The protests in Iran have got me thinking about religion, a subject I usually avoid. I don’t like the label of atheist. I’d rather be defined by what I do believe in than by what I don’t.
Besides, people hate atheists. I mean hate. When a 2007 Gallup poll revealed that Americans would sooner elect a gay or lesbian president than an atheist, I thought perhaps it was time for me to stand up with my heathen brothers and sisters.
But then I met a few atheists and changed my mind. To quote Gertrude Stein, “there was no there there.”
A lapsed Catholic friend described an atheist meeting he once attended. Did they discuss existentialism? The creation of the universe? Morality in an amoral world? No, he said. They talked about the city’s earnings tax.
Not the kind of discussion for which I would give up a Sunday morning sleep-in.
As the old Japanese proverb says: “The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.” When the subject of religion arises, I usually say nothing.
But lately I’ve been watching and listening to the proud people of Iran use every tool at their disposal to affect change, even when all they have are their own voices.
The haunting sound of “Allah-u-akbar!” echoing back and forth, rooftop to rooftop, in this video will stay with me, as will the bloody photographs and the stories of helpless university students attacked and killed in their dorm rooms.
Translation of the video narration from Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:
They might take our Internet or even our telephones. But we will demonstrate our unitedness by keep shouting Allah-u-akbar! People are calling God. Maybe He will hear their voices and be moved by them. Defenseless people confronting violent thugs. Defenseless people who are orchestrating a peaceful uprising. Tonight they ask for His help.
Just days after I declared pacifism all but impossible, the dignified protests by Iranians of all ages, from all walks of life, give me hope.
Seeing is believing. Brave Iranians, I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in you.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]