(thought I’d open this particular can of worms with a reference to a series that has in no way been controversial with religious communities. No way at all)
Remember that snazzy wristband I mentioned yesterday? Well if you don’t I got a cool black bracelet bearing the slogan ‘I am second’ from an American football camp. It was introduced to us through religion – the coach said that, for him, it meant being second in importance to Jesus – but it was sold on a largely secular appeal, with all of us, apparently, being able to buy into the idea that we are of secondary importance in our own lives. Our friends are more important. Our family is more important. Our blog posts are more important, that sort of thing.
But then I googled ‘I am second’, and it turns out to be an Evangelical Christian group, with its own glitzy, God-fearing, vaguely Orwellian website in which members of the public are put in a dark room under a spotlight and encouraged to tell their darkest secrets in scenes strangely not included in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA Torture. Jokes aside I have no problems with people pushing a theistic agenda, especially when I push an actively atheistic one, flaunting my Bad Religion shirt at every public opportunity.
At least I thought I had no problem with this.
When I found out about the message’s background, I felt bad. I don’t want to say ‘dirty’, but there was a certain element of being infected about the whole thing. Not that religion is inherently a bad thing (it’s probably been a force for good for most of human history), but the idea that I had accepted into my image and my identity something that I didn’t fully understand or agree with, if only for the single afternoon I wore it, unsettled me.
And I’m unsettled by being unsettled like this! Am I really so proud of my shallow, crossbuster-wearing identity that I’ll reject a message I actually agree with, just because it was conceived with a slightly different emphasis in mind? Surely there are multiple interpretations of ‘I am second’, and by flinging that bracelet across the room like I did, I’m rejecting another’s interpretation and suggesting that mine is the singularly good one we must all follow?
I was originally upset that the ‘I am second’ message had been clouded by the presence of religion in this potentially secular idea, but I then thought I had it backwards. Such an opinion works from the basis that life is a secular thing, and religion is added to certain elements like a kid highlighting some of their notes before an exam, but not all of them. If anything, given human history, the opposite is true, and theism is the norm from which atheism deviates. But both ideas have, at their core, the existence of a ‘norm’, a prescribed way of doing things that we are free to follow or deviate from, but will forever be branded followers or deviants as a result.
And this is the problem. There isn’t a ‘norm’ in human life, be it gender roles, racial identity, sexual preference, or the existence of a god versus one’s non-existence. And it took that bracelet to remind me of this; I was so upset at the presence of religion in my happily atheistic life that I discarded a message and an idea I agreed with, an act of crassness and narcissism that I’m not very proud of. This wasn’t an imposition of one idea onto another, but a coexistence of separate identities – a religious wristband and a secular James – that I should have no problem accepting.
So I’ll accept it. I won’t wear the wristband – it was given to me in fairly deceitful circumstances, and it supports a particular organisation that I don’t myself support – but I will accept and use the slogan in my life. Because its true: compared with my course mates, dodgeballers, paintball friends, mates from school, fellow bloggers and family members, I Am Second.