Wear your Secular Symbols once a year

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday -

I would guess that everyone has had the experience of suddenly noticing something that everyone else was already well aware of. I can remember when I, as a young teenager, never gave a second thought to the VW Beetle until a friend of mine introduced me to the game of “slug-bug”. After that, my eyes were opened and I suddenly started noticing VW Bugs everywhere!

Humans are like that – when something crosses our threshold of awareness we suddenly start noticing that thing everywhere.

I used to be Christian, but I was never Catholic. So Ash Wednesday is something of a mystery to me. Theoretically I know that Catholics have their minister or priest mark their foreheads with a bit of ash and water. But yesterday afternoon I actually noticed this while running errands. And for the rest of the day, I kept noticing it again and again.

And as I wandered through our local Wally-world, the geeky part of me was estimating that perhaps 10 percent of those people that I encountered had ash on their foreheads. And I started thinking that this was a quiet way for Catholics to speak up – to gently remind everyone else that they were more than merely theoretical. They reminded me that they actually existed.

Suddenly Catholics in Fresno became real – they were humanized.

Would it be useful for Atheists to do something like this?

Oh I don't mean wear ashes on our foreheads. And honestly, I think Catholics are being more than a little hypocritical by advertising their humility.

Non-believers should realize that religious people feel they can ignore us because it is almost impossible to tell a secular person from a religious person. And because we are so easily ignored, we are often forgotten. We are forgotten when new legislation is formed and when politicians give speeches. When the religious decide what is, and what is not a basic human right, they ignore secular objections.

Maybe secular people should take a lesson from Catholics. There are plenty of symbols that non-believers could wear to show that we exist. We could pick one day a year, advertise that day, and wear one of these symbols. It doesn't matter that there is a plethora of different Atheistic symbols, wear one that you identify with – but wear it on that day! Tell anyone who asks just what the symbol is and what it stands for.

I suggest that we do this on the first Thursday of May every year. This is also known as the National Day of Thought / Day of Reason, in opposition to America's National Day of Prayer. On this day secular people are urged to donate blood (I did last year!). I think this would be a perfect day to wear a secular symbol of your choice at the blood donor station.

It'll give you something to talk about.


Farris Thorne said...

Having grown up Catholic, I can tell you the wearing of ashes is far less about expressing a group's identity or pride, and far more about having the individual wearing the ashes feel shame.

It goes something like this: At the beginning of Lent, the Catholic / presumed sinner is supposed to feel the pain of their sin. The ashes, made from burned palm leaves from the prior year's Palm Sunday, are supposed to mark that Catholic publicly as a sinner. And, as we were frequently told back in Catholic school, one dare not wash off those ashes before the end of the day, no matter what else they had to do. Washing them off, you see, eliminates that opportunity for public shame.

Still, it takes either guts or devotion to walk around like that all day. And who knows... maybe Benedict in his apparently infinite dogmatic wisdom, will bring back the wearing of sack cloth... ft

Unknown said...

This past Wednesday I decided to make up my own holiday based on the satirical Flying Spaghetti Monster religion. I called it Noodly Wednesday (or Pasta Wednesday) and it involved writing "FSM" on my forehead with pasta sauce. I wore this on my head the whole day and, as you can imagine, I received some attention and was asked what the heck was on my forehead numerous times. This gave me the opportunity to talk more about Pastafarianism than ever before. As the day went on I came up with an even more creative story that stressed the importance of wearing the FSM symbol on my forehead on this particular day. I started telling them that I was praising Flying Spaghetti Monster on this date because it marks 40 days until the day in which FSM -- using his magic Noodly Appendages -- created the Jesus hoax by spreading the rumor that some dead jewish guy came back to life. Reactions were varied that is for sure.

Berlzebub said...

My wife complained to me last night, because of the things I've brought to her attention. Paraphrased: "I was much happier when you didn't show me how stupid people can be."

Anyway, I think a secular symbol day is a great idea, for those who've already outted themselves. Of course, those who haven't could still talk to those of us wearing them, so they'll know they aren't alone.

Scientia said...

Well done, David. Bloody brilliant, actually. Though, as a fellow Pastafarian, I think I might have done the same by wearing pirate gear (but that may be because I have a thing for pirates).

Secondly, Cal, I was also raised Catholic, and- much as I can't believe I'm doing this- let me set the record straight: ashes are used primarily to remind Catholics of their kinship with the ash and clay from which Adam came, of their bodies' destiny of death, and only tertiarily to remind one of sin. (That ain't me, bub: that's the Dominicans who taught me, the Benedictine monks who tutored me, and the Baltimore Catechism.)

It's part of the reason I always liked Ash Wednesday: having at least one day a year when you walk around with a reminder of your mortality literally stuck to your forehead is in many ways a useful mental discipline. It's not as though most of us go out of our way to think about and acknowledge death in the absence of grief.

And I think your idea of wearing a secular symbol a good one... any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

In Portland there's a part of town where you can still see BUSH 04 bumper stickers on peoples' cars. It's called Gresham. I don't ever go there, except I had to go today. They have a Marie Calendar’s, and we needed a banana cream pie.

So I drove my car into the conservative gaping maw of Gresham... and gave no thought to my "Just another Soulless Atheist in search of World Pease and Harmony" bumper sticker.
But at every stop light, some elderly couple would drive up behind me in either a Buick or a giant SUV. At some point, they would spot my sticker, point it out to their spouse, and an animated conversation would begin.


But seriously good pie.

Brigit said...

Another ex-RC. I left the ashes on the forehead because the nuns bitched about it. God gets pissy apparently, and since god can get pissy for a large amount of things (so much so that I was sure as a little kid I was going straight to hell)I kept the stupid ashes on.
Not that I didn't feel stupid with a sooty face.