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Secrets and Silence

By Carl S --

One subject that occasionally comes up in books and movies is family secrets. Apparently, every family has one or more dominant ones. Personally, I remember asking my widowed mother, who was 85 at the time, if she thought my oldest brother was gay. DoubtShe said that she had known it for many years. The day before her funeral, at night, my oldest brother and I talked about our father, and I told him to forgive the old man, because his childhood abuse of all of us was the tradition in his own upbringing. My brother flew into a rage, woke up the family, and only stopped when my next oldest brother told him, “Ray, I know secrets.” Ray didn’t ask what those secrets were, but went quietly to bed.

Family secrets led me to think of other secrets: diplomatic talks, strategies, battle plans, etc., involving corporations, governments, and religious institutions. (Oh those American Indian mission schools and Mormon “families”!)

One big secret is out: Pedophile priest cover-ups. All the way up to the top dog in the Vatican. (Tradition? For centuries?) Though the trend in our country has been toward ever more transparency, openness and accountability, you can expect, because of this, ever-greater efforts made at secrecy, including those who not only refuse to tell, but to ask in the first place.

And then there is silence, covering of the ears. Those of us who once attended church services are well aware of the strategic silences, of what is never said, about secrets, and the necessity of “WE don’t talk about that,” to sustain the faith; the very opposite of openness, discussion, differences of opinion. Churches even describe themselves as families, so much so that while shepherds doth abuse the young, silent are the lambs. And silence is consent. Not only are questions unwelcome, but even the silences to think of them.

among the clergy, the belief in keeping secrets is stronger than their asserted beliefs, and this leads to their silences about their absence of particular beliefs (and their doubts). Keeping their jobs and status depends on keeping their mouths shut. Sometimes, silences speak volumes. My wife and I recently watched the movie “Doubt,” with Meryl Streep. I was struck by the fact that it is one of those rare moves where silences not only reinforce the dialog, but are just as important. Silences can often provide the opportunities to think about what’s really being said; the hidden meanings and motivations of the speakers, implications, what is otherwise missed. Secrets can be revealed in silence. What is not said can be much more important than what is.

I will conjecture that, among the clergy, the belief in keeping secrets is stronger than their asserted beliefs, and this leads to their silences about their absence of particular beliefs (and their doubts). Keeping their jobs and status depends on keeping their mouths shut.

Atheists are their major threat, because atheists know secrets, and reveal them. It is imperative that atheists be reviled and silenced, kept in the closet. And this is why we atheists (and agnostics) must speak out, reveal ourselves, and not be a part of the conspiracy of silence. And perhaps, our very presence will create silences that make people think and even wonder how we “get along without you very well, don’t need your baggage, thanks for nothing.”

It is time to end the immunity from criticism the clergy enjoys and religion demands. A 16th century document proclaimed that “men of God” are answerable only to God and other “men of God.” Meanwhile, the religious right(eous) are acting as a fifth column in our political system and courts. Behind the facade of “faith” hide many lies, and devious and destructive machinations, for the secrets are not only in each congregation, but are universal. Power, unchecked, corrupts, and religions are powers. The power they want is the power to control conscience.

How many secrets do you know about your former church? And how about the lies perpetuated continually by religious spokesmen that reside in silences? Say something, and it gets easier to say more. Faith is not a mighty fortress, but a very fragile, weak edifice. That’s why it can’t and won’t tolerate challenge and why it has silenced, persecuted, even killed challengers.

What secrets do YOU know? What have you been silent about? What caused you to vomit up all those things you swallowed that were against your nature?

By revealing the secrets that you know, you might become a Troublemaker, joining the likes of Thomas Paine, Jefferson, Rosa Parks, Lincoln, Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Nelson Mandela, M.L.K., Jr., and Giordano Bruno. I am proud to follow in their paths. Care to join me?


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