Archive for February 24th, 2012
I work in a big office building in downtown St. Louis. In the lobby of this big building, security guards bark at anyone who tries to take a photo. It happened in my presence once, when a co-worker was taking my photo. She and I were told that the reason for the ban on photos was “homeland security.” Later that same day (it was almost Christmas), I asked the guard whether people would be allowed to take a photo the huge Christmas tree in the lobby, and he said, “No. It is against the rules.”
I see one of the security guards at the lobby desk almost every night. I need to sign out most nights because I tend to work late. The soft-spoken guard knows me quite well, by name and by face, because I’ve signed out hundreds of times while he has watched me sign out. This security guard recently told me that he has now been ordered to make sure that everyone who leaves the building after working hours shows him a photo ID. Therefore, this man, who has seen me sign out hundreds of times is now asking me for my photo ID every time I sign out. I reminded him that he knows me, and he agreed, but these are the rules. My photo ID actually looks a lot less like me than I do, because my driver’s license photo of me does not have a beard, and I DO have a beard. Nonetheless, this security guard makes me pull out my drivers’ license every night as though he has never met me. He stares at it for 2 seconds, and then he nods. A few times this month, I’ve tried to just sign out without showing my photo ID, but he always says, “Excuse me. I need to see your photo ID before you may leave.” For the past few nights, for fun, I’ve asked him whether he needs to see my license. He says “Yes, that is the rule.” At least he hasn’t uttered that he needs to see my ID because of “homeland security.”
One more story about photos. Today I spent some time at the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Office looking at real estate records. A somewhat grumpy female clerk told me that copies were $3 for the first page of a document and $1 for each additional page. Thus, a 3-page document costs $5, which is outrageous gouging. After getting some expensive copies of relatively recent documents, I moved over to the micro-fiche machine and started looking at some real estate records from 70 years ago. Rather than asking for copies, I decided to instead take out my camera and take photos of the screen (without a flash, and without any noise). This system was working out great, I thought, and I took ten photos of documents. Right after that tenth photo, I heard that clerk call out to me (you could hear her voice bellow across the room):
“You are not allowed to take photographs of the documents!”
I turned around with a smile and asked, “Why am I not allowed to take photos of the documents?”
She paused, then said: “You are not allowed to take photographs of the documents!”
I guess she didn’t want to say “Because I’m an automaton, and my boss told me to say this sort of bullshit because when you take photos you are no allowing us to gouge you for photocopies.”
As I write this article, I am safe in my own home. Here at home, no one asks me for my photo ID. No one yells at me for taking photos of Christmas trees or documents. No one tells me that I can’t do something because of “homeland security.”
At the end of a social event on the weekend before Mardi Gras, a casual friend asked a surprising question. I was bedecked with beads, primarily in purple and gold. This Catholic friend comes up and says something like, “Why are you all dressed up for the Christian holiday? Don’t you believe that anyone who believes in God is stupid?”
Dumbfounded. It took me a moment to parse this and compose a reply. As we were all heading out the door, I didn’t have time to fully answer all the implied misconceptions. So I said something on the order of, “I don’t think that; I know many smart people who are faithful.”
Let me first detail a minor misconception. Sociologically, rituals are important. Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday, also Shrove Tuesday) was adopted by Christians from the earlier Carnival, and Saturnalia before that. It is a long standing late winter festival ending the season of harvest plenty in the days when food preservation was limited, and entering the lean period of rationing until the spring produce appeared (greens, lambs, milk, etc). And festivities are fun, whatever the nominal purpose. The Holy Roman church had so successfully rebranded all the pagan festivals that most Christians are unaware of the deeper not-Jesus purpose behind them, even as they embrace all the pre-Christian trappings.
But the big issue is the perception that I, an an atheist, think that Christians (the majority faith at present time and place) are stupid. Many converted Atheists do vehemently decry their former faith and deride its practitioners, as do Dawkins and Hitchens. My parents converted from religious to irreligious, and so I was raised without a particular god and with their lower expectations of people of faith. But that didn’t stick.
I grew up as a closeted atheist. On Sunday mornings I was dragged to a secular Sunday School where I had to wear jacket and tie from the age of 5. It didn’t fool my church going peers. I opted for the less hated liberal-Jew label that try to explain that all invisible friends seemed equally improbable to me. I endured various epithets in public schools hurled at non-Christians by the God fearing. But as I grew older and my peers become more reasonable, I started talking to them about such things.
I was actually less surprised to find people of deep faith at my fairly-high-standards college than I was to find sports fans. One of my closest college friends was a Young Earth, Born Again sort. I admit that I would sometimes light his fuse in a room full of geology or astronomy types, just to see to what heights his rationalizations could wax. (Anyone else visualizing Ceiling wax?)
I have also been reading arguments from both sides of the God conjecture since puberty. The problem is not whether one side is smarter, but which is the set of assumptions on which their sense of reality rests. Either cause and effect are real and the universe is knowable through a continuing and contentious process of observation, documentation, and modeling (science), or else the continually meddling god of Christianity is possible, as was declared by ancient authority. The majority of the American founders were Deists who believed that if there was a creator God, he did not meddle in the day-to-day affairs of men. I can accept that God, but still don’t believe in it. Cosmologists and astronomers are pushing his creative acts farther and farther to the margins.
So although I acknowledge the high correlation between less-learned people and deep faith, I do not assume that having faith implies that people are stupid.