Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns



Finding Atheism a godzillon metres above the ground,on a SAA flight to San Paulo, might not be the most advisable of epiphanies to find yourself having.Best wait, might I advise, till grounded on more substantial terra firma . Such was the lesson I was to learn last week, after reading- mid flight- Richard Dawkins impassioned (if not all together- life changing) ¨”The God Delusion”. So convincing is his polemic :Religion shown up to be the supernatural hoey that deep down our rational minds have always suspected it to be. So irrefutable the evidence ( his Darwin for dummies approach, particularly insighful) that one can only hope that the god fearing nutters, who govern and war beneath the dictates of a dusty volume of out dated fairy tales, would take a good and preferably long, open minded look.As novelist Julian Barnes claims on the overleaf ” This book should be read by everyone from atheist to monk. If its merciless rationalism doesn’t enrage you at some point, you probably aren’t alive.”

Thankfully “The God Delusion” doesn’t express the bleak- well now that gods dead does that mean we are destined to crawl and suffer uselessly across the face of the earth- type existentialism. Rather it provides a ridiculously enlightening and liberating re-education into our scientific (sans the big bearded guy in the sky) world of wonders. A reminder of the here and imminently miraculous “now”. Forging purpose and truth no longer in non -sensical speculation of yester year, relinquishing the terror of past incarnation, the horrific potential of future damnation. In short read it, for its a cause worth believing in. Before attempting to save the whales, the ozone, the decimated rain Forrest’s, we should turn our efforts to salvaging humanity’s logic from its own perilously over excitable and gullible imaginings.

And so it is with this revelation, that upon completing the book (several minutes prior to landing) I exalt- God damn it I’m an atheist! No longer afraid to concede my agnostic indifference . Dawkins encourages us to avoid playing it safe, you know the just in case , cowardly fence sitting stance to which most of us are guilty of. You either in or you out. So yes, I decide I am a full blown, out the closet & proud of it- Atheist. I say it now without a hint of fear. Safe from ever having to dread providing the tortured flesh to Beelzebub’s eternal barbecue. I realise only a moment later that such confidence may have proven, well, a little premature. For just as our flight is coming in to land, the plane suddenly lurches upward, causing horrified gasps from the passengers. A terrific storm has broken and rain begins to lash the aircraft windows. Suspicious engine noises hum below.

At this moment I begin to reconsider (hell even curse) my new found Atheistic leanings. Ones memory has the habit of working in the most torturous of ways, and I find myself recalling the recent slew of South African Airways calamities, ie: a plane engine (Ala Donnie Darko) plunging unexpectedly from aircraft wing mid flight. Then of course there is San Paul- the very wet runway our plane is destined (or not) for, which just three months ago saw a TAM Airlines Air Bus collide, killing all 200 hundred of its passengers.

Now I attempt to swear myself a Mormon, curse Dawkins and his delusions and wonder whether I have packed a high factor sun tan lotion- for my lengthy new vacation in hell.

‘Er..hello God, hi its me again, I’d like to maybe retract one or two of the comments I made earlier, can have ‘un momento’ to rethink my options-yes? NO! The plane shudders, rain pelts, children start to wail. No word of re -assurance comes from the cockpit. I clutch my Saint Christopher, worn under my late grandmothers insistence (but also, if I may confess-for superstitious fence sitting purposes.) Now I mumble the semblance of an apologetic prayer but to what avail? I have willingly, yes even foolishly just expelled the skies of my celestial hearing aid. I’m an atheist remember-and atheism (like Africa I suppose) is not for sissies. There’s no turning back. Despite the separation anxiety, no dialling Nirvana 911 as imminent catastrophe looms. You’re on your own kid and so with no one left to turn to, I contemplate weeping my last rites into the bosom of a Brazilian mama beside me but am thankfully spared that humiliation when rubber bumps tar and an announcement apologises for the turbulence, welcoming us to San Paulo International.

Upon landing I find my Saint Christopher necklace wedged in sweaty palm, a token akin (and about as comforting) to still wearing ones wedding ring after having just undergone a brief but nonetheless very messy divorce.

PROLOUGE- a bracelet of saints


Yesterday on a subway in Buenos Aries, a ratty haired girl placed a plastic bracelet on my knee. A gift i thought, till her extended palm implored otherwise. Disgruntled, I parted with two pesos, then while toying with the trinket I saw that upon its twelve beads were painted diminutive portraits. Saints? I might have guessed: doe eyed Christ with incandescent heart blazing from chest or Santa Maria, lascivious babe groping at her breast. But no rather than resembling these supernatural super stars- Catholicisms ubiquitous Shlebs, they appeared to be a pantheon of twelve of my own dearly departed. Faces familiar and of instant comfort. For brevity’s sake I will draw attention to two of the Saints depicted on the bracelet as it is these two, I am certain will contribute significantly toward my journey ahead. Firsly I find Saint Ricardo- a vagabond with his melancholy Accordion, whose sultry song oozes like the juice from teeth torn mangoes, re uniting errant lovers in demeted San Telmo Tangoes. Here in the shadows of these cobbled streets, tipping hat at two pensioners ambling by. So begins his Buenos Aries lament, peddling fingers, meddling keys and through hearing aids they how felt it hummmmmm, for soon they had discarded walkers, locking limbs, lips-the remains of their withered loins. Snt Ricardo relieving the nostalgic niggle from porous bones, inciting cloudless skies into torrential catharsis. I might have guessed you’d follow me here, or perhaps it is i who has followed you? And finally Santa Rosalind (Sister Sunshine to some) who despite her age of seventy years, hauls me over her shoulder with the might of twenty Saint Christophers. Depicted on my bracelet with dangling fag and naughty smirk, fish net stocking- all push up perk. Saint of curiosity and misadventure. (Ware you Virgin Mare, ware you). No death did not my Saints apart, but united them- here- braced on wrist and bound in heart. Onward, upward, into the unknown. Solitary, perhaps even a little uncertain but certainly never alone.