Spiritual Martians, Pieta Vandalism, and an Old Man’s Groceries: A Day in the Life of Richard

As an AIH (Atheist in Hiding) while at work, it can be hard to carry on the charade day after day, week after week, even year after year. The challenge is dealing with the misconceptions and misinformation. I have chosen a particularly interesting day from last week to help highlight this internal conflict.

As an art teacher, my goal is to allow students to work with many different types of artistic techniques – pen and pencil, charcoal, acrylics, ceramics, watercolor, etc. While creating new work is fun and challenging, it is also important that students understand the history of art, and learn about the important works of art that are contained within the great museums of the world. In class, we try and hit the big name pieces: The David, Stonehenge, Lascaux, Brunelleschi’s Dome, and, being a Catholic school, Michelangelo’s Pieta.

While introducing the Pieta to my students, the subject of the statue’s defacing in 1972 was discussed. If you are unfamiliar with this story, the Cliff’s Notes version is a guy named Lazlo Toth took a hammer to the Virgin Mary, breaking pieces on the face and arm. You can read more about the vandalism here or here.

The story came up because a student asked how close you could get to the Pieta today, and I replied that it was behind glass because of the Toth incident. At this point another student raised his hand and asked me if Lazlo Toth was an atheist.

Add Lazlo Toth right after Hitler to the growing list of Misidentified Atheists.

It was a strange question for me personally, because as an art teacher, I find the Pieta to be a beautiful work of art, and despite my atheism, I have never harbored any desire to break it to bits.

At the time the student question was posed, I could not recall the motives behind Mr. Toth’s attack on one of the most prized works of art held within the Vatican. After class, however, with a few minutes of free time I was able to quickly find several articles discussing the incident. Apparently Mr. Toth believed he was Jesus. Basically, the opposite of being an atheist.

Later that afternoon, the faculty at my school were asked to attend a lecture by a Catholic priest. One of the speaker’s main points was the difference between being religious and being spiritual. His conclusion was religious people are called to give back to those less fortunate, while people who claim to be spiritual but not religious are unable or less likely to help those in need. He then likened spiritual people to Humanists, Agnostics, and Atheists.

To, sort of, quote a wiser man than myself:

Say what you want about the tenets of [organized religion], Dude,  at least it’s an ethos!

People who claim to be spiritual are not willing to fire off a few neurons to even contemplate one of life’s biggest questions. You can’t lump Humanists, Agnostics, and Atheists with those spiritual martians!

At the end of the day, the many misconceptions left me frustrated. Atheists hate religious art and will take a hammer to it if given the chance, and only religious people can help those in need.

Are these perceptions representative of society outside of the little bubble that is the Catholic school in which I teach?

After a long workout to clear my mind, I headed to the grocery store to get supplies for dinner. In the checkout line an old man, who looked like he had lived a hard life, was in front of me. He had placed several items from his shopping cart onto the conveyor belt, but left some of his items in the cart.

After all his items from the conveyor belt were rung up by the cashier, he asked if the total had exceeded 18 dollars and 46 cents, because that was all the cash he was carrying. He was hoping to have enough money left to still cover the items in the shopping cart – a few cans of soup and a loaf of white bread.

The cashier informed him he owed just over twenty dollars from the items on the conveyor belt. After hearing this, the man asked the cashier to take some of the items that had already been rung up, off of his bill.

At this point, I spoke up to the cashier and told her I would cover his extra items, including those still in his basket. The man humbly thanked me and took all of his groceries. As I stood at the checkout waiting for the cashier to finish totaling my items, she looked at me and said, ‘God bless you for what you just did.’ The words were sincere and heartfelt, but after my day I wanted to scream in her face, ‘I am a fucking Atheist!’

Of course, I did not yell in her face, because even though godless, Atheists can still muster a modicum of self control.

Feature Image: Richard

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Richard teaches art at a Catholic school, and spends most of his days coloring and pretending he is not an atheist. He likes vintage furniture and french bulldogs.

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