Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Am Legion

So a few days after the devastating Japanese earthquake (apparently the hard work of prayee McGee over here), I reluctantly/fervently got embroiled in an end of the world debate with two of my co-workers.

One of them, I'll call him Francis (because I've always wanted to rename someone Francis), was convinced that the quake, along with the mass deaths of birds and the Mayan 2012 calendar, was proof that SOMETHING huge was about to happen.

Now, let me state upfront that I like Francis. He's a great guy, funny, and really good at his job. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't lose a thimble of respect for him as his argument jumped from one disconnected myth to the next before ultimately ending in a rather heated defense of aliens building Egyptian pyramids; "They have hieroglyphs of aliens on the pyramids!" he raged.

My other co-worker, Alphonso St. Drucker III (not his real name), took the opposite position, or what I called, the Sane Approach. Al (for short) argued that the earthquake was no more a sign than any other natural disaster that we've seen this year alone, let alone since we've been recording such things. He laid out, in a lengthy email, the literal HUNDREDS of people -- mostly apocalyptic Christians -- who've unsuccessfully predicted the end of days. But the real capper happened with this paraphrased exchange:

Al: They're all myths. You can't apply myths and made up stories to the world we live in.

Francis: Well how do you know they're stories? You weren't there to witness them.

Al: Do you honestly believe that Noah's Ark was an accurate story?

Francis: Well, no but by that standard you'd say the whole bible was made up?

Al: Precisely.

I'll admit this to you now -- I came a little bit when he said that.

Not because I was touching myself (lesson learned HR department, let's move on please). No, it was because with one word, I found that I was not alone at work. It's a strange isolation to be Black and atheist. To a very large degree, believing is one of the cultural cornerstones of the Black identity. It goes without saying that without church there would not have been the Civil Rights Movement. Watch any Black comedian and within 10 minutes you'll get a joke about loud preachers, sticky-fingered parishoners and some foul-mouthed old lady in the pews. I can probably count on one hand how many Black people I've eaten with who do NOT pray before grubbing. Long story short, Black folks are religious.

I don't want to get in a whole big thing here (you know -- like devote an entire blog to it or anything) but my lack of faith has often put me on the outside of mainstream Black culture, a perch I've learned to love as I've gotten older. But that doesn't make it any easier, especially working for and with Black folks who can be judgmental and even fearful of non-believers. Quick story: I overheard two co-workers discussing dating and one said she ALMOST dated an atheist. The other woman literally recoiled saying "Keep them away from me!" So you kind of see where I'm coming from.

Needless to say, within minutes of the debate's end, I was calling Al asking him to come to my office. Once inside, I shut the door and opened the floodgates of my heathen soul. And he did the same.

And thus the opening minutes of this year's most unlikely romantic comedy "Struck by Lightning."

Seriously, though, we do snicker a lot now. Shooting each other looks and rolling our eyes when co-workers say things like "death always comes in threes." It is positively gay, but I'm not complaining. At least I've found someone, right?