Bruce Bentzman's Suburban Soliloquy # 22


In the first or second grade, while we were living in Delaware, in a suburb of Wilmington, I was forced to learn the Lord's Prayer. When I explained that I was Jewish and that I wasn't required to learn it, my teacher threatened to rap my knuckles if I didn't. At this very early age I was made to appreciate that I was living in a Christian nation. I can still recite the Lord's Prayer.

Recently, in Kansas, the Board of Education decided to remove the teaching of Evolution from the State's requirements. This is because there are enough people in Kansas with irrational fundamentalist beliefs to effect a change towards obscurantism. They are trying to have Christian Creationism taught in place of Evolution. If a Creation myth is to be taught in Kansas, ought it not be the indigenous Creation myth of the Wichita Tribe as opposed to a Creation Myth of the Hebrews, which was plagiarized from earlier Mesopotamian works and brought to the North American continent by Europeans?

I am an Atheist. I am embarrassed when confronted by people who sincerely believe in the mythology of their own religion. As an Atheist I have no guidelines to reveal to me why Samson knocking down the pillars on which stood the Temple of the Philistines is more believable than Hercules placing his Pillars at the entrance to the Mediterranean, those being the Rock of Gibraltar and Jebel Musa. I feel like an Anthropologist who must adopt a scientific distance while listening to the local inhabitants relate the stories of their divine heroes. It is little different than confronting children still convinced of the genuineness of - and here the obvious insert is Santa Claus. I would not dissuade a child of their innocent notion, if it brings them happiness. When presented with an adult whose beliefs are similar to that of a child's, I have no desire to disabuse the adult of his comfort.

It is not my intention to convert anyone to Atheism. My Atheism is a faith.When I look into my heart, I find there is no god and no afterlife. But a component of faith is doubt, and so I might be wrong. Also, I can see no reason why others should share the angst of my Atheism. I've no interest in causing others to lie awake distressed at night, for them to panic from death anxiety.

Still, I wish I could convert the Fundamentalist, those who narrow-mindedly believe the Bible's metaphors and fables to be literal, for these Fundamentalists are capable of committing atrocities. I wish I could convince them to believe in an ineffable god, that the rituals and symbols and metaphors are there to point the way, are limited expressions of god, yet are not actually god, only a means of feeling closer to god. But, I daresay they could not accept such a proposal from an Atheist.

We must beware the proselytizer who believes every allegory of the Bible to be a factual account, because in my country, they vote. They have elected representatives into the highest positions of the United States Government. A democracy depends on quality education for its citizens; otherwise, the people are exploited by an oligarchy. The same people who are trying to eliminate Evolution from the curriculum can bring a reversal to my nation's achievements in the fields of medicine, biology, astronomy, and physics; and, eventually, it could be their finger that hovers over the nuclear button.

There are many good Christians in my country and in the world who do not reserve kindness only for their religious sect, and who do not demand a spiritual payment for their charity. But there are also the predatory Christians. They stand on street corners, berating the passersby to believe as they do.

Jehovah's Witnesses, with too much makeup and polyester clothes on bodies that look unhealthy, come to our neighbourhood, moving door to door in search of converts. I've talked with them and they know little about alternate points of view. They believe in a finite number of available slots in Heaven. When it became obvious that there were not enough slots to go around, the sect revised the number. They will not expand it any further. If they succeed in converting me, at best I shall have to settle for heaven on earth, as already dead Jehovah's Witnesses have filled all the slots in Heaven.

The Mormons seem to send their handsomest youth abroad, to knock on our doors with sermons uninvited. They show a more refined taste in clothing than do the Jehovah's Witnesses, but even if easier on the eye, they remain harsh to hear, presuming to know better than whomever it is they find at home.

My salvation is when Boris, my 180 pound Newfoundland dog, is tied out front. The predatory Christians tend to be frightened of him and stay away. Boris was born a Mennonite on a farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he wouldn't hurt any of them, but I don't care if they don't know that.

At a difficult time when my father was in the hospital and I believed he was going to die, an associate at work noted my anguish and knew the cause. She brought me to a quiet place in the office. There she reached across the desk and held each of my hands in each of hers. She then said to me, with the most heartfelt sincerity, "I know what you can do to make your father happy." She had my rapt attention. "You can accept Christ as your Saviour." I wanted to explode with the shock this suggestion caused me. The very thought would have been a knife in the heart of my Jewish father. I concealed my horror for her offensive suggestion and my disbelief that anyone could think so simplemindedly cruel. I withdrew my hands, never surrendering my smile. Why should I hurt her when she did not mean to insult me?  The predatory Christians do not understand how they offend.

I have a Japanese friend who was at one time in Boston pursuing an advanced degree. While she was taking a shortcut home at night, through a churchyard in Brookline, Massachusetts, she was surprised by the statue of Jesus nailed to a cross - what another friend of mine, a Nihilist, jocularly refers to as Jesus on a stick. But for my Japanese friend it was an unexpected trauma. She was not prepared for it. As are the great majority of Japanese, she is both Shintoist and Buddhist, a dichotomy with which most Japanese have no problem. She turned her gaze away from this gruesome portrayal. She could not understand how my nation would so casually display this horrific violence. Surely such a regular depiction of torture would frighten children, or possibly pervert them into indifference for cruelty. In any case, she thought, shouldn't my countrymen be protecting our children from seeing such gross portrayals of slow death?

During my visit to Japan, I found the frequent temples and shrines that lay in my path to be charming. They did remind me that I was gaijin, merely a visitor to Japan. Still, when I returned home, my former oblivious acceptance of the presence of churches in my homeland had been stripped away, leaving me sensitive to the great number of Christian churches and symbols dotting the American landscape. I felt more alien to my homeland following my return.

Dear reader, if you be one of those who seek to save the soul of us, the (perceived) damned, please refrain from writing to me. Your number is legion and there is no end to the bombardment of the goodwill that comes from hearts like as yours. Your voices are, in fact, too many and counterproductive. Do not be so vain as to think that your god has singled you out to accomplish my salvation. Rather, think that your god has some mysterious purpose in fabricating this Atheist, appointing me the devil's advocate. You must have faith that when god wants me to change my mind, god will let me know.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the twenty-second in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.