On Sunday, my wife and I gathered together a whole pile of our Christian CDs out of our collection. We’ve already weeded out most of the Christian books from our bookshelves. The CDs were placed in a box and then we decided what to do with them. Donate them to someone? If they knew we were atheists, they would find it exceedingly awkward; if they didn’t know, then we would be perhaps guilty of encouraging someone in their delusional Christian life. So we decided to just throw them away.
Actually, in South Africa, “throwing something away” isn’t quite such a straightforward proposition. I put the box of CDs into our big municipal-collection bin, where all our other rubbish ends up, and then yesterday morning I wheeled the whole bin out for collection (which happens on a Monday for us). But of course by the time I left for work about two hours later, there was the box we’d used for the CDs already outside of the bin... with all the CDs gone. A pitiful sight in most South African suburbs (except, perhaps, for those who live in the exceedingly aptly-titled “closed communities”) is the countless scavengers who go from bin to bin on collection days - occasionally including mothers with babies on their backs! - to hunt through the refuse left by the middle class to see if they can find anything they deem useful.
So this was likely the fate of our Christian CDs. Considering there were probably at least 30 CDs in that box, someone must have really thought they’d hit “gold”. Did it occur to them that they were all Christian albums? What did they make of that? Did they think some crazy white people were trying to evangelise poor people through their rubbish bin? Are they going to take it home and play it somewhere? Sell the CDs on the street?
Anyway, for me it felt like it was 1997 all over again. That was the year in which a 16 year old version of myself “got saved” and, in the process, thought it would be a great idea to throw out all my “non-Christian” CDs. This included, by the way, a great album from Pearl Jam (Versus), three Nine Inch Nails albums (The Downward Spiral, Broken and a fairly rare “remix” of the latter, called Fixed) and two Metallica albums (the awesome classic Ride the Lightning as well as some later rather humdrum one whose name I can’t even remember). Those are the ones I remember, at least. I think I knew even then that it was a bit of a mistake, but the thrill of simultaneously ridding myself of this “evil influence” and also scoring some glory points with the pastor and some Christian friends was too good to relinquish.
So here I am, about 14 years later, throwing away a bunch of CDs again. For reasons related to “religion”. This time, though, I seriously doubt I will have any regrets. Not that there wasn’t some decent music there: the British band Delirious? actually produced some pretty good rock music, and even the now-dreaded Hillsong United worship band had a knack for producing infectious tunes (which is, of course, precisely why this sort of thing is so dangerous). But I will not be able to stand listening to people whine on about their relationship with their imaginary friend Jesus while I’m sipping wine in my lounge. Nor will I be able to stand hearing nameless hordes singing along to another chorus of Saviour, He can move the Mountains!
But it was amazing how difficult I found it to do this. I caught myself wondering, “What if I want to come back to this one day?” Back? Back? To something I know to be imaginary! To be something whose persistence in my life is entirely explicable in terms of a self-delusion in which I willingly participated!
This is the immense power of childhood religious brainwashing: that even when one has come to one’s senses, the fear remains. Even when one knows that the whole thing was bullshit, and gratefully leaves the “fold” of believers, the pressure lingers on in the mind. Incredible.