Recently, I decided to play “I’ll Fly Away” at my weekly open mic night. Open Mic Night is where I go to have a beer, unwind, and relax, and I’ve always loved that song (find a brilliant cover of it by Olivia Millerschin here!)
To me, the song represents what I see most of music as: a frightful meatball on a rock circling a ball of fire, trying to make sense of their brief existence in a universe that seems so averse to that very existence. I view it as the many hopes of people, or as a representation of the pain of loss, or the elation of being connected with loved ones.
It’s quite non-sensical to believe that these corpses will one day rise and fly into the sky, but that doesn’t mean I have a problem singing it.
As comedian Tim Minchin sings in White Wine In The Sun: “Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords, but the lyrics are dodgy.”
Afterwards, I sat down with a guy in the bar. He was pretty impressed with my song.
He said to me, “You gotta believe that, right?”
I said: “No, I’m an atheist.”
And so we talked.
He was going through a divorce. He said that his kids lived in Washington and he was just visiting, staying at a hotel nearby and getting shit together. He was raised Catholic and kind of realized how crazy it all was. We talked about war, politicians, and of course, beliefs. I explained to him what the song meant to me, and he said, “Well, that doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, right?”
That kind of misconception was awesome to hear, and i wasn’t offended, because it gave me an opportunity explain what being an atheist really is, or at least, what it is to me.
Why Belief Doesn’t Matter
I spend a lot of time talking about people’s beliefs and why they do matter, why what we think about the nature of reality has a lot to say about us, and has profound consequences for how we interact with and treat one another. Harmful beliefs (innocuous or not), I often argue, eventually lead to actions that are harmful for others, intentional or not.
However, I do believe in unity. I believe in compromise. And I believe that at the end of the day, that feeling that you’re just sitting down with someone, having a beer and shooting the shit, is extremely important.
And seeing as you know just as well as I that there are supremely shitty people who believe both ways on the issue of God, I’d say that feeling is probably much more important than any of the rest.