Casual mentions of atheism


Recently, I have been struck by something, and that is the number of people in the news who casually let it be known that they are not religious. This is even true of entertainers who typically avoid saying anything controversial for fear of offending the fans upon whom they depend.

For example, Barry Manilow recently gave a concert in Cleveland to an audience of about 6,000. I am not a fan of his music but I grew up with it and so read the review of his show to see how well he is holding up after so many years of performing. The end of the review noted that he pointed out that has going to turn 70 this year, telling the audience, “Here’s my advice: Have fun with your life… This ain’t a dress rehearsal. This is it.”

It is interesting that the reporter deliberately chose to use this quote in a short news item about the performance, and that there seemed to have been no serious adverse reaction from even an older audience.

I since checked up on Manilow and this is not the first time that he has obliquely referred to his disbelief in a god, though he does not do so routinely nor make a big deal about it.

Once people start mentioning being an atheist casually, as merely one facet of their lives and not their defining characteristic, you know that it has become mainstream.

In fact, it has reached a stage that I get surprised only when I hear writers and artists and other intellectuals mention that they are religious, even mildly so. I do not explicitly seek out atheist writers, so the fact that I encounter so few religious ones must mean something. At the very least, it may signify that the intellectual class as a whole is abandoning religion.

Comments

  1. says

    I wish we could do something to encourage adoption of more entertaining and quirky surrealist beliefs. Something is going to have to replace religion, and I think that wearing big hats on fridays could be it.

  2. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    Come, join the Pastafarians! Friday is our holy day, and it is celebrated by wearing full pirate regalia (in more strict settings, it is acceptable to only wear the eye-patch or pirate hat).

  3. baal says

    In keeping with organizations co-opting already existing practice, I suggest going out with friends for a beer on Thursday nights as the ‘atheist’ church service. Friday is special for Muslims, Sat. for Jews and Sun for Xtians (or some thing like that).

    Totally off-topic but I have a SE India friend who focused worship on 6 deities – 1 per day and with Sunday off. I asked, why not Sunday too? His answer, “We need a break and so do the Gods.”

  4. Bruce Gorton says

    I just got through listening to Yolanda Adams (Its for work) and I think I see where it is coming from.

    I don’t like R Kelly’s “I believe I can fly” – I find it painfully bland. That said, it is a song about the affirmation of personal power, even if it has very clear religious undertones.

    That is not good enough for Yolanda, she changes “Hey, cause I believe in me, oh” to “Hey, cause I believe in God” – making a song about being powerful, and turning it into a song about submission.

    And that is the central train of thought throughout it. She talks about God allowing her to write songs, about praying to God to get her bills paid, she uses violent imagery for fighting for God, and thanks God for not killing her.

    It is a set of beliefs that actively undermines the strength of the believers. It cannot allow one moment of triumph, it cannot allow one single solitary moment of feeling powerful, of feeling in control of your life, of being anything other than a slave.

    And people won’t remain slaves forever.

  5. says

    Good morning Winterwind,

    Yep, sadly the only prize I can offer is the pride in being first.

    You should watch the Reznor video, it’s a more recent performance of the song and not the official video. I found it interesting.

    Do all that you can to make today a good day.

    Jeff

  6. left0ver1under says

    Some musicians try to avoid mention of religion in their music, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they are atheists. I have to wonder if, as Mano said above, they are trying to avoid controversy or avoid polarizing or alienating the audience. Two examples:

    In the group Queen, Freddie Mercury was known to be a zoroastrian and in a scant few songs mentioned religion or “god”. It was Mercury who wrote the song “jesus” on the first album. But by and large, religion was rarely mentioned at all on Queen albums except to refer to its involvement in society. I have never heard any mention of the religion of Queen’s other three members, and given that Brian May has a PhD in Astronomy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were an agnostic or atheist.

    Steve Miller and his band (don’t laugh) recorded nearly 20 studio albums from 1967 until now. From all of those albums, the only songs that contain any mention of “god” or religion were covers or songs written by other members or friends of the band. Miller himself never wrote any songs about religion, nor has he (to my knowledge) ever discussed his (non)belief in an interview. However, Miller has absolutely no compunction or fear of controversy about speaking out against war at his concerts, whether Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Miller always was, and remains, a flower child and anti-war activist.

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