I pray sometimes. Like now. I am praying that if indeed there is some sort of a divine call centre on the other side, the relevant deity will call off his minions on their noise and hubris. Here’s the thing; I live near a church.
Anyone who lives near one knows how much suffering is to be experienced. Even more so when you are an atheist like yours truly, and all you hear is meaningless noise and brainwashing. But that is not even the problem.
This is not appeal for understanding, it is a citizen’s demand that the exercise of rights not interfere with his good sleep. Even discotheques hire sound engineers and proper DJs because music is one of the two [or three, if you count the fungas] reasons why you go there. They want you to enjoy and thrive, and to come back tomorrow. They must have sound proofing to reduce the noise, as per city laws, and they dutifully pay sin taxes for allowing us debauchery within.
But houses of worship have something stronger, a desire to connect, as well as the connection with a social unit, a sense of belonging, an afterlife, a purpose. I hypothesize that many of the people who go to church are sceptics unable to yank themselves free of the social conditioning that surrounds them. There is no greater slavery, I think, than when you do not even know you are in chains. But even that is not the problem; it is that you cannot tell your management to reduce the noise, to respect the rights of neighbours uninterested in sermons and resurrections to good sleep and a quiet Sunday morning [thanks for the free holidays btw, but no, the noise must stop].
Since I live in an urban area, the noise can be overwhelming times. A cursory audit of the offending noisemakers, most of them Proboxes with speakers mounted atop and a group of young souls walking beside the slow moving Toyota hawking music DVDs, are mostly Christians. One particularly annoying one has been doing the rounds, stopping smack outside my window too every two or so hours, advertising a crusade. They have been at it for three weeks, advertising every day with the same looping voices, three men who sound groggy and one woman with a bad accent. The first time a rather dashing lady caught me looking for a parking spot and I told her off, politely, by telling her I am not Christian.
She must have assumed I meant I was Muslim, because being godless is not something we encourage in this country. The noise has gone on, each voice appealing to a different audience. Advertising successful? That’s on weekdays, so sometimes you have the church’s weekday sermons competing with two or three slow moving vehicles on who can sell the message louder. It is almost funny sometimes, but since I grew up in a serene and quite village environment, I have a mental happy place I can go to. If that doesn’t work, music. I am a Kenyan, and this is how I exercise my right to suffer. Thank you NEMA, for protecting my right to a peaceful environment, I will pay my taxes diligently so the seats in your office can be lonely as you run around protecting us from houses of worship that believe they have a divine right and obligation to blare their sermons and terrible music at all and sundry. Thank you.
The eyes I always get whenever I bring this up are ‘how dare you be a rebel. TOW THE LINE.’ Even the lady who cleans my building thought that while it was noise that woke us all up every Sunday morning, it would be wrong to tell the church to remove the offending speaker. I almost snapped at the good lady before I realized she wasn’t the problem. Next to the church are at least three buildings occupied mainly by families, and clearly no one has complained enough to have the speaker removed. Aren’t the people who are willing to listen already within?
This needs to stop. The noise needs to stop. Someone needs to halt the social conditioning that allows the hubris that a speaker can be mounted facing a residential building and the demands that it be moved are ignored. You do not need to be a Christian or a Muslim, or an adherent of a religion, to live and thrive in this country. Hell, you can worship nothing or even yourself if you want, that is what the freedom of worship means. As long as, of course, it is within the precincts of reason. Well, reason includes balancing between your needs and those of your neighbours. We respect your right to fart, for example, but wait for a breeze so we do not have to suffer the mistakes you made during meal time.
Older churches had little problem with this. The first churches, most of them conservative, amassed vast amounts of land and had no problem with neighbours because the nearest people lived kilometres away, and they all had to come to church. Church was education, government, and salvation. Religion was the only way to survive, and thrive. It was either the church or the bullet.
Then the protestant churches came in. Two things play in, one is that there is not enough land for them to amass as the Catholic and Anglican churches did. Second is that they do not have as solid a financial base. Many of them are built smack in the middle of residential areas, and the noise is not even for the congregants but to convince those of us outside to go in. Well it doesn’t.
The only reason I would venture into that church is to dislodge the speaker and hurl it at the aisles. It is unfair, I think, to subject your neighbours to noise simply because you believe your work is ordained by a deity. If a deity wants his message heard, by virtue of the powers he might have, he will have little a problem making that happen.
A friend tells me her mother lives next to an SDA church. Once in a while, they ‘borrow’ her electricity, ostensibly because theirs has issues or they haven’t paid the bill. She does not allow them because she wants to, but because we all feel obligated. We feel more obligated to sit in buses even when the bus preacher is spitting all over us right before he asks, nay demands, that we fund his work. We might get pissed off at the polite hawker selling socks at ‘tatu mia’ but the man or woman of faith can scream at the top of his or her voice and we will sit there, humble and patient.
Even atheists and sceptics. I figure the lot of us have little say about sound volumes. The truth needs to come from believers who believe the message can be delivered without the noise. I don’t know whether the noise problem is true for other religions such as Islam, although I use the 4 am call of a mosque located a few kilometres away to schedule my morning writings. The call lasts minutes and then there’s silence. I am guessing the story is different at the Coast where there are more mosques. Who will bell the cat? When will we have enough and refuse to calm our deity-provided tits?
As lethargic as we are as a people, we have let this happen. We justify it by saying they are doing God’s work, and that the relevant deity might smack you with a streak of extreme weather for defying his messengers’ right to subject you to noise and distress. But is that deity conversant with the rights of individuals to enjoy the peace and serenity he himself supposedly created? This should matter, because the book does say one should love their neighbours as much, if not more [my addition], as they love themselves.
Yet because of the conditioning I find myself praying sometimes, like in the time lag between drawing blood and getting results from the strip at the VCT. I freak out, and based on the environment I have grown up in, the atheist in me unconsciously runs to a deity I do not believe in. Is this proof that I am inherently inclined towards being a theist? Not at all, all these noise outside my window right now is like advertisement. Like the man who enters a lift humming that catchy tune from the Always pads advert, I unconsciously internalize some of the noise happening outside. It shows.
I support and would fight to the death [well maybe not] their fundamental right to worship and to be wrong. The church currently located 50 meters from my window actually used to be in the office wing of my building, on the same floor as my apartment. The noise then was controlled, and then came the money, the relocation and the expansion. The offending speaker is now a permanent feature mounted at the door, angled towards my window and the road below. The greater offense, however, is not even that the music is high or that I think the sermons are brainwashing in action; the greater offense is the noise. How much would it cost to hire a proper sound engineer to tell you that not balancing your sound ruins your speakers and pisses everyone off? A good DJ should tell you that for free. Even Google can do you justice. Worship doesn’t have to sound like a warship.