Convention speech — Victor Harris: ‘Oh God, You Devil’: Poetry for secularists
Here is an edited version of Victor Harris’ “Poetry for Seculars” speech, given Nov. 3, 2018, at FFRF’s 41st annual convention in San Francisco. He was introduced by FFRF Director of Operations Lisa Strand:
Victor Harris has been a staple on the Bay Area poetry scene since 1999 and was on the Poetry Slam Finals stage for Team Oakland in 2003. He is the recipient of the 2001 Frederic C. Fallon Award for poetry from Chabot College, and a 2006 graduate of Cal State University Hayward. Victor has been writing and performing atheist/skeptical/rational/science themed poetry since 2007 and has performed at conferences around the country. When he’s not writing, or performing or DJing, he is the talent behind Reuschelle’s Cheesecakes and won a Best of the Bay award from the East Bay Express in 2009.
By Victor Harris
Good morning, skeptics.
Everything I’m about to perform can be found on my album, “In Reason I Trust.” This one is called, “Oh God You Devil, Pt. 1.”
‘Oh God You Devil, Pt. 1’
Dear God, I’d like to thank you for this body you’ve given me, but I do have one or two issues with its layout and capabilities. If we are, as your adherents would have me believe, your favorite species, created in your image, then your imagination must have been exhausted after creating sunrises, sunsets, the ocean, its floor and the majestic mountains.
Those are beautiful works of art, after all, but your imagination must have been expended after creating creatures that swim in the deep, birds to decorate the skies and animals to populate the Earth. They’re awe-inspiring in every iteration, so I can only assume that your imagination was taxed when it came to creating my kind.
Or perhaps the parts bin was empty because these eyes you’ve endowed in me are nice. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re serviceable, but they are nowhere near your best work. Sharks have clear covers to keep their eyes safe when attacking prey, the eyes of the octopus don’t have the same blind spot as those of mammals and the images aren’t flipped. Hawks can see greater distances with more clarity, and insects have compound eyes that allow them to see in six directions at once, while we, your favorite species, will stub toes in poorly lit rooms. Our rods, struggling in low-light situations, can only see in black and white and our peripheral cones can only perceive a limited number of colors in the spectrum, and unnecessary nerves and veins occupy the ocular surface leaving them vulnerable to irritation and damage by the tiniest of your insects.
God, this body you’ve given me suffers from one or two minor deficiencies. For instance, we communicate, eat, drink and breathe using the same faculties, which almost makes it a certainty that we will one day choke in our attempt to acquire sustenance. Did you love the dolphin and whale more than man? Are fishes and amphibians more favored by their creator than the humble mammals from which we descended?
The circulatory and respiratory systems of insects are so simple as to almost be inspired. Did you design them early on in the process? I mean, there are more body plans to the insects than there are people on this Earth. Did you pin them fresh off your first cup of coffee, or whatever your drug of choice may be? I think, after seeing some of your creatures, it is safe to assume that you were on some sort of hallucinogen. And speaking of circulation and respiration, why don’t we use all of the oxygen we take in? And why are we land-based animals on a planet that is two-thirds water?
This spine you’ve hung my mass on contains a curve so complex that at some point I will have back problems. Whereas, if we were in the ocean, that might not be. The same can be said for hips, ankles and knees. And, dear God, why can’t I regenerate limbs? I’m not asking for an arm or a leg such as the salamander is able to do, but if the common lizard can regrow a tail, I don’t think the pinky toe is too demanding.
And, dear Lord, why is my life span so short, only doubling in the last century, thanks to science-based medicine, but still falling far short to the alligator, the crocodile, the tortoise and the parrot? Do these creatures, not purported to be your favorites, have more purpose than man?
And what is the purpose of cancer? Why do our cells suddenly go crazy in an attempt to kill off the body that contains them? And our appendix, which was once necessary to break down such fibrous materials as grass and hearty green vegetables, is now a repository for necessary bacteria, a ticking time bomb, just hanging around waiting to kill us. I’m running out of time, dear God, but not complaints.
My party center. Centrally located, it’s in too close proximity at times, sharing the same facilities as my sewage center. Were there no city planners in heaven for you to consult? Were we given whatever body plan was left lying around? Would that explain the junk DNA that still occupies ourselves? I mean, is your quality control worse than McDonald’s?
Never mind. Don’t answer that last question. There’s no need. I only need to look around at all the different religious denominations that claim to speak your truth to know the real truth. I humbly await your answer, dear God, if you can be bothered, But can you do me one favor? Keep your believers from attempting to speak for you, because they are all offering a different answer, each incompatible with the others and attempting to disprove six billion ideas of you.
It’s really beginning to piss me off.
This poem is for my nieces, my brother’s daughters. He is in a blended marriage where he is a nonbeliever and she is a believer. They are raising my nieces in a way where they can choose their own directions. This is a poem for my nieces to encourage them to find their own way without stepping on anyone’s toes.
To my two nieces, Bryce Elizabeth and Riley Noel, on the occasion of your separate graduations from high school, some words of advice as you prepare to leave us to make your way in this world.
This society will attempt to compartmentalize you, to place you in boxes so they no longer have to consider you, be it the female box, the office worker box or the artist box. Refuse to be boxed because normalcy is a pursuit of the unimaginative. Be the little kid you always imagined you would be. Learn to love life like you used to.
Refuse to reminisce about the joys of childhood and instead work to haul them into your everyday. Get lost in daydreams made reality. Playdates played out is your daily routine. Make friends with someone because they sat next to you. Be the kid you missed. Craft your childhood you never had a chance to experience. Set precedents.
Do something new that you have never included in your list of attributes. Like I never heard of a brother baking cheesecakes, DJing, racing cars and writing poetry. Never met a man that managed to raise three kids, one bicoastal, on a poet salary. Never heard of a radio personality who persistently exceeded expectations in pursuit of his dreams.
Be inspirational. Shun those who would attempt to claim pride in your work without doing work of their own. Don’t apologize.
Be intentional in words and deeds, you will never have to offer another phrase of remorse for the ill-conceived perceptions of others. If they don’t understand you, keep talking. There are those who will. It is for them that you were sharing your voice. Never let “show some respect” be synonymous with “shut up.” Have enough respect for the strength and courage of others to tell them the uncomfortable truth, especially when they’re asking for it. Especially when they are asking for it.
Life is too short to live with regret. Tomorrow may always be a day away. But death is always lurking and society will attempt to convince you that your bucket list can be put on hold, when in reality, your bucket is always with you, waiting to be kicked. It is the uncomfortable truth of our fragile existence, one that we must all come to grips with, old and young alike.
This is the only life you are guaranteed. Live like it. You are the consequence of chances of unimaginable proportions. Take some. Every person you meet is living an equally improbable life and should be treasured with each encounter. Act like it. Awake with the realization that today has the possibility to be the best day of your life and love like it.
End each day by saying there was nothing you would do differently, even when you can’t recall exactly what you’ve done. And sleep like it.
Remember, that she who has the most toys still dies. Live life without clutter. Live life without fear. Live life without surplus, so that when death does finally find you, it will not find you wanting. Find eternity in memory. Turn legendary possibility into manifested reality and never doubt that my love for you comes without condition.