If I was asked today, I would probably answer something along the lines of "it's mentally and rationally fulfilling, keeps my mind open to new data, and keeps me away from church and creepy Father Dupont, or something"...

John D said...

No one ever asks me what it is like to be an atheist (and I have been one for over 30 years). They only tell me I am wrong or they tell me I am a devil worshiper. Sometimes they just stare at me.

Justicar said...

Wow. It never occurred to me that my experience on that might be unique; namely, that there were atheists who'd never been asked what it's like.

You must know some really not-very-curious people!

John D said...

I think they are curious... within boundaries. We share ideas about government,and politics, and war, and history, and cars.... but when it come to god most people I know just try to convert me. haha.

Anonymous said...

(Hey, you're third up on my Google rankings now, since down at about seven yesterday! Happy days!)

Q1.? Well it just wasn't an issue.
I mean they still had unconvincing dreary praying and hymns and stuff at school assembly, and weddings usually, and funerals always, but even the grown-ups couldn't be provoked into eventually mumbling "well there's bound to be something, isn't there?" in the most unconvincing fashion.

You could tell they didn't believe a word of it, even if "don't frighten the children" (the Santa Clause) made them not actually say it was a pile of shit outright. Which was more frequent than not.

OK there was the odd god-botherer and creepy loonies like the Witnesses at the door now and then, but I, and everybody I know, was an atheist by osmosis I guess.

Thing is, their parents had also been functional atheists as well. It was the generation before who'd made the correct assessment. I do recall occasionally daring to badger a grandparent. One was a lifelong socialist, from when the term actually meant something, as was her dead man.

Other grandma was of the "Oh I suppose there might be. Fetch me some more blackcurrants"). (Blackcurrant and apple pie, the woman spent every minute she wasn't at t'mill just baking and roasting. So the questions never got answered as my theological propositions were somewhat overridden.
"Pie! Soon! God, you can fuck right off."

Even g-g-grandma didn't have any time for it. But she was a crotchety old bag. I doubt her man had either, no mention of it anywhere in the letter we found in her handbag after she died, the one dated three days before he went up against the Turks.

A number turned to woo, Spiritualism and the like, asking after the man they never married, or their dead sons, but the churches just haemorrhaged punters, unnoticeably. People just voted with their feet.

My grandad, who rarely spoke anyway, except to horses and dogs, the one time I asked, just pulled his pipe out, muttered the word "Parsons" contemptuously, almost under his breath, and turned and spat slowly into the fire.
The look in his eyes shook me so much I never asked anything like that again.
He was a really gentle, kind guy normally. He would never get cross with kids, no matter what. Drove Grandma to distraction with it.

Alan Bennett once did a good piece explaining it, but I can't for the life of me recall it. But I am fairly certain that for our lot, and all their rellies and neighbours, god was last seen here, floundering and going under.

I suppose for Phil's folks the place might be about 250 keys further to the south-west.

The exact time and place of god's demise wibbles about the map a bit, depending on the perspective of nationality, but in general I feel safe in claiming that western europeans do not have a lot of time for all that god bollocks, as their experience teaches rather differently.

Phew! What a pan-cracker that was!
Can we talk about sex now, please?
I'm a bit gloomy just thinking about why nobody ever mentioned god when I was growing up.
I'll have a think, and do the second question soon.
Beware, it could be as long and incoherent as this was. Complicated, yet absurdly simple, if you're doing it right I reckon, sex is.

Justicar said...

Maybe it's just a me thing then! Who knew!

Sweet. I'm climbing the ranks, slowly but surely.

I'm the little blogger who could.

John Greg said...

I've never been asked what it's like being an atheist either. Perhaps that is because until very recently religion, here in Canada, is rarely something that comes up in social, or even in friend to friend chat.

Until very recently most of the Canadians I've ever known don't really even think much about religion, or god belief, one way or another.

That is, sadly, changing with Stephen Fundy-theist Harper in charge.

Justicar said...

Why is he still PM there anyway?

Anonymous said...

While I ponder desultorily on the Gait/Stray issue, I remembered this piece by one of yours which captures exactly the raging indifference the brits express on the subject.

I mean they're so not engaged, they're not even atheists. To the bafflement of even friendly, smart ex-colonials like her

I commend it to the House.

bluharmony said...

1. Never been asked what it's like to be an atheist.

2. At conception. (This isn't quite scientifically correct, but it's deterministically correct, and anyway, to someone who's asking the question, it ain't gonna matter.)

John Greg said...

"Why is he still PM there anyway?"

Well, the answer is kind of long and complex.

The two principle factors are:

1. Voter disillusionment, which leads to voter apathy and not showing up at the polls.

2. Our method of voting, i.e., first past the post rather than representational.

So, in this case, Harper "won" a "majority" government with less than 40% of the national vote, and that 40% was out of less than 40% of the people in the country voting, which boils down to Harper "winning" his "majority" from somewhere in the neighbourhood of less than, what?, 18% of the people in the country voting for his party -- if those numbers are wrong, please excuse me: I am profoundly bad with math, statistics, etc.

Spence said...

I'm not adding much here, beyond noting nobody has asked me what it is like being an atheist. But then in the UK, the latest census shows that 39% of the population identify as atheist or agnostic; while 53% of the population identify as Christian, only about one-half of those believe Jesus is the son of god. So, in practice, it is more likely that an atheist would approach a religious person, and ask them what it is like to be religious.

Except that doesn't happen, because most atheists can pretty much guess what being religious would be like.

Justicar said...

Yes, I'm starting to notice that this seems to be an American issue.

Now that I think on it, I've only ever been asked here. Then again, when I'm traveling it's not like I wear a sign - I'm not a bus after all.

Anonymous said...

Bugger. Must check and double check my cell-wall dirty protests.

Among many confusing elisions and errors, I meant g(reat)-grandma (Pie-Woman's ma) not Lizzie (b. 1853), and "250 keys to the south-east".

I'm always doing that. And to think I used to do it for a job once. Mind you a mate of mine in that job couldn't get the concepts of "north" and "south" straight to save his life. Seaside=South, " 'cos that's where you goes on yer 'olidays innit"

Rayshul said...

I've always said that I don't have the imagination for it. I mean it's an interesting idea but my brain doesn't work that way.