I want to take you back to the halcyon days of a young lad from Essex, just turned 18 and busy on a bout of self discovery – one that not only consisted of the effects of Bob and Abbot and the occasional funny fag on this slight spotty youth, but also with it falling in love with music in all its mad and eclectic genres. I was pretty much a wannabe rocker back then – Iron Maiden were an early love and i’d not often be seen without my single Eddie emblazoned shirt. But I also had a passion for Punk – something I’d missed in my junior years but relished with later rediscovery.
I’d also been introduced by my MRSL YTS buddies to Chelmsford’s legendary Prince of Orange pub – full of the cities reprobates and rebels and although I mainly felt like a guilty outsider these were the people I wanted to be – the bikers, the rockers, the punks – all the people your parents didn’t want you to be yet as much as society hated them I felt at home among these misfits – if somewhat scared of many. I seem to recall even one night being accused of being a narc by one local – I didn’t know if I was more scared of the kicking I would get or the fact that I was seen as an outsider – almost an enemy – neither of which I was or wanted to be. But it didn’t stop me going in there on packed Friday nights, always a tad fearful that the threatened glass fight would kick off (it never did) and all the memories I had of that great place are all happy ones. And it was also here that I discovered Gilbert and the Planks – probably Chelmsford’s greatest band (well along with the Prodigy but tenuous links to that later).
My lifelong friend Donna had given me a tape of ‘Fear of a Plank Planet’ – she’d done some promotion work at the local YMCA booking bands and they had gotten to know her – she was more into Bon Jovi at the time so thought with my love of the Pistols and the Ramones that I would appreciate the tape more (yep in those days demos still came on C60 cassettes).
I’d seen and heard a lot of local bands and they were okay – many of my mates were musicians so you’d get dragged along to the Army and Navy for a show just for the support more than anything and none really shone out back then to me – until I heard Gilbert and the Planks’ Fear of a Plank Planet. It instantly struck me with it’s lack of production, honesty, non-sensibility and – stated with all true respect – amateurism – that made it instantly a favourite. It was proper home-made music like punk should be – no airs or graces, just down to earth, balls to the wall punk. And I loved it.
It was identifiable – the lyrical content of overpriced haircuts and Renault owners of questionable sanity rang a bit of a chord with my love of Half Man Half Biscuit but with a much more aggressive stance and of course being about where it was from – ‘Supermarket’ you could just imagine was about Sainsbury’s in the Precinct and everyone – especially in Essex – knew at least one Turbo Nutter Bastard. It was a local band for local people (to paraphrase the League of Gentlemen) and that meant that it was something you felt you were almost a part of – I’m just sad I never got to see them and buy the T-shirt (which I now know to exist)
I met some of the guys just once – again it was my friend Donna and me, upstairs at the Prince – drinking with some friends of hers. She hadn’t even realized that I didn’t know these were the guys behind the tape but when the penny dropped there was much hero worship and laudation laid among these local heroes of mine. I think they may have thought me a tad strange waxing lyrical about the tape as I did (somewhat drunkenly no doubt) – the memories are hazy at best – but they were a good laugh and most amiable to me.
My tape collection has long since disappeared (although I think they are with a friend of mine in Holland) and I now live in the USA, but somehow I never forgot about Fear of a Plank Planet – remembering it vaguely yet fondly. I even did an internet search but just one result on the B3ta website for Gilbert and the Planks existed anywhere. But then through the wonders of the internet I remembered the Prince of Orange reunion page on Facebook and on the extreme off chance thought I would ask if anyone knew anything about them – I could not have been more happily surprised. Within minutes I not only had confirmation of their memory but a photograph of someone wearing a Gilbert shirt in Kathmandu of all things, then a scan of the tape and a lineup confirmation. It seemed a lot of the old Prince crew knew the Planks well (and their spin off bands) and people’s ownership of tapes soon surfaced. And of course it was not long before someone shared for us all once again the beauty that was Gilbert and the Planks doing what they did so marvelously. Bryan Barker fantastically was able to send me MP3′s of the whole album and in tribute and I hope in no way insulting to the legacy or members of the band, here is Fear of a Plank Planet in its entirety. Enjoy:
Having a Swim
Twenty Five Quid
1-2 Crush on You
All songs by Gilbert and the Planks (I believe) except 1-2 Crush on You by Strummer/Jones. Songs are copyright of Gilbert and the Planks and are used in tribute only and not to imply any ownership of the webhost or contributor.
So what happened to them? Well there was later a band called Involuntary Shudder as well as I believe other projects but soon they all went their separate ways. I know at least Dennis is now just up the road from me in Massachusetts so I guess a reunion is out of the question sadly – (but maybe a pint? Give us a shout maybe). Additional musician Kieron later went on to play with the Prodigy and also tech for the Wildhearts – a band I later went on to work for for a number of years in various capacities. Small world eh?
As for the others – well I hope that anyone reading this might be able to fill me in - I just thought it only right that the memory of this wonderful band be kept alive a little so this page is an homage to them and I would like to certainly add to it. Bands such as this should not be forgotten in the mists of time and the internet allows us to post up small tributes and this is mine to them. Gilbert and the Planks were nothing short of genius to me – I’m sure if he didn’t hear them John Peel would have loved them – I know I did.
If anyone from the band has any issue with copyright please email me at waynster at gmail or indeed if anyone wishes to add or contribute to the memory of these Essex punk extraordinaires please go ahead and get in touch!
Thanks go to Kev, Jansen, Harry the Grout, Paul, David and many others for the information and of course to the Prince of Orange for Bob and Abbots and a hell of a lot of fun. Extra special thanks to Bryan for the MP3′s and if I forgot anyone – sorry – but thank you.
Scan of rear of ‘Fear of a Plank Planet’
I’m sorry I neglected you. My life has been tumultuous of late and yet the vile and spittle I normally reserve for venting my spleen to you has been both contained and yet vented elsewhere. Many things have happened since the Olympics that fueled my inner angst with the need to shout at you with fists clenched and blood pressure raised. Much has passed and life has moved on.
To reflect on our last chat it seems NBC have decided to repent by showing all the footie next year and with Gary Lineker and other learned people of the sport. This is a good thing – anyone having ever having to endure watching on Fox will understand the abhorrent style of commentating. Yes I get it that American audiences to NFL, NBA, Baseball, Ice Hockey etc have a certain style that works but applying the terminology from Tennis to ‘Soccer’ *cough* does not appear attractive. Using obsolete or seldom referenced team nicknames repeatedly does not make you an expert on the game. And shouting out Cliff Dempsey’s name mid-sentence just because he is an American is neither funny or endearing. It fact it makes you look like and sound like a demented pillock. So goodbye Fox soccer – you will not be missed.
In other news I became single (awwww…) then met someone else (Woo!) who is so amazing (Yay!) that I seem to spend my entire life smiling (Houpla!). Then I got allergic to beer. Fucking seriously – of all the things in the world to get diagnosed with – forget leprosy, AIDS, Ebola – no I get allergic to beer. And pies. And Cake. However I have found since gluten free beer, cake and so on and some of it is rather good (Estrella Daura is amazing). I will survive dear Blog – but we have to change to do so.
..which segues me nicely into my apparent fitness regime and diet – well the diet had to change but also I have a bike and have even started to run again – albeit unsuccessfully as it seems every time I try I pull another muscle. I’m trying to do this couch potato to 5K thing in about 2 months but the first week in has been painful – I’ll keep trying but although I do pull up I am noticing slight improvements. Also my doctor assures me that I am very healthy for my age all things considered – even the supposed emphysema I thought I had wasn’t actually there in the first place – greatest misunderstanding ever.
So Blog that’s me in a nutshell. I’m surviving through it all – getting better every day in every way I can. I’ve missed you and know I should write to you more often and yes we’ll keep in touch – lets try not to leave it so long next time eh?
I, like millions of others watched in awe at the absolutely amazing opening ceremony of the London Olympics this past friday night. I am will freely admit am not a great writer but this wonderful piece caught my eye and I think is only worthy of saying what we all want to say – By John Robb at louderthanwar.com
However, as a Brit transplanted into the US we watched the coverage on NBC – nothing special there really – at least there shouldn’t have been. It was only later that this came to light – that NBC had decided an interview with Michael Phelps was ‘more of interest’ than a tribute to the people who were murdered on 7/7 by Al Qaeda in London – see the Daily Mail their piece on this (apologies for that particular source but theirs is the most populous article on this).
Sorry let me just repeat that – A dull interview with one of their competitors was far more of interest to US audiences than a moving tribute to the 52 people killed in multiple terrorist attacks in London in 2005. 52 innocent people who died due to an act of terrorism don’t make good airtime. Unless of course they were Americans in which case I am sure NBC would greatly analyze a 2 minute segment with further commentary and specials – perhaps rightly in the interest of their main audience – but not at this time.
I don’t mean to mock any tribute to victims of such awful atrocities – no matter what their nationality. I stood silently in tribute when so many people lost their lives on that horrible day in September 2011 as did millions all around the world. We continue to remember that day not just every year, but daily – especially now living in NY we are constantly (and rightly) reminded of the terrible crime that was committed that day that changed all of our lives. The United Kingdom were first to stand up and support the US’s often controversial military actions after that day. We didn’t question anything – our armed forces reacted and stood alongside the US troops. Further to that many ordinary citizens around the world donated money to the support funds to help out where they could. The world stood by the USA on that day and continue to mark that day as you do.
After that other atrocities in the name of terrorism continued – Madrid’s train bombing, attacks in Istanbul, Egypt, The Philippines, Algiers, Denmark as well as countless continuing attacks in Iraq all at the hands of Al Qaeda. And of course the attacks to a city I know and love – London. I remember that day in 2005 – the first reports of possible explosions in tube stations I used so regularly – the initial lack of panic as it was thought to be something trivial. Then the second report of an incident and the escalation. Then the bus exploding – the pictures of the blood all over that building. The realization and the panic that London was now on that horrible list. And the pictures of the victims everywhere – the injured, the dead – it all brought it back from just 4 years before.
I know full well that America rallied behind the UK that day just as we did – arms across the ocean, best of friends and so on. And I know that the majority of America if they knew NBC’s decision would be as outraged as I am. This is an absolute insult – if the games had been in the US and a tribute a part of any such ceremony – no matter where that was in the world no one would ever consider such an atrocious act of insensitivity, ignorance and disregard for the memory or feelings of the people of that country. It is beyond appalling that they should even treat their response so glibly with Greg Hughes – the spokesman for NBC – stating so nonchalantly “our programming is tailored for the U.S. audience. It’s a tribute to (opening ceremony producer) Danny Boyle that it required so little editing.”.
And as if proof be needed of their dedication to the US audience, the subsequent coverage has been so grossly in favour of Team USA that it is laughable. Don’t get me wrong – a national broadcaster should have a bias for their target audience – but in a country with so many people of foreign nationalities and ancestry living here I would have thought some deviation from the All-American team be available – however all team sports broadcast are only including Team USA and Individual events again have a heavy bias on home efforts. Gold winning brilliance if not by the USA is given a fleeting glance whilst silver medal results are exalted and covered like they were world record winning performances the likes of which we have never seen before. Do NBC not realize this is a global competition?
Did I also mention their coverage of the athlete’s arrivals? I swear the commentators were armed only by a copy of the CIA handbook for guidance on the countries as they came out onto the track. I’m sure it’s far more important to hear about the political land disputes certain islands have had than their sporting achievements. And let us not forget Bob Costas’ controversial personal agenda against the IOC. And incidentally, would it not kill NBC if they must have commentators to at least learn to pronounce countries names properly? ‘Eurogway’ is not to my knowledge how you pronounce that proud South American nation participating.
If NBC need to edit for advertisements and interviews (and remember this was not live but a 3 and a half hour delay after the event – which brings me to why not live?) they should at least have the common courtesy to be sensitive to their countries allies. They should remember this is a world event and not a chance to blanket cover every moment the US participates like it is of complete global importance. And they should forget that the ‘N’ in NBC stands for ‘National’ – if that is your total agenda then the IOC need to immediately revoke your broadcast rights to this wonderful competition.
The Olympics has always been a chance for the world to compete together in peace and harmony – a chance for sport and competition where politics are firmly left at the door. It is not for NBC to use as yet another excuse to show America as being so great and the rest of the world so apparently inferior – including those supposedly of your nearest and dearest. I appreciate the need for US interest in their home team but honestly at the expense of the memory of those who were killed ? That is beyond disgusting – words fail me of how low you sank. For shame, NBC – for shame.
Days like yesterday are very few and far between as a West Ham United fan, but when they do come around and we get to taste that rare but oh so sweet taste of Victory then by heck do we lap up every drop. Yesterday’s win was anything but easy and Blackpool were worthy opponents who could have taken our glory away but the boys in claret and blue held their own valiantly. Carlton Cole, scorer of the first and maker of the winner was a true star and man of the match by a streak. Tomkins was consistently on the case and over them like a rash. Noble was as always outstanding, as was Green and Collison. Vaz Te was a mess, missing chances and sending shots wide – until the 87th minute when he does exactly what he has been doing so well all season by stepping up and banging a shot in to the top of the net which sent the 40,000 at Wembley and many around the world into absolute ecstasy. The Irons managed to hold on for another 8 minutes until the final whistle, and West Ham found themselves back where they belong – the English Premier League.
There is a lot to be done over the summer – Green for one needs his contract sorting and that is already being reported and we do need a decent second option for goal. A couple of fullbacks and a new striker to partner Cole – rumour is there is about 20 mil available to Big Sam which hopefully he can build on an already decent squad.
Next year wont be easy – life in the Prem never is but as one of the three newly promoted teams all eyes will be upon us and teams will be salivating to try and take 6 points of us. We’ve simply got to build on what we have, continue with confidence and play the bloody hell out of every team we come up against. With Allardyce at the helm, I have a delicate confidence that we might have a decent first season back – nothing outrageous but one where we aren’t tip-toeing around the relegation zone all season – at least that is what I hope for. We’ll have to wait until August to see how it all pans out.
But until then I’ll happily ride the happy wave from yesterday and it is those special days that make me utter once and again, I fucking love you West Ham!
Today would have been Christopher Eric Hitchens 63rd birthday, had he not succumbed to cancer last December. And the sad fact is had he not succumbed I may probably have never heard of him to be honest. I had been living in the US for just over a year – a country which to be honest was a great catalyst to my own Atheism – when he sadly left this mortal coil. The tributes from the BBC and others ignited a spark of curiosity in this man and upon discovering alone just that he had written a book entitled ‘God is not great’ got me excited. Upon purchasing said book I immediately found a genius whose mastery of the English language, amazing debating ability and just his outright sense and reason made this man a hero to me, albeit sadly whilst his body lay cold.
I dearly would have loved to have seen the man debate live as he so often and passionately did usually with great success. His utter despise of religion and venomous tongue in denouncing it and all it made him to me a modern day messiah as it were – Christians talk of Jesus being the saviour yet I truly believe this man, though I am sure of his probable hatred of the terminology I use, was I think in this day and age a messiah from the nonsensical, supernatural hogwash which seems to govern so many peoples – many of whom seek office to govern our lives. His writing, his television appearances and his activism all live on thanks to the internet and modern media and whilst my life might be a little bit emptier having not come across this great man during his existance, I am sure he has inspired many – myself absolutely included – to spread the word of Atheism, reason and just the ideals of questioning everything.
Hitch, you were a great man and very much missed – but I will celebrate you today, not mourn -this life as you so well and so often said, is the only one we have. Cheers!
And in case you really want to know just what we are all missing today, here is 15 minutes of the great man doing what he did best – enjoy!
Being a father is absolutely life changing in so many ways – I’ve had to become incredibly responsible very quickly and this is something that I must remain for as long as I live (quite an undertaking as many who know me will vouch). I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching not just about how I should bring him up but also about myself and how I must appear to him – after all I am responsible for moulding this little chap into what I hope will be a respected and respectful human being. There are traits of myself I want him to have and others I do not – we after all are not perfect yet we strive to make our children as perfect as they can be.
I realize that as he grows he will have a plethora of questions and I imagine one day he will ask me about ‘god’ – I will of course be ensuring he gets a completely secular education but no doubt he will hear it from others – perhaps his mother who retains a sense of spirituality – but I will not as an atheist be inflicting any dogma on him of course and will fight to protect him from religious influence. As a child it would be callous to shield him from Christmas and Easter and the consumerist delights they bring (I’m already formulating these as celebrations for family, perhaps the coming of spring and so on) – but also simply as I do not want him ostracized from his peers in the playground – I’m fairly sure some atheists still do presents for each other at this time of year, especially for their kids for this very reason.
But there will come a time when I hope he comes to me and asks me about God, Allah, Yahweh or whoever and I have to treat this subject rather delicately – for one thing I will not do is deny him religion should he chose to find that, but at the same time I want him to be the most reasonable human I can make him. This throws up so many difficulties, especially when they are at a young age as you do your best to protect them. Take the example of death – heaven in this context is a nice comforter (without the religious malarkey) yet I do not want him to get his hopes up that there is an afterlife of any sort – I want him to live the life he has now and do something positive with it and not rely on a happier place afterwards. Yet at the same time we are brought up to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny which for a child of a young age are exciting and appealing icons and again I would not like to deny him these encouragements, even if they have religious undertones.
I remember myself as a child – and something recently I read on another atheists blog that reminded me – that when I was a boy I was fascinated by radios, televisions, motor cars and so on but I had to understand how they worked – this inevitably lead me to pulling things apart which I could then not get back together again, but this did later fuel a career in electronics and nearly an apprenticeship in the Navy as an aircraft engineer. It was this early fascination with the way things were constructed which later lead to my enlightenment as an atheist as although I cannot comprehend half of how the universe works, I know what facts are known are based on science and testing and no theory about some creator really stuck with me, even as a child. I didn’t understand all the fuss about god and remember very little about the one year we went to church on a Sunday. I also wasn’t really able to comprehend why we sang about this god feller and hymns to me were more about replacing lines for something that made them ridiculous or got a giggle (onward christian soldiers I always liked but only because it for me held relevance more to my action man* or Warlord comic that I read, and that we replaced the line ‘with the cross of Jesus’ to ‘with a sterling machine gun’ – I was quite army barmy as a child and still am to be honest…)
Perhaps if I can install this curiosity in Paul he may have the same thirst for understanding that lead me to my path to reason, but I imagine that still he will want an explanation and I have a lot of research to do about how best to handle this (atheist parenting seems a good place to start). For now I think I will explain to him simply that some people who don’t have all the answers to all the questions need an anchor they can use to answer them – they are brought up to believe that the world was made by a thing called god and that they believe they must do everything to make this god happy else he will have them burn forever in a place called hell. The only thing is that no one has ever seen god, or knows what he looks like, and lots of the people who follow him argue a lot about what is right and what is wrong, even going to war over it. The things they believe are written in books that were written 2000 years ago roughly and were mostly told from ear to ear, differing every time (a quick Chinese Whisper demo here should prove a point) and each person who tells stories in these books tells it very different from the others and that lots of it we know today are not true at all, yet these people refuse to listen.
And I shall tell him that some of the people who believe in god can be evil people who think they are doing nasty things because they think it will make their god happy even though this god has never actually spoken to them. And lots of people think that without believing in this god that they would be nastier people which is not true – and that his Daddy believes if they cared more about the people around them than this magic man that they had never seen, met or spoken to then the world would be a much nicer place. And that he should go through life not trying to please someone he has nor will ever meet, but to please his parents, family and friends and make them proud through his actions and choices.And I will also say to him that like the Monster under the stairs, god does not exist.
But probably the most important thing I can say to him – to teach him – is to question everything. Question what I have said and question what others may say on the subject. Check facts where facts exist to prove theories and to accept that it is perfectly fine that we do not have all the answers now or maybe never will. And maybe if he really wants to find answers to study hard and investigate them himself – of course in this technological age the answers to most things are a mouse click away but there are still so many unanswered questions that maybe he can help solve.
And finally I shall tell him not to worry too much about it all just now and to just enjoy being a young chap in this world and to enjoy growing up, but know that he can do this freely and without oppression from fairy stories
*Action Man is the English version of GI Joe, the popular dress up soldier doll
As you are probably aware the US was gripped this past weekend with lottery fever and just about everyone here – myself included – tried (mostly unsuccessfully) our luck at becoming ludicrously rich. Conversation in my local bar was of little else than what we would do with the money from the lavish expenditure to the altruistic and charitable benevolence others planned to show. Of course my James Bond Watch has and always be my primary purchase should a win occur but in conversation with a good friend (and recent closet Agnostic !) I started to relay that old classic of buying an island and making it my own country – much like the attempts made by the principality of Sealand but with slightly less underhanded tactics.
I did of course stop day dreaming about such colossal sums of money and quickly realized even with a win as big as the one on offer, after taxes and all even developing an Island to a position where it could be a sovereign state (unless it had of course its own valuable resources and a queue of hungry investors) would be probably beyond the scope of your winnings. I mean you are wanting a country with its own government, infrastructure and probably for the planned Utopia you want, enough space to invite all the right-minded people to make that Island a Utopia.
Now of course I should want an Atheist Utopia where people of like mind and reason could come together in one place and live a total secular (and religion free) existence – quite an appealing fact so you are already looking at an island of some size so everyone can happily accomodate themselves. A quick bit of research and it seems that even just 850 Acres can cost as much as 80 million US Dollars so already the plan is somewhat wobbly. You’ll need a power station, roads and sanitation. You would also need civilian protection (whilst all Atheists are generally good they’ll still need policing, as well of course as for fire/rescue and so forth), government, education, healthcare, accommodation – and that is just scratching the surface. The cost would be astronomical and beyond a lottery win even of this magnitude.
But the silliness aside it did get me to thinking what an idea of Atheist Utopia would be like. First stop on my web travels is ‘old faithful’ or the Wikipedia entry for Utopia - without paraphrasing half the article it clearly states it’s definition of the word and varieties – Ecological, Economical, Religious, Peace/political, Feminism and Science and Technological. A further delve into these, particularly for this entry and those which are most relevant seem to be religious and scientific/technological – the former for its freedom from it, the latter as it would hope to be more conducive with our reasonable ways. However the entry is quite interesting in that the scientific entry talks only of worlds where technology assists human life to the maximum, where suffering and even death are eradicated – nice though that may seem that one is a long way off in theory.
Looking at the entry for religion I was quite miffed to find no entry for a Utopia with freedom from religion – in fact the only mention of Atheism within the entry is regarding Thomas More’s Utopia where Atheists ‘are the only despised people as they do not get rewarded for good behavior’ . Now assuming (and there is no hyperlink in the article to confirm) that Thomas More in this case is Sir Thomas More who was one of the apparent Renaissance Humanists - a movement pushing towards the teachings of science, law, natural philosophy and medicine – it seems odd that he would take such a stance – except he was a Roman Catholic and this was 1516 when he coined the very term ‘Utopia’. Anyway he was later beheaded for some of his anti-monarchy stances and also sainted apparently by the Catholics which I am sure they will still happily inform you about.
Anyway an ‘Atheist Utopia’ – well it appears to have been overlooked by certainly Wikipedia and any writers of note or hence they would have been surely mentioned. It seems that we must go to google and see if such a place has been debated or considered – it appears that in fact such a place existed – a place called Liberal in the State of Missouri. I say existed as although it is still a small town, it’s founder George Walser relapsed to spirituality (probably not helped by the missionaries who bombarded the city with their brethren to convert the godless heathens – more can be read here) and it seems nowadays this small town is just like any other American small town with about half the population adhering to some faith or another.
Whilst the town of Liberal failed because of the founder’s newly developed spirituality it at least means that it has been tried and now some 90 years on America has changed, as has the world. Would such an undertaking today be as successful? One could perhaps imagine much like areas of big cities such as New York for example where ethnic or social communities ‘adopt’ areas of the city so like people live amongst their own, could this not happen for Atheists? As a social experiment I think it would be pertinent to at least attempt. Whilst I do feel that integration and variety certainly help in conquering tensions between communities, I think also communities of like-minded and like people also bring multiculturalism and understanding through celebration and visibility. Certainly the LGBT communities which have transformed areas they have adopted have helped raise their profile and gained better understanding through this method, so I wonder if it could be the same for Atheism? Could we one day enjoy living in a neighborhood free from religion but home to reason?
It is certainly an idea – like in Liberal at first I think we would be a target to so many of the walking preachers who insist on disturbing our free time but I am sure that this would encourage debate in this day and age and hopefully after a bit of reasonable discussion and a realisation that they were at a loss – some peace. But above all I think if it were well publicized it could be a great step forward in acceptance by modern American society. It could also be a rallying point for the closet agnostics, free thinkers and skeptics looking for support. I imagine also it would be a wonderful multicultural community with people from all walks of life who chose our reasonable way of life. I’d imagine it to be a hotbed of discussion, idea and scientific discovery as like-minded people come together to share ideas and opinions free of the shadow of superstition. And through the simple ethos of morality through loving each other I’d hope it to be a safe place where people would genuinely look out for one another. And a place where people could come to escape religious persecution, to be welcomed and live a free life without fear of oppression from superstition. And a place to call home.
Sounds like a bit of a pipe dream I suppose – but it would certainly be at least an interesting social experiment. Here in New York, like many cities across the globe religious groups often flock together to make their own communities – as have the aforementioned LGBT communities. The two are of course different in their social classification and I would like more to class us more alike the latter, purely as the former is a religious assembly of a community, whereas the latter is more multicultural, more progressive and I think more with a point still to prove. And it is from these communities we could learn a lot – certainly they have communicated their point across by being visible, certainly colorful but also by leading by example. LGBT communities I have visited have generally been safe, clean, respectful yet not shy of their way of life. An atheistic community would have to work in the same way – our morals through our humanity would certainly go a long way to also starting safe environment, perhaps adopting a run-down community and doing our bit to clean up. One would hope our reasonable lifestyle would encourage the respect we would show to others around us and these would go towards acceptance. Be vocal about your skepticism and denial of faith but certainly respect those in the community who retain it (it still makes me cringe when the supervisor in my building, or the arabic storekeeper wishes me ‘God Bless!’ but I simply thank them as it is meant well – they know not of my Atheism). But above all it would be a great opportunity of strength through numbers.
Of course this is very much a simple idea and one that has probably been discussed before – I am new to America and new to my devout atheism, but I have found strength in community from the likes of the people at the Reason Rally. I’d hope that maybe it might at least spark a little discussion – I certainly welcome criticism. But the idea of waking up on a Sunday morning, strolling to a cafe to read the local papers and be surrounded by people who I feel comfortable and at one with -who you can look in the eye and converse with because you know you do it without fear of judgement and yet enjoy debate and ideas simply as that person – maybe that neighbor or stranger you have never met – does it with the reason and rationality, the humanity and understanding, the morality and freedom that we all hold so dear to us all.
Yeah, that to me is my Utopia
The ‘Evil Little Thing’ – an astounding young girl who properly stood up for what she believed in. A true inspiration
Ladies and gentlemen – it has come to the time where I should quell any doubts you have had about me over the years. You see I want you all to know that I love you, but I am in fact an Atheist. Now before you go crying you should try not to judge but first understand what an Atheist is:
Atheism – according to Wikipedia ‘from the Greek”ἄθεος” (atheos), meaning “without god”, used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society.’
Atheism according to most fundamentalist religions is an absolution rejection of God/Jesus Christ/Allah/Yaweh/Whoever and thus a heathen and one who will burn for eternity in hell or whichever version of damnation adheres to their particular religious practice
Atheism by account of some evangelicals and even politicians is misunderstood to be an alternate religion and would have people without god treated as those per say who ‘just have a different way of rejoicing’
Atheism according to me – and probably most like me is quite simply this – the understanding through rational and free thinking and rejection of Dogma of any kind – that this is our one life and we should concentrate on this and not worry about the next one. That the world was not created in a week and we evolved, not were created or the product of the new fangled ‘Intelligent Design’. And that quite simply our morality comes from within – not some chinese whisper-based scriptures from a few eons ago, but that we act humanely and treat those around us precisely how we wish to br treated. To quote Bill and Ted as opposed to perhaps one of the few valid ten commandments, ‘Be most excellent to each other!’
To some of course this is not news, but to those in the know a lot of this is about understanding, especially as where I live now, being an Atheist is seen with the same disdain as being Gay was back in the 1980′s – where as then it was reprehensible, nowadays it is (mostly) accepted, certainly more visible and in the more progressive (or in my eyes, rational) states – legally acceptable as an equal to any other relationship – which is as it should be. The issue is that being an Atheist today is mostly misunderstood by many. I suppose because I have been lucky to live in several countries which have been tolerant to religious freedom (although I prefer that they are simply seeing it as less critical in life – most people as Dawkins will state on a recent census in the UK simply ticked the Christianity box as they wanted to be perceived as a ‘good person’) – as a result of this when coming to live in the New World I wasn’t exactly backward (and perhaps on occasion been wrongly insensitive) about my lack of belief. Most of my audiences to these outings of my non-belief have been met with mixed yet tolerant reaction – very few have been met with any insult of sorts although some I am careful now to avoid the topic – but some have seen me with some curiosity that I can live a godless yet happy existence. Some I see (I hope) a small twinkle in their eye that maybe they has long ago questioned their own faith and concluded that Religion does not add up. One has congratulated me quite openly about my stance – others of course have distanced themselves preferring their god to my lack of belief but hey, I see that as little loss.
My own parents have known for some time but recently whilst explaining to my mother on the phone my fears for my Son’s education in this country I had to open the discussion with the gambit ‘You know I am an Atheist, right Mum?’ to which she answered in the unsurprised and almost the nonchalantly positive – but it did kind of feel like a ‘coming out’ – a making official of what was already known. Fortunately my Parents – as are most of my family – probably in the same group of census tickers that Dawkins mentions as quoted earlier (though I think I am fairly sure they are more honest and would tick at least non-religious) so such a big deal to many was in fact a no-brainer to my folks.
Yesterday I became a bit more proud and out of my stance by standing amongst others on the Washington Mall at the 2012 reason rally. Although the weather was not too much to everyone’s liking and sadly earlier estimates of 30,000 planning to visit, the 8-12,000 that did turn up was very encouraging. We were thoroughly informed by many of methods of action as well as being constantly reassured that we were not alone. We were incredibly entertained by the likes of Tim Minchin, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Kilstein, Bad Religion and Adam Savage (yup the Mythbuster feller!) amongst others. Inspired (especially by) 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist by her actions not only against her school’s anti-constitutional actions but also by her resilience to the subsequent bullying after. We were held captive by the words of Dr Richard Dawkins, James Randi, David Silverman and Jamila Bey as well as many others. And then we saw the courage of Nate Phelps – son of the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church (the only invitees who did not turn up as it happened) to speak out against the hatred and division brings. And after all this, with tired legs and a 5 hour journey on the bus home spent a long time thinking and discussing about it all.
The one thing about the attendees probably above everything was the diversity of everyone. People of all ages, race and sexual orientations. Those who are skeptics, atheists and agnostics. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few sympathetic faithful too amongst them too (certainly Senator Tom Harkin whose video of him supporting the first Amendment that Church and State are separate and supporting our movement bolstered this). On the way back got chatting to a young chap of African-American heritage – a young lad probably not 18 who whilst rather light-heartedly explained his coming out to his very religious mother I expect it to be much harder for him to exist and to be like that. He breezed over how most of his contemporaries at school often when religious debate came up in class would call him out when answers were required as if to victimize him – all of which he took on the chin quite happily in recalling. Admittedly he schools in New York and not Kansas or somewhere in the Bible Belt where creationism is scarily trying to be enforced in the curriculum, but still I did find his cheery nature to his retelling of these situations slightly concerting if a little refreshing. I then thought and realized that the two people behind me were but young teens and that a lot of the people at the rally were students. And this youth are seeking perhaps in a way the same rebellion that I sought and certainly my previous generation did in the 60′s (my issue being I did not really have anything to rebel against anything yet my parents had a lot to fight against). The great and sadly missed Christopher Hitchins (who sadly the tribute to at yesterdays rally suffered technical malfunctions) himself was of this era as were many like him. And this young feller – well read of Hitch, Dawkins and others I realized probably was not victimized for his opinions in these matters but was a pioneer in his classes as many around probably have the same doubts – yet he was proud to be loud about his stance on reason, equality and belief in science and that warmed my heart a great deal as much as any speaker I had heard that day.
If we look at the USA of today it is coming out of an era of a bad and fervently religious regime – almost an oppressive state where one I imagine of similar feeling to myself would have had to remained muted in their opinions and (lack of) beliefs. A time where religion itself was at the root of an atrocious act that caused a remission against reason and freedom, but yet an opportunity for religion to rise and disguise itself as a way forward when in fact it was simply to stunt progress by blanketing the country in a veil of fear.
The original atrocity caused many to question their faith although but now with a new president, renewed freedoms of expression (strangely helped by such bigoted fundamentalists as the Westboro Baptists – their cases and claims to freedom of speech also work for us heathens too!) are seeing a new era where once again we are allowed to question everything. There is a long way to go yet but yesterday’s rally was a start and something I was proud to be a part of. And the wonderful thing is seeing tomorrows business leaders, thinkers, politicians and more being a part of this movement gives me hope that my own son can look forward to a society free of religious influenced education, politics and oppression. I hope that many soon can come out in their own way