NOTES FROM THE HENGE
An atheist hailing from Sweden
Was reviled in our land as a heathen
When aside, he’d confide,
He could never decide
Exactly whom not to believe in
The post below is a bit lazy. It’s actually a guest post I wrote on DANGERdanger’s blog a while ago. I’d write something brand new, but I really need to floss. Hey – at least it’s semi controversial, subject-wise!
|I've been stuffed but until now never mounted|
Funny, He Doesn't Look Elkish
So there’s this Elks lodge all my young buddies are joining. Partly because the beer is cheap and the steak dinners are apparently yummy, partly to have a funky, centrally-located gathering place to talk business and hang out, and partly, well, “ironically.”
The Elks Club is great. No joke. From the outside it could be a tool-and-die factory, but inside it’s an episode of Cheers as directed by David Lynch. There’s a meeting hall, a high-school-cafeteria-esque dining room, a cement courtyard for outdoor BBQs, and, of course: a bar. Ah, the bar. The bar rocks. The not-unpleasant, ever-so-slight smell of old beer & mildew lingers in the air. And under that wafts the familiar sweet/sour faint odor of Clorox-mixed-with-stale-sweat I’ll forever associate with 1980’s Time Square porn palaces (um, not that I ever frequented such places….). The lighting is dim and the décor is early Holiday Inn meets late Sizzler.
The TV behind the dingy bar is permanently set on Fox News, there’s a whiteboard tracking the progress of some on-going Elky golf tournament, and I think I caught a glimpse of a dusty pool table and maybe a dartboard somewhere along the boxcar-like rows of small back rooms.
The bartender has just enough of an "Overlook Hotel" creepiness to make ordering a three-buck Bud Lite interesting. All the male patrons look like white-haired Barney Rubbles, and most have that old-school, macho friendliness peculiar to veterans. A sturdy Semper Fi warmth. The few women bellying up to the bar mighta been beauty queens back in the day before their features & figures got weathered by hard knocks and even harder drinking.
In other words: the perfect place for a bunch of young (ish) dudes to hang out. “Ironically” or not. And, to add to the charm, in order to join up one must be interviewed, approved, voted on, and initiated. There’s even some kind of endless (and unintentionally humorous) old introductory film you have to sit through. Awesome.
Come on. How cool is all that? Two of my buddies have already passed though the process, a third is halfway there, and a forth will probably start the procedure when he’s back in town.
So here’s the rub. They tell me there are two “deal breaker” questions they ask during the interview. The first is: “Are you a communist?” No problem there. I can easily say “no” to that one (though, as a Democrat, some Fox News aficionados might think me almost there). Then there’s the “Do you believe in God” question. Uh-oh. Apparently you’ve got to answer “yes” to be considered for induction into the wonderful world of Elk-dom.
I’m one of those “don’t ask/don’t tell” life-long atheists. (Though I suppose, technically I’m what they nowadays call a “Tooth-Fairy Agnostic,” but that’s another story.) The point is when people wax all spiritual or religious around me I tend to just smile and nod and try to politely change the subject. Since I realize my non-theistic position is unusual – even controversial (especially here in America) – I mostly keep my lack of belief to myself. But if asked directly, point-blank across a wobbly metal desk in some dark back office by some scrotal-skinned, white-haired Barney Rubble? I’d kinda have to tell the truth. No getting ‘round it.
So I guess I’m out of the game. No secret handshake, no initiation ceremony, no decoder ring for me.
And here’s the thing that just occurred to me today, and it’s why I’m writing this (perhaps too serious – sorry) blog. If, hypothetically, all my friends joined some social club but then subsequently discovered I couldn’t join along with them because I was black, or gay, for female, or Jewish, or Muslim, or some such – I think we’d all feel very different about the situation. Frankly, I think we’d be up in arms. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends didn’t instantly quit that fictitious club in angry, disgusted protest. Or maybe they’d stage a raucous, Norma-Rae-style poster-waving demonstration.
|Horns of a dilemma|
And, I – that hypothetical black/gay/female/Jewish/Muslim me – would probably be equally outraged and alert the media in squinty-eyed righteous indignation, bellowing war cries of “bigotry!” and “unfair!” and yadda yadda. But in this particular case, both myself and my buddies shrugged it off, joked about how quaint and goofy and sweet them-there old Elk rules are, and let it slide.
So I just won’t join and they will. Maybe I’ll attend occasional events there as a “guest.” No biggie.
But it’s an interesting issue, no? It’s as though “non-belief” is the last thing left on the list it’s still okay to be openly exclusionary about here in America. Recently I read an article about how -- though we now have a black president and will one day soon probably have a female one, and though we have assorted Jewish, Hispanic, and “out” gay members of congress, etc, etc. -- the way things are going it’ll probably be at least a hundred years before we in the U.S. are comfortable with openly non-religious politicians. It’s the final frontier of American, er, closet-leaving.
Ah well. If you need me I’ll be nestled back in the walk-in between my wrinkled Dockers and my pit-stained polo shirts.
A Closet-Dwelling Heathen