Wednesday, January 11, 2012
No one true New Year: But a lot to look forward to and reflect upon
Yes, there is always something exciting about a new year. Although, I must admit, that a bit of the gloss of the midnight countdown has been removed for me in recent years. Now that I live in Calgary, I am among the later set of people to get to the New Year. With satellite TV, online radio and family and friends living in different parts of the globe, I have often 'seen in' the new year four or five times before it finally gets to me. It is hard to be excited when you know that in many parts of the world the champagne cork has long been popped, while a few to the west of you have it on ice waiting for their 'moment.' Not to mention our Chinese friends, who start the year at a totally different time.Still, this seems to be a completely irrelevant to those who wrap up in four layers of clothing, shivering head to toe, to countdown from 10 and kiss loved ones on the stroke of a Big Ben chime or a Big Ball drop. This reminds me so much of how it is with religion. It's like everybody in every part of the world believes that their New Year is the one true New Year. They celebrate the moment as if it is a universal cosmic event, setting off fireworks as if there was no tomorrow. Yet, for most of the world that is NOT the New Year moment. Whichever time zone you live in, there are more people that don't share your midnight celebration than those who do. But it doesn't matter at that time. You don't hear people say , " Happy New Year Mountain Time People!" No, there is nothing said by the MC to suggest that the countdown only applies to a certain group.You hear, " It's 2012!" or an all embracing " Happy New Year!" It feels as if the whole world is celebrating at that second. At least, that's what it used to feel like when I was celebrating as a kid in Barbados. Perhaps, that's why even today the Barbados New Year feels the most meaningful of all to me.
On New Year's morning I realised how similar time zones are to religions. When people get together to celebrate their God, they are well aware that there are many people from far flung places for whom that particular God is not real. But that doesn't stop them, they still pull out the music, the pomp,the ceremony and the parties as if there was no other faith in the world. Their friends from abroad who tell them about celebrations of their deities at different times and in different ways doesn't strike them as a contradiction to their own beliefs and it doesn't make their own celebrations any less true. It's almost like we human beings have some capacity to take our little community and make ourselves believe that the world is just US, even if it is for a few seconds before midnight or a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
The truth of the matter is that the New Year moment is simply an illusion. It doesn't really exist. The year changes over a 24 hour period, and the whole thing is arbitrary, totally man made . This was illustrated clearly this year when the government of the island of Western Samoa decided to 'cross the dateline' and set their clocks to coincide with their neighbours in the Pacific and Oceania. Friday December 30th, was skipped as a date on their calendar as a result. I hear people are still wondering what Seventh Day Adventists and other Sabbath keepers will do about that one, but that's another story.Yes, it's clear that the way we designate time is of our own doing. But at the same time we know that time itself, is something that exists. We can track earth's movement around the sun and recognise the axial tilt during this movement through seasons. We can see birth, growth and decay in nature that tells us that that time is passing, however we choose to measure it. The existence of time is not proven by the fact that we have New Year's parties, fireworks, hour glasses, sundials, clocks or watches. Nor from the fact that we have history books that tell us of events thousands of years past. We don't need to read and understand Stephen Hawking's , " A Brief History of Time" to let us know that time is real.
It so happens that just as we have many devices constructed to record and measure the passing of time , we have many inventions that are designed to record, designate and even influence the activities of gods. We have houses for them, books attributed to them, writings documenting their activities, statues of them, incantations used to communicate with them, paintings of them, countries that claim to be guided by them and people that wear symbols to represent them. There are perhaps as many man made artifacts designed with God in mind as they are products designed to make sense of time.However, there's one huge difference. Unlike our evidence for the passage of time, no passages we have that speak of a god can be counted as evidence. Unfortunately, neither can statues, monuments, souvenirs or trinkets. Neither can we consider the elaborate yearly, monthly or weekly celebrations with music, costumes or pageantry that are undertaken in their name. To say that any of these count as evidence would be like saying that the tradition of having a New Year's Eve Party every December 31st is evidence that the earth takes 365 and a quarter days to orbit the sun. It would be like throwing a party for someone every December 25th and saying it proves they were born on that day.
I think there is the feeling out there, that having a lot of representations and activities devoted to something means that the 'something' is real. Even if there is an admission that we human beings have made up many things about it. Millions reason that the fact that an idea has captured the imagination of the masses, means some real thing must lie underneath. They concede that many humans may have mistaken the smoke signals, but the puffs billowing all around just can't be a smokescreen. Surely, there must be fire somewhere beneath it all, even if only just a spark. Well, maybe there is, but we haven't found it yet and we have been looking for a long time. In my opinion, if we ever discover a god, it won't be through kneeling inside buildings that humans have built, reading books that humans have wrote or examining the art that humans have expertly crafted. It will be by looking out there in the nature which surrounds us. The external universal laboratory in which we can all share, observe and experience things together in the same time and space.
Reflecting and Looking Ahead
I have to say, that even though I recognise there is no true New Year, I want to reflect on some things that happened during the most recent 360 degree journey that the earth made around the sun. It has been a great year for me as far as my own secular journey is concerned. I have been thrilled to share some of the highlights with you my readers, although there is no way that I could capture all the feelings. I will always remember that day when I realised I was included on Greta Christina's blog as a 'prominent atheist of colour' that spurred me to push ahead as an activist and to make the decision to come out publicly as an atheist. I have not for a moment regretted either.The post ' Oh What A Week' that I wrote speaking of that experience was another memorable one in itself. It was great to see it highlighted on the 'A Week" Facebook group. The 500 hits, I got on the day I posted it was overwhelming as were the stories I received from people from various parts of the world who were going through the same journey I was. Indeed, I thank all of you who have read and supported this blog in 2011.
In 2011 we also saw the growth of 'Caribbean Atheists'. Travelling through the Caribbean and meeting a few isolated atheist souls and being able to write about it was certainly a great part of my year. Since then, I have met many more online through Atheist Nexus and Facebook. The Facebook page has been a great refuge of reason, with lively engagement in debate and sharing of resources and knowledge. I have been impressed at how well informed many of the members there are and how skilled they are at putting forward arguments and critiquing others. When I was in church I was often dumbfounded at how few people could even explain the basic principles of their faith. People that come to 'Caribbean Atheists,' in contrast seem to have given much thought to their position and most have taken the initiative to educate themselves on various topics. So, the quality of debate is generally high. But don't take what I am saying on faith, I encourage you to go to the Caribbean Atheists Facebook page and see for yourself. I am happy to report that the group reached 100 members just minutes before I started writing this post. It's very encouraging, but we need to keep building.We have started this year with a lot of interesting plans and have a small steering committee in place to try to get the ball rolling. Once again, I urge any of you out there from the Caribbean or with Caribbean roots to join us. We really need your support.
I cannot reflect on 2011 without mentioning my visit to New York and the brunch with the New York Atheists featuring Ayanna Watson of Black Atheists of America. On that day, in addition to hearing the great work Black Atheists of America is doing, I had my first experience of being in a room with a group of black atheists .Indeed, there were more than 15 other black atheists present that day. It was an exciting moment for me, very difficult to put in to words. Just meeting so many like minds in one place, sharing many similar backgrounds and stories. That was Perhaps my most memorable moment of the year as far as being an atheist is concerned. I am still to write about this experience on the blog. You can look out for more on that story in 2012.
Indeed the area of race and atheism has been one that has occupied my mind somewhat over the last year. It is a sensitive one, but I think it is one that needs to be tackled more. I have had the pleasure of reading two insightful books from Adebowale Ojowuro in 2011, " Crisis of Religion" and " Echoes of Common Sense." Ade is one of the leading voices out there speaking of the negative impact religion has had on the African continent and his material is well worth reading. It is interesting to compare these with my own Caribbean experience, there are quite a few parallels . Ade and I have had some interaction online and he has made reference to my work on occasion and graciously acknowledged my contribution to his writing. I have learnt a lot from him through our communication. In addition, I am in the process of reading Sikivu Hutchinson's "Moral Combat" which looks at black atheism and feminism as it plays out in the US. There is also a very interesting perspective of Guy P Harrison that I am reading in " Race and Reality." I have also looked at the writing of Norm Allen Jr. that speaks to some of these issues. So, there is definitely a lot of work to draw upon. I can't thank these people and many others enough for the work that they are doing in their various areas. I can only hope to follow them the best that I can.
So, as we start on another journey around the sun on the year we have designated as 2012, I wish all of you a happy ride. I look forward, from my part, to making it another atheist revolution.