San Francisco Moment 4

I had to do some skillful one handed maneuvering to get my fastpass out of my wallet while holding on to my two dark pink roses for A. Out the gate and up the long escalator ride to 24th street, I noticed that bright shiny Venus had moved in recent weeks from over the left shoulder of the escalator riders in front of me to over their heads. I switched to auto pilot when I got onto the bus my only goal being to keep the roses safe. As the bus got close to the hill I looked up to notice a teen couple standing by the door. The boy was a six foot pink cheeked brown haired white boy wearing a slightly tattered grey hoodie and the bracelet on one of his wrists was made from a bicycle chain. The girl came up to the boy’s chest and was a wholesome looking ABC wearing a black hoodie, a frilly black skirt fanning out and black stockings peppered with a scull and crossbones pattern. They were focused on each other but seemed to be contemplating something; perhaps their next move. Then the bus lights cut out. Now backlit from the glass bus door the girl was a silhouette with cat ears that I hadn’t noticed before. The lights came back on and I faced forward. The bus moved a few feet and the lights went off again. This time everything in the bus was silhouette but the light from the window behind me managed to come in at the right angle to light up the just the roses.

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Elevator Theater – Micro Story

It was January fifth and I walked out to the notoriously slow elevator bank to find Attorney M waiting there. The moment I stepped close to the elevator the red down arrow light pinged. Attorney M looked up and smiled.

“Finally!”

“Long wait? I guess I’m fortunate, I’ve good luck with elevators all year.”

Hey raised an eyebrow at me in response. I’m not usually much for small talk but I figure I should start getting to know some of the people I work for.

“Well I’m only five days in, but I love how easy the math is this early in there year. For example, I had my first cup of tea of today and it was the best tea I had all year.”

The beginnings of a playful smile joined Attorney M’s raised eyebrow.

“But did you realize that it was also the worst tea you had all year.”

My eyes opened wide as the compelling truth washed over me.

“I hadn’t thought of that. At that moment, that cup of tea was both the best and worst tea I’ve had all year. It would then require a second cup for one to be the best and one to be the worst and the slightest difference would decide.”

“Then you might experience anxiety over your third cup of tea; it could throw your absolutely binary experience out of whack.”

Then the elevator stopped with a ping a few floors down. Our expressions changed from animated to indifferent as we both faced forward to greet the elevator’s new guests. But no one stepped in. Instead we were witness to the following scene: Perfectly framed on the other side of the elevator doors were three people; two women on the left facing a man on the right. The taller straight black haired woman with a look of sad compassion spoke:

“I just heard.”

The shorter brown haired woman tilted her head and looked up at the man. He appeared as if all the air had gone out of his chest. He was a head taller than the black haired woman, had curly hair, and his face had a strange pale color as if the fluorescent lights were revealing light pink stage makeup. He lifted his arm in a half shrug and in a voice that quickly ran out of air said:

“I’ve only told four people, J. and you and . . .”

His arm dropped to his side.

“I’m so sorry.” The black haired woman’s head tilted to match the angle of the shorter woman’s.

And no one stepped in the elevator.

And none of the three people framed by the elevator entrance acknowledged the two silent witnesses.

Then the elevator door closed and proceeded down. Attorney M and I exchanged guilty glances of unwitting trespassers.

Ten People/Things (mostly people) that my 28 year old Co-worker has never heard of.

I’ve been comipling the list over the last two months. How many of these are a mystery to you?

1 Ed Grimley

2 Peter Gabriel

3 Wilfred Brimley

4 Ella Fitzgerald

5 Dinah Shore

6 Captain Lou Albano

7 Hair/the musical

8 Fred Blassie

9 Billy Mummy

10 Welcome Back Kotter

Three Atheist Signs Part Three: Rancho Cucamonga

The Sign

The last sign seems the most innocuous and yet it’s the one that underwent government censorship. This sign was part of a bigger campaign of the Freedom From Religion Foundation but the specific sign in question went up in the city of Rancho Cucamonga, California and it was a stained glass window design with fancy calligraphic letters that read “Imagine No Religion.” We go from the combative: “there are no gods!” of the Olympia sign which was stolen, found in a ditch and returned (thou shalt not steal anyone?), to the next sign: “Why Believe in a God? Just Be Good for Goodness Sake,” of the D.C. metro system to: “Imagine No Religion.” I think the last two signs are pretty much on the same level only the D.C. metro system sign provides and answer to its question. People reading the Rancho Cucamonga sign are free to let their imagination inform their own reaction. An extremely religious person could imagine “no religion” as a world with a giant homosexual junky murder party where everybody just does what they want. A more extreme atheist might imagine a world with no religion as a place where nobody flies planes into buildings for their gods, no authority figures ever get away with child molestation and everyone embraces science as the one path to truth and humanity expands into the stars until we evolve into beings of pure light. Those last ones sound good to me but are probably a bit unrealistic; logic reason and science can be misused just like religion. A more rational religious person may see that sign and think “I don’t think I’d like that,” and an atheist can think “wouldn’t that be nice, one less thing to worry about.” And not to beat a dead horse with this series but a newly realized atheist might look at the sign, find out that an atheist organization exists and realize: “Hey, I’m not evil and I’m not alone.”

Here’s the Kicker

The city government of Rancho Cucamonga told the sign company to take it down which they did as well as destroy. Like with the D.C. metro sign I think the best reaction of people who are offended is for them to pay for their own sign that supports their view not take down someone elses. Now the FFRF is suing Rancho Cordova, as well they should (link to the full complaint here). The billboard company would have been within their rights to refuse the FFRF’s money but they didn’t. They took the money and put the sign up. They may even have refunded the FFRF and taken the sign down because of complaints but that might have been a breech of contract. It was the city government, however, that unilaterally ordered the sign come down and the FFRF argues that this action not only deprives them of their first amendment rights but it also violates the separation of church and state. It may seem a bit of convoluted reasoning but they argue that by censoring a message that questions religion, the government entity is publically endorsing religion.

What is offensive about the sign?

Although I believe the folks behind the Olympia nativity scene protest sign were well within their rights, I found their sign unnecessarily inflammatory and a bit intolerant. Even if you do choose to protest a religious display outside a government building, I believe there are more constructive ways of offering an alternative point of view. The same amount of people may be offended but I believe it’s always better to take the high road. The Rancho Cucamonga sign does just that; takes the high road by choosing not to make direct criticism to any specific religion. The sign does not say “Imagine no Christianity” or “Imagine no Jesus.” It doesn’t choose to point out all the instances of the bible condoning slavery, violence, adultery, lying, incest etc. but rather opens a dialogue for those of us who might have trouble with some aspects of our religious upbringing and would like to investigate further whether it suits us or not. Trying to put myself in a religious person’s shoes I can only speculate that the offense comes from a perceived implication that those who choose to believe are fools, but it seems that this reactions reflects more on the insecurity of the believer than on the actual intention of the questioner. I wanted to share some quotes from some of the offended that I lifted from the following forum: (http://www.topix.com/forum/city/jacumba-ca/T9PJEDOBMUFFLR1C2/p4).

1 )“Thank you Rancho Cucumonga. Let’s show the athiest and the ACLU that Rancho Cucuamonga will stand up to them!”

My thoughts: Simple enough sentiment but what this poster fails to understand is their freedom to worship as they please and our freedom to question religion are two sides of the same coin; a threat to one is a threat to the other. Also I find the Anti ACLU sentiment interesting seeing how the ACLU helps protect the rights of religious as well as non religious people. Right now the ACLU is representing a prisoner and ordained Pentecostal minister in New Jersey who is fighting a ban on preaching by prison authorities just to name one.

2) (in response to an earlier post in the forum) “And because Rancho is a “bible thumping” city, as you say, it’s a nice, livable one. Low crime, nice neighborhoods and a church almost on every corner instead of a pawn shop or bar. The only goal of an atheist is to tear down any religion that worships God. Rancho Cucamonga has just told you were to take your sign and stick it. 😉 God Bless you…you need it!”

My thoughts: I believe the first statement is an oversimplification of what makes a place low crime and a nice neighborhood. I have been through high crime neighborhoods that not only had a church on every corner but even some houses between the corners were converted into places of worship. Also in the bay area there are neighborhoods that are very low crime, nice neighborhoods where a large variety of different points of view, religious and non-religious, co-exist peacefully. I would assume that nice neighborhood/low crime has more to do with money and access to education than local faith but the community activities of churches certainly can play a beneficial role. As for the “goal of an atheist,” well the statement just doesn’t jive with my experience. There may be, however, unrealistic atheist extremists that do want an end to all religious activities but most of the ones I know are moral decent people who came to atheism for well thought out reasons. In the same way gay people aren’t seeking to destroy heterosexuality, atheists are not out to destroy religion. Also similar to the gay movement, atheists who have had a really hard time of it, seek to support others who are going through the same things some of us went through when we chose to think differently than the majority. Finally on this post if I were religious, I would be really offended by the words “Stick it” right next to “God Bless you.” It’s shocking to me to see “God Bless you!,” flung like an insult.

Conclusion

I suppose the reason I chose to start writing about atheist signs was that it represented a silent minority that I’m a part of going more public. Since we rarely have churches or gatherings in our local communities (that may be changing) it was a big comfort to look out on the internet and find I wasn’t as alone as I thought. I have to admire Reginald Finley aka The Infidel Guy for broadcasting his internet radio show and helping create an online community of Atheists, Agnostics and free thinkers of many stripes. I live in a very multi-cultural part of the US where I’m much more likely to find myself debating with fundamentalist astrologers than Christians so I always admire the bravery of people who come forward in lest tolerant communities. But in all matters of public discourse I want to say to devout religious folks that if you don’t like someone’s view on an issue then make a case for your own and if all else fails, pray for us. Usually “I’ll pray for you,” the nicest ending to a discussion between a religious and non-religious person. If someone says they will pray for me I go away feeling honored and respected. Instead of taking down my sign, just make a sign of your own or boycott the sign company and any other company that does business with them. In doing research I did wonder if any religious groups had sign campaigns, and do the answer is yes and one of them is a doozy. Just as a teaser I’ll relay that one sign that was part of a bigger campaign was just white lettering on a black background and it read: “Evolution? You’ve got to be kidding me. –God.” (you can see more at http://www.godspeaks.com) A big list of response sign ideas starts to spill from my head but I wouldn’t even consider asking the local government to take the sign down. Let them show all their ignorance on bold white letters. I think it’s foolish for anyone to claim to have all the answers which is why I love science so much. Science is not about knowing the answers; it’s about learning and discovering the answers and then dealing with a whole new group of questions. I’ll end this post with a big thank you for all people of every point of view who can non-violently disagree, debate and work even hard to find common ground to build a better world.