CHAPEL OF THE LOVING ATHEIST
Background + more photos / Zurich, 2013 -2014
(Irreligious, unedited, overly detailed rant about the project)
Decorating the whole space (a large room, a side room and a hallway) began in Summer 2012 and was completed, as far as possible given constraints, by the end of March 2014. At that time our lease was up and we needed to vacate. Although prepared for this, we were mildly devastated on the day the keys were returned - I was still up a ladder working on the ceiling when the landlord arrived. Only the side room was finished according to plan. The texts were slow work, being composed directly onto walls from some scribbled notes. The main room and hallway had been prepared, but the exciting part, aging and adding texts, didn't happen. Only one word got stenciled up in a corner of the main room: TRUTH (see below). With time running out all efforts went into at least finishing the side room.
We moved into the former grocers shop in 2011 to use as a store-room and workshop. It was in a sad state of repair. The walls were oil stained, live cables hung from walls and ceilings, the floor was treacherous. The shop had been loved by some locals and widely avoided by others. Everything required fixing, but I was glad to do it. In our favour the rent was unusually low for Zurich. The landlord never imagined it could be used for any kind of business, before his planned and long postponed (legally enforced) renovation. As I cleaned grime from the street windows it dawned on me that we could set up as an off-gallery, and the landlord didn't seem to care either way. So Paradox Zurich Projects was born. We spent a year hosting exhibitions and events, rough and ready, Berlin style, while establishing ourselves in the new home city. But after much enjoyment and a lot of art nobody would buy, we knew we would not make ends meet in this part of Zurich with something so "off". We gathered together a wonderful group of designers, forged a new concept, and reinvented the shop as a showroom for hand-made furniture, design items, jewellery and so on. Our art interests took a back seat to earning a living and our firm Design-Partners was founded. (Here's the shop going through various stages: Design-Partners)
Around then I met Andrej Suda, a professional painter-decorator of great experience who had worked a lot in the States, particularly on "mafia-funded churches". Happy to improve my own techniques, especially marbleising, as well as expanding our services, I divided the showroom walls into panels which we filled with various effects. The new examples should help generate contracts, especially for bars, restaurants, private homes etc. Early in 2013 another partner Wolfgang Burjack organised a new floor, which got the painting treatment, too, with grey tone stone effects. Then frustratingly, to help make ends meet, ladies fashion firm Jo Brauer moved into the big room as a pop-up-store, and the side room became our office for ten months. During time between contracts I began to focus, obsessively I admit, on the walls and ceiling of this little room (below) and work proper began on the Chapel of the Loving Atheist.
God does not love us
Freedom to be able to express atheist, or even anti-theist, views are fundamental to this artwork and to myself as an individual. At the same time I can say that no visitor was lectured to and none expressed discomfort during the installation. Above all else it was, and remains, art. The mood was quiet, the walls spoke for themselves, and some interesting, mutually respectful discussions took place. The wall texts (printed at bottom of page) were perhaps more poetic than the following paragraphs, which were written separately for this documentation.
Since the beginning of an occupation called worship, the propaganda of powerful religions has so successfully abused "non-believers" - heathens, heretics, infidels, blasphemers - that even today, even in high-tech societies, the word atheist holds negative connotations. Incredibly, atheism still verges on being a taboo subject. I have experienced it even within my own "liberal-minded" family. Just another example of the negative impact the church (i.e. all dogmatic religious organisations) has had since man began to think for himself - or at least to try to. As natural born atheists, my wife and I are apt to ponder the stupidity of many world events with feelings from humour to disbelieve to horror and disgust. Far from being heathens, we love nature and the universe, the animal world, the arts, and are fascinated by science, cultures and history. We love our friends, family and each other, and respect others automatically. We love equality and truth. And we are concerned about the upkeep of all these things. But we do not believe in fairy tales - and that, apparently, is a problem.
Our fabulous planet is run under the influence of religion in the way the taxi you just boarded is driven by someone under the influence of mind-bending drugs. We are awoken early each morning to pounding bells (surrounded as we are in Zurich by churches) as the city is summoned, like something in H.G. Wells fiction, to follow their call without thinking, as we should follow the apparent will of some mythical god. And things could go this way for thousands more years to come, while people globally continue to propagate, or just blindly accept, the brainwashing we have been victims of since before records began.
Religion is brainwashing
Yet we put up with these fables and the entrenched bias which accompanies them. Indeed we are conditioned to respect the untruths, to respect those who spread them, even to adore them, and to politically and financially support them. When the president of a country is sworn in under a god's oath with lofty words like So Help Me God to serve and protect millions of citizens, he is in effect nullifying that promise. The oath is void because gods, as educated people openly or secretly know very well, are man-made control tools.
I believe there are far more atheists around than any survey has dared to set out to prove. The pope's celebrity status indicates merely that his particular brand of brainwashing belongs more to marketing strategies than to healthy spirituality. As for spirituality itself, most atheists have no problem with that. Individual spirituality, including belief in anything from ghosts to flying spaghetti monsters, is a right within a free-thinking world. But only as long as someone's imagined realities are not forced down the throats of others at the point of a gun. Or an insidious or pompous wagging finger.
Atheism is the natural condition of all humans before indoctrination begins. It is time for things - for us on the whole - to progress. Modernity through reason, and our capability for goodness without conditions attached, must prevail. Will prevail. Our deluded taxi driver (those millions of drivers) must be persuaded, respectfully but firmly, according to international rights and laws, to pull over, hand in their falsified paperwork and let others drive.
Our universe is hugely important and quite marvellous enough, just as our lives are hugely important and quite marvellous enough. We should be permitted now to stop following ancient stories which still attempt to explain things we have almost all the answers for by now. The remaining answers will be discovered through science and philosophy, not through old books and self-serving preachers. There exists not one atom of evidence their myths are factual. Indeed all the evidence is to the contrary - that is a universal fact. While I might be afraid of death - along with just about everyone who ever existed, and the reason for religions in the first place - I refuse to squander my life longing for absurd and mysterious things. Better things, including the ridiculous notion that my earthly efforts will be rewarded with another life, an eternal life no less, in someone else's imagined paradise. Or in my case, evil infidel that I am, in someone else's picture of hell, a place invented by power-mongers so long ago that we only know one thing about them. That they were very good at telling stories.
Combining the two
Since starting to show off wall painting techniques, the idea was forming that the two interests (wall decoration and exploring atheism through art) could be merged if I steered the design towards a religious styles. Architecturally it required minimal change to make the shop "churchy". I even imagined building arches, an alter and a pulpit. We were lucky when our "temporary" lease could be extended another year, and just then something unexpected happened. I read that in the UK a group of comedians (so it sounded) had rented a hall and started up regular events, calling themselves The First Church of Atheism. That was a bit annoying, as I regarded this project as a Church of Atheism. I wanted a new name. Briefly it was The True Church of Atheism, hinting at some comic power struggle involving punch-ups between our two emerging groups(!) I thought of The Temple of Atheism, but learned that that's what libraries are referred to across atheistic forums. Then it was The Chapel of Atheism - a good enough title to appear on the first flyer. But as I researched, it became important to me to address the negative reputation that atheism sadly suffers from. The project became The Chapel of the Loving Atheist.
I'm not very good at promoting my own concepts, hence the low public profile and persistent underground status of everything I do. I had no reason to expect widespread resonance this time. But I did find out what some people around the world might make of this installation through various Internet forums. Reactions from atheists can be as aggressive and narrow-minded as those of religious zealots, so be wary of who you are chatting with on this unholy subject. Don't be put off by bible-bashers speaking out, apparently, for love and morals, or rather screaming out in capital letters CANT WAIT TO SEE YOU BURN IN HELL FOREVER YOU FUCKING PEEDO. Which makes sense when you know that paedophiles are evil, atheists are evil, therefore atheists are paedophiles. The force of this reaction is not rare. From both sides. But especially from god's side.
Most people just don't get it
In online forums, just mentioning the words chapel and atheism so close together was enough to confuse the majority; as summed with the polite remark "Don't get it". Fair enough. Helpful, in fact, as it encouraged further clarification, not least for myself:
"Look guys, organised religion down the ages has kidnapped the idea that a certain kind of place, beautiful, richly decorated, is the only place to find peace and contemplation, for getting away from daily hardships, to meet good people, listen to great music, hear great literature and consider important messages. The atmosphere, music and messages experienced in this installation, a beautiful place too, are not bound up in the fibs of priests and have nothing to do with making you feel small. On the contrary, they put that mythical nonsense into modern context. The installation does, as any place can do, with or without the god-influence, celebrate Human Beings, the beauty of nature and real existence. If this isn't to your taste, that's ok. For myself I have no problem borrowing - or rescuing - certain ideas, including architectural styles which I find attractive to the eye and the "spirit" (spirit being the intuition and emotions based in my brain) which I don't accept any organisation claiming solely for itself. If you really don't like the idea of contaminating good atheism with relics of religion (some clearly don't) then see it as an experiment. Or just a lump of art. Or ignore it."
Alain de Botton
As March approached and with it the opening of the installation, I contacted through his website someone of specialised knowledge, Alain de Botton. I included a link with some project info and was pleasantly surprised when he answered.
"Wonderful, many congratulations! All the best."
Short and sweet, but still a boost.
Hand of god
There was still lots of work to do. At last we got the whole shop back when the pop-up-store moved out, into their new premises in a shopping mall, five weeks before our lease was up. But I fell sick with a bronchitis of some kind which dragged on for a month or more. One might imagine the hand of god at work! But I put it down to change of season, working too hard, not eating properly and smoking too much.
I had collected a list of names to be immortalised (if only for a short time) on the ceilings. Half of them celebrities, the rest friends who had responded to a survey I did on Facebook. Asking simply "are you a believer, an agnostic or an atheist?" many answered, (none angrily), although the answers often beat around the bush. Some of the messages were touching, like the man who wanted not only his and his son's names to go up, but also his deceased fathers name, who he said would have loved it. One considered a pilgrimage from England to see his name in the Chapel and to meet us, while a friend in Berlin asked whether we would conduct an atheist wedding. Time ran out for that - though I would have bent over backwards to accommodate.
On March 1 the Chapel opened for a dedicated month of activities - and continuation of painting work in the side room. We held various events including my 50th birthday party, a reading evening with local writers, and finally a moving out party during which the police arrived and threatened to remove the sound system. Here is my favourite moment of the whole experience. During that last chaotic party a guy in a wheel-chair arrived, helped up the street steps by a companion. He was the first (and last) handicapped guest we hosted. I had left a bit of space on the ceiling for one final name to be inscribed in a mini ceremony at the end. He asked for his name to go up, but I had to explain that it was too short and sadly didn't fit. He was clearly disappointed, so I agreed anyway and wobbled off (a bit tipsy by then) to fetch my ladder and stencils. The result "Huber" can be seen in the slide-show below (second picture). Mr Huber was delighted. He sat there looking up at it for a long time, while people danced, shouted and laughed all around him. (It was a fun party.)
"This makes me so happy," he said, and I never saw him again.
GOD DOES NOT LOVE US!! NOR DOES HE JUDGE US!! INDEED HE IS MERELY OUR GREATEST AND MOST DISPUTED MYTH!! JUDGE & LOVE YOURSELF!!
AWESOME RUDDY OVERSIGHT FORFEITS REVERENCE
WHEN YOU DIE, WHICH BEGINS WITH THE STOPPING OF YOUR HEART, BUT TAKES QUITE A BIT LONGER THAN THAT, YOUR BRAIN IS GASPING FOR OXYGEN AND GOES INTO OVERDRIVE, SO HALLUCINATIONS LIKE THE LIGHT AT THE END OF A TUNNEL ARE TO BE EXPECTED. THAT IS NOT HEAVEN YOU SEE DOWN THE ROAD OR UP IN THE SKY. IT IS ONLY THE LAST ACTIVITY OF YOUR OVER STRESSED MIND. A VERY BAD TRIP INDEED. COMMONLY DISGUISED AS A VERY GOOD ONE. LORD GOD CONTROLS EVERYTHING THEREFORE EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE SOON ENOUGH. BETTER THAN THAT. YOU WILL SHORTLY AWAKEN IN A MUCH NICER PLACE THAN THIS ONE, IN A LOVE DRENCHED PARADISE, REMOVED FROM CHALLENGE... & REMAIN THERE FOREVER. OR, DEPENDING ON YOUR EARTHLY HERITAGE, YOU'LL BE SUPPLIED WITH VOLUPTUOUS VIRGINS AND SERVED WITH RICHES, OR YOU ARE BORN AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL YOU LEARN TO DESIRE NOTHINGNESS. ETC, ETC. THE MYTHS ARE MANY. BUT THE TRUTH, THE NATURAL TRUTH, IS MORE FIENDISH THAN ANY FANCIFUL VISION OF PURGATORY...
DEATH IS THE END. WHEN YOU DIE YOU ARE DEAD. THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE OF ANY KIND, NO REBIRTH, NO VALHALLA, NO LIMBO, NO JUDGEMENT DAY, NO SPIRIT WORLD, NO FAIRYLAND, NO HELL, NO HEAVEN, NO OTHER SIDE, NO OTHER LEVEL AND THERE IS NO COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS. THERE ARE NO GODS, NO GHOSTS, NO GOBLINS, NO SIRENS, NO SANTAS, NO DRAGONS, NO ANGELS, NO ZOMBIES, NO MESSIAHS & NO DEMONS OUTSIDE THOSE CONCEIVED WITHIN OUR VERY OWN MORTAL, UNIQUE AND GLORIOUS HUMAN BRAINS. HARK THE VOICE OF REASON:-
YO! YOU!! BEHOLD YOUR BRAIN, AND REJOICE IN ITS MAJESTY!
YOUR BRAIN IS YOUR GATEWAY TO THE UNIVERSE AND MOST ALL ITS WONDERS & SECRETS. USE IT. UNDERSTAND WHY YOUR FORE-BEARERS, GUIDED BY MYSTICS, IN TERROR OF VIOLENT MASTERS, BOMBARDED BY DISEASE, HUNTED BY DISASTER BOTH NATURAL & SELF INFLICTED, WALLOWING IN SUPERSTITION, VOID OF HUMAN RIGHTS, FRIGHTENED OF THE DARK, IGNORANT OF PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING WE KNOW TODAY... WHY THOSE SUFFERING PEOPLES FEVERISHLY ASSEMBLED, OUT OF COUNTLESS POPULAR IDOLS & TALISMANS, THEIR ONE BIG GOD TO SAVE THEM ALL AND IN HIS GREATNESS BRAINWASH US STILL WITH IMMORTAL DELUSIONS!!!
THE ESSENTIAL DEVELOPMENT OF WOMANKIND
CHAPEL OF THE LOVING ATHEIST
Inner to outer rings, then window-end arc, then door-end arc:
DEMOCRITUS, REAGAN JR, FOOT, KEN BARLOW, WRIGHT, CHABILAND, SHEPHARD, WATZLAWICK, TULLEY, BONNEY, WOLF, CAREY, STOI, GELBE, DE BEAUVOIR, GILGENMANN, LARSSON, KUHRMANN, ROHNER, MARCH, TERRY, STEBLER, FOTTER, DACHS, STOFFNER, PLEIN, BERESOVSKY, BROZIO, WATERS, ADAMS, LE BON, GELDOF, WOODS, FLYNN, HESTER, HAINS, FOSTER, DELIUS, BRINEMAN, LUTTA, BERLIOZ, AMMANN, JIRIKOVA, BUKOWSKI, GORKY, MADERO, FLEURY, MALFATTI, HIRST, TURING, HAWKING, DAWKINS, HITCHENS, FREUD, NIETZSCHE, SARTRE, MARX, GORBACHEV, MILIBAND, GARIBALDI, CARNEGIE, ZUCKERBERG, ASSANGE, MANNING, KAFKA, BRECHT, PINTER, PROUST, TOWNSEND, WOOLF, HERZOG, JARMAN, BURTON, HEPBURN, COWARD, DIETRICH, MIRREN, PITT, FRY, CARLIN, GERVAIS, JAGGER, ZAPPA, BJORK, ENO, BARTOK, PICASSO, MATISSE, VAN GOGH, DIVO, SHAKIN, ELTON, HANCOCK, ALLEN, ASIMOV, WELLS, NEY, OLIVILO, LLOYD WRIGHT, KIELNHOFER, BRYANT, SARALA, KNIGHT, NOON, DUCHAMP, MONET, BACON, GREENAWAY, SAGAN, LOVECRAFT, THEODORUS, PROKOFIEV, TRUFFAUT, MCKELLEN, SUDA, HUSTON, C.CLARKE, DIAGORAS, VIDAL, GILMOUR, RICHTER, JOEL, HUBER, CARR, SEVERIN, PAVLOV, STRAUSS, LANG, BROADBENT, SODERBERGH, CRONENBERG, JADOT, TEUSCHER, PARKER, RONSTADT, MILLER, ELIOT, SHAW, GREENE, POLANSKI, GREER, HERACLITUS, SUZUKI, LOUIS STEVENSON, MAUGHAM, MALKOVICH, EPICURUS, CRICK, LEE, HIGGS, NUMAN
One of the names above belongs to a fictional character, the only one written in full. He is so well known in the UK (and probably further) that I thought he deserved a mention. He illustrates a salient point, that humour is not only allowed, but very welcome in a Chapel of Atheism.