Peter Veitch is a former fundamentalist Christian who now describes himself as a “proudly evolved atheist”. He made his own quiet protest inside the Scots Church on Wednesday. This is his story.
I like churches, some of them anyway. I went in early, sat down, did some bible reading. Looked at the architecture, took a pic or two. Various staff were setting up, photography guys etc. had a very friendly chat with one of them, nice guy. One of the staff asked for my name, I said Peter. We shook hands. He asked if I had a ticket, I said no, and offered to leave. They kindly suggested they’d see if they could squeeze me in. Lovely gesture.
Fascinating watching them set up etc. I was asked if I wouldn’t mind distributing the program, they had about 700 apparently. No problem, happy to help. (amused me slightly that there’s almost 700 programs at ACL with my atheist fingerprints on them). A bunch of interactions, again all pleasant, I suppose they thought I was one of them.
I’m really a very introverted quiet person, I was planning on standing outside the church to hold a sign “Keep Religion Out of Politics” that another member of progressive atheists was bringing in. That explains why Brian, another progressive atheist member was holding two signs! I asked him to bring one in for me to hold.
He sent me a message to say he had arrived, I was in the church, had to put phone on silent otherwise my text tone (Lennon – Imagine No Religion) or my ringtone (Losing My Religion – Rem) might have been awkward.
They started late, intro remarks about “Scots college”, some audience giggles – it’s “Scots church”, then the minister took the podium & welcomed everyone, some goodies about Presbyterians not clapping etc., claps, giggles. Then the featured speaker (Metaxas) took the podium.
I’ve heard more than enough from ACL & him to not want to hear anymore. I thought I’d sneak out quietly but then read the program title Fearless, Cultivating Courage”. I thought I’d try to build some. My heart was pounding, I thought, oh well why not, I’ve got my progressive atheist sweat shirt around my waist (label inside out). I thought I’d try a one person silent protest, I’m not a fan of the noisy stuff.
Anyway, spur of moment, Metaxas was praying, I put the sweatshirt on and quietly walked to the front and faced them all. “Proudly Evolved Atheist.” I guess they caught on pretty quickly. From the very back – down came my two escorts out. I was delighted that one I had already had a lovely chat earlier, anyway I told him I’d go quietly and was it ok if we waited till the prayer was over.
I think they wanted to take me out a side room, not sure, I asked if I could walk down the centre aisle. Yay no problem, no manhandling either. Quickly walked out in full view. Got part way out then one in the audience loudly said ” Jesus!” Too funny. I considered saying that was blasphemy (I used to be a fundamentalist Christian). Once in the foyer, more friendly chat with my escort out, rather amiable really.
I used to be a Seventh Day Adventist. I still have very close contacts with people in that church. ACL content has been featured on Adventist media. My personal view in the past would have aligned with the general SDA view. There’s a range of views within the church, alas some movement or at least agreement with the ACL type rhetoric. Official stance is Adam and Eve as special creation recently, six day creation week as literally true. SDA academic views often diverge from this, even some academics in the theology depts reject this.
My view on ACL view : I was a fundamentalist Christian. I get that the views and actions generally come from a place of love. My interactions, albeit limited, at the ACL event were all friendly without exception, even when I decided to do the silent protest with atheist sweatshirt on. My escorts were polite and kind. I needed help to break through police lines – from behind! I kindly asked my escort out to speak to the police to let me through. Very helpful. I had been standing behind, a bit trapped in really, didn’t know what to do so stood behind the police line with a victory wave. Silly I guess. The crowd looked like they didn’t know what side I was on. I was recognised by an LGBTI activist which was nice so that cleared it up, i.e. a welcome into the throng.
I get that they mean well, love is good – sure. However sometimes love informed by ignorance and superstition can be harmful, and in practice the loving actions can be received as the precise opposite (e.g. think of loving parents who earnestly pray instead of taking their child to the doctors).
I don’t buy the idea that the ACL and affiliates generally speak in terms of hate speech, yet functionally it would feel like it from the receiving end and that for very good reason. As an extreme example, perhaps Torquemada lovingly burned people to death to spare them eternal flames. While you might flinch at the Spanish Inquisition (you weren’t expecting that) the harsh views currently held by at least some ACL affiliates do in fact lead to jail, beatings, or death of LGBTI humans etc.
I know many current Christians who have views that are not just meant as loving and caring but actually are. The ACL views, most of them I find utterly revolting.
It’s sort of the so called golden rule, ‘do unto others as you want done unto you’. Alas this frame and their rules doesn’t always help others. Perhaps better expressed, do to others what they want done (or don’t do what they do want done). It’s a subtle Frame shift I guess, the 1st allows ” we think you should be straight, our version of Christian, etc” vs the view from the eyes of the other where it’s ” you are or are not a Christian, you might want to marry the person you love regardless of gender… Ok, we will support you, how can we help”