Sunday, September 8, 2019

An atheist family goes to Praise in the Park

Yesterday I went with my wife and son to Praise in the Park in Todos Santos Plaza in our hometown of Concord, CA. It's a festival of Christian music, so if you know me, you might wonder why I'd go there willingly.

We went for a few reasons. For starters, it's always nice to see some live music, and I have no problem admitting that I like plenty of religious songs. Is a lot of it cheesy? Sure. But that's true for a lot of music in general. However, I'm not going to knock an entire genre which would technically include many songs from U2, Al Green, and Johnny Cash.

The second reason is that my friend, Justin McRoberts was performing, and it's always good to support a friend.

The third reason is that my son gets pretty much no religious exposure. Sure, much of that is by design. However, he lives in a world where most people have spiritual beliefs, and Christianity is still the predominant religion in our area. Seems to me like a good opportunity to expose him to a lot of good people who are deep down just like us but have a different way of seeing the world.

I have my opinions about faith and religion, but I try to keep most of them to myself around my son. I'll tell him what my beliefs are, but when we discuss the subject, I try to just listen to him and talk through what his feelings are. (No surprise here - he doesn't believe in a god. Kids tend to believe what their parents believe.)

My goal during the show was to also keep my thoughts to myself and let him form his own opinions. The only strong opinions I gave out loud was when I thought that the music was good or there was a good message that could appeal to nonbelievers as easily as believers. (Ideas about accepting others and realizing our own limitations are pretty universal.)

I should point out that we were only there for about an hour and a half. We caught the tail end of one band, saw a rapper, then saw Justin's solo set, and then stuck around for the first three songs when Justin played with a band.

Let me start off with the good stuff and warn you when I let loose with all the things I wanted to say out loud. That way, you can skip the negative/critical if you want.

The band that was playing when we came in was pretty good. It was your standard prayer-in-a-song, but the band was on point and so were the singers. No doubt the crowd there was pleased, and I liked the melody.

Next came a rapper. I'll save my comments for later, but my son liked it and even shook his booty a bit. A funny thing happened when the rapper said something along the lines of, "Have you ever had Satan just mess up things for you?" to which my son responded, "No." I was tempted to hush him, but it was an honest response. Satan's just not a thing that's a factor in his life.

Justin did a really great job. It was very centered on praising and worshipping Jesus, which shouldn't be surprising. What I really liked was how he incorporated video of Martin Luther King, Jr. and talked about (gasp!) social justice. Justin even gave a shoutout to gay people in his message of inclusiveness. In my area, that's probably not too far out of line from how the Christians here feel. Honestly, I don't think that I know any local Christians who are lousy to gay people. (But I should probably admit that I'm probably not the best person to analyze this issue.)

So, Justin was good, and it's really cool to see this guy I knew back in middle school progress as much as he did and really find a unique voice in a potentially limiting genre.

But as much as I liked him, the band was even better. My son liked it so much that he took out his phone and recorded some of the performance. They were definitely a bunch of musicians who are dedicated to their craft and sounded as tight as any top-tier act that I've seen. You don't have to believe in Jesus to feel the sincerity and power in what they were expressing.

So, I liked what I saw, and I'd probably go again. Not sure that I'd want to spend all day there, but there are very few things in this world where there are that many people that I'd want to stick around for all day. (Maybe a comic book convention.)

Okay, all that said - here were the things that I was keeping to myself:

I'm not going to go into an overview of why I don't believe in Christianity and all of my problems with it. I suppose that if you scroll through my blog from several years ago, you'll find what you need to find. I might have a few things left to say that are waiting for their own blog posts, but I'll save that for another time.

I'm also not going to make fun of the rapper, but let's just say that he was a white guy, and the thing that you think about white guy rappers who aren't Eminem probably applies to him. I'm not going to get too into it, although he did a bit where he got the crowd to chant, "Go Jesus, go Jesus, go Jesus, go!" which is basically what Vanilla Ice did in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze only replace "Jesus" with "Ninja". Like I said, my son liked him, and a lot of kids were up there dancing. Nothing wrong with dancing, unless you're Amish.

He talked about how messed up his life was until he turned it all around when he found Jesus. I always wonder what they make of people who go through life just fine without Jesus? Obviously, everybody has some room for improvement, but even Christians will admit that doesn't stop with a conversion. I mean, there are people who have relatively happy, productive lives and Jesus just isn't a factor in it.

I reckon that they probably don't think about that too much. I dunno. Maybe they do.

That's all fine though. It's his experience, and I have no reason to doubt him. I do take issue with his messages of "purity" and how he'd never touch any woman that wasn't his "wifey". Now, if it was a message of being loyal to your significant other, then I'd be fine with it. However, unless you just got back from the moons of Jupiter, you know that "purity" is about not having sex with anyone until marriage, which is a toxic ideology that ultimately makes kids wind up feeling bad about themselves. Being a virgin should not be considered a virtue (just as losing one's virginity shouldn't be considered as important as other segments of our society make it out to be.)

So, yeah, purity culture is one of those things that we know causes harm, so why are they still pushing it? Maybe for the same reason we pushed failed anti-drug policies for so long - people don't like admitting that they were wrong about something.

Anyway, beyond that, I'm not going to complain about people praying to God and praising God when that's the whole point of the event. Might as well go to the Taco festival and whine that there are too many places selling tacos.

I guess the other thing I want to write isn't necessarily a criticism. In one of the songs where Justin was playing with the band, there was a line that expressed how they were "more than just flesh and blood". That one really struck me, as it's just not something that I think about anymore, but I have long since come to peace with the idea that I'm just flesh and blood.

Part of me wonders what they're so scared of? I mean, is it REALLY so bad if everything about you ends when you shuffle the mortal coil? I don't see how having another life after this one adds any meaning. If anything, I'm feeling really fortunate that I even got to live as long as I did.

I'm sure that a person of faith doesn't want to hear this, so you believers out there might want to stop right here. However, it just strikes me now as being somewhat childish. It's like my son and Santa Claus. I'm pretty sure that he's bright enough to figure out that Santa isn't real. However, he still talks about Santa as though he is real, likely because he's afraid that Christmas will be different if he voices his nonbelief. The thing is, there simply is no good reason to think that you're going to live on beyond your flesh and blood.

No doubt some of you are thinking that you have a good reason that you're just dying to tell me. Maybe just trust me that by this point in my life, and as a former believer myself, I'm not likely to hear something new. Just go ahead and think that I'm closed-minded or lost or whatever makes it easier for you to deal with that thought.

Or maybe ask yourself a question - do you believe in an afterlife because you find that reason so convincing? Or do you find the reason convincing because you want to believe in an afterlife?

You might not have an answer to that right away.

But it's worth thinking about.

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