Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Satan, Santa and Stephen Crane

I saw this posted on a friend's FB page today. Normally, I would either "like" or ignore a graphic like this, but for some reason (perhaps the fact that I had just spent the previous hour responding to a comment on another post that I felt deserved a complete response) I felt moved to respond to this.

I get the sentiment, and I agree to a great extent, but I am afraid that it oversimplifies. Being an atheist is okay. Being a smug, arrogant, belligerent, self-righteous prig is not okay, whether you are religious or not.

Sadly, most religions shame themselves not merely with their intolerance of other faiths or points of view, but through practices that demean both the individual and "the other," including waging war against "infidels," "heretics," and "non-believers" in the name of God. Let us not exclude predatory priests, evangelical con artists, genital mutilation and female subjugation, to name but a few "religious" practices that deserve to be shamed, including defiance of science.

Furthermore, I know that it's meant to add levity, but reindeers don't have red, shiny noses, and perpetuating falsehoods and fantasies as anything other than literary fictions, no matter how telling and meaningful they are for the human condition can have dire consequences.

Insisting that the physical laws of nature can be ignored or circumvented has dangerous, real world consequences. Seizing a Holy Book—from whatever religion and regardless of how many times it has been translated and retranslated, collected and collated, reconfigured and re-collated, and no matter what wildly improbable or physically impossible events are claimed to have occurred (remember Leda and the Swan?)—and claiming that said Holy Book must be taken absolutely literally while failing to acknowledge any possible ambiguity or obvious contradictions can have devastating effects on an individual, a society, and our world.

I do not disdain religion nor those who see themselves as either religious or spiritual, and I admire many of the important tenets from many of the world's religions, but I decry those practices and practitioners who advocate the suppression or subjugation of people based on origin, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, or social status.

Stephen Crane wrote:

"And the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the heads of the children, even unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."

Well, then I hate thee, unrighteous picture;
Wicked image, I hate thee;
So, strike with thy vengeance
The heads of those little men
Who come blindly.
It will be a brave thing.

I concur with Crane's analysis. Most read this as a blasphemous attack on God, but it clearly is not. He is not offering a hatred of God; he is stating a hatred for that particularly "unrighteous picture" of God.

As if to explicate this idea, he later wrote:

I stood upon a highway,
And, behold, there came
Many strange peddlers.
To me each one made gestures,
Holding forth little images, saying,
"This is my pattern of God.
Now this is the God I prefer."
But I said, "Hence!
Leave me with mine own,
And take you yours away;
I can't buy of your patterns of God,
The little gods you may rightly prefer."

I believe the "peddlers" are the problem. "To each his own" seems to me to be a very virtuous statement when it comes to religious or spiritual beliefs.

PS: I liked the colors in the clouds, too.

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