How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
Included on the recent Justice League soundtrack is “Everybody Knows,” a magnificent song that epitomizes the theme and feel of the movie.
The song was originally produced in 1988 by singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, but the reproduced version, sung by Norwegian pop artist Sigrid, gives it new life and relevancy for our present-day realities, capturing examples of our not-so-innocent lives, which contribute to our mortality. Knowing that our mortal lives are temporal generates an accompanying angst that makes these lives even more burdensome. Sigrid’s remake of “Everybody Knows” is a poetic reminder of the flawed mortality we all possess but have difficulty putting into words.Though Sigrid’s version of “Everybody Knows” is incredibly morbid, it is only so because it is truthful.
We don’t have to read or watch much news to be reminded of our bodies’ temporal state. The North Korean regime consistently continues launching missiles. The objectification of women in our culture is becoming more noticeable. We live in a racialized nation, though now redefined. Various forms of slavery still exist and are on the rise around the globe. Countless other immoral actions are plaguing our societies every day. The closer you listen to ”Everybody Knows,” however, the more you’ll find it a theme for any era of human history, not just ours.
It’s not a hopeful song. Rather, it’s an open lament, an acceptance of our present-day realities. The gentle, yet powerful lyrics—sung beautifully over soft piano keys, deep synths, penetrating violin notes, and subtle on-beat snaps—blend perfectly, presenting paradoxical sounds that parallel our inconsistent lives. We try keeping ourselves entertained and distracted with beautiful things: art, books, movies, music, sports, sex. But we all sense there is something dark and vile lurking around every blind corner. The truth of our mortality, forged by our own doing.
We arrogantly explain why the poor are solely at fault for their lack of wealth, and praise and support the rich, hoping to climb invisible communal ladders for our own gain. Whether we’re on the business, popularity, political, or religious ladder, we need people below us. Consciously or subconsciously, we believe that as long as there are people we can look down on we can always say, “at least I don’t have it as bad as them.” This is why Sigrid’s line, “The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. . . . Everybody talking to their pockets,” rings more true for ourselves than we’d like to acknowledge.
Numerous times, I’ve witnessed children look directly in their parent’s face and directly defy a command. When I witness my friend’s children do something they know they aren’t supposed to do, I’m not surprised. Rebellion is embedded within all of us, to take nibbles of things we shouldn’t. The lie sold to us is that if we have even a little bit of forbidden fruit, our lives will be the better for it.
But we all know something is broken in us, and it is the reason we want what’s been denied us. In these desires and actions, we acknowledge that we aren’t as good as we could or should be. Christmas and New Year’s advertisements flood our entertainment and social spaces to remind us of this longing. Jewelry commercials probably execute the trap best. They promise lovers a sensation of accomplishment, completeness, and intimacy with a gift that will make her feel loved and cherished and him proud and manly. And unfortunately, to varying degrees, we go along, allowing our broken selves to be pimped out by these false advertisements, subconsciously believing material wealth can fix us.
We also wrongly look to potential and present lovers to fulfill what we know is broken within us. But even in our relationships, we fail ourselves. We need our spouses to be our fixers, and we try becoming our spouses’ fixers. But this trade-off leads to more brokenness and dissension. Men begin objectifying, silencing, and disrespecting women to try getting what they think they need to be a “man,” that part of us that is severely broken. And women sometimes believe that they are somehow “less-than” and give themselves over to thinking it is okay to be treated the ways they are. Our grossly and culturally accepted disrespect for women, too commonly passed off as “men will just be men,” is also a result of what we all know: we are fatally broken.
In “Everybody Knows,” the fatality of our brokenness is assumed as self-evident: “Everybody knows that it’s moving fast.” There may or may not be another Exodus-level plague coming, but we know we are all inflicted by a mortality that is affecting our future immortality. And because of this knowledge, “Everybody knows that the naked man and woman / Are just a shining artifact of the past,” so we try immortalizing ourselves with enjoying as much of this life in these bodies as we can. “But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed/That will disclose / What everybody knows”: we’re all going to die.
Though Sigrid’s version is incredibly morbid, it is only so because it is truthful. And because there is no real hope without real truth, the final verse opens a tiny crack in the seemingly closed and darkened curtain: “From the bloody cross on top of Calvary / To the beach of Malibu / Everybody knows it’s coming apart.”
The morbid reality of this life is encapsulated on the bloody cross on top of Calvary. Yeshua—culturally known as Jesus in America—was publicly humiliated and executed because of this world’s darkness. Sigrid sings in the beginning that “the war is over” and “the good guys lost” and “the fight was fixed.” That was seemingly so in the crucifixion, death, and burial of Yeshua. He was the lone truly “good guy” to walk on this planet.
Only because of his perfect life and subsequent death can anyone have genuine hope. But we need him to die. This sounds even more morbid. But yes, we need the perfect man to die so we can live.
If we’re honest, we’d look Yeshua directly in the eye—while nails are hammered and punctured through his wrist and feet—and sing Sigrid’s line, “Everybody knows that it’s me or you.” Thankfully, because of the willful and joyful sacrifice of Yeshua’s sacred heart, he endured such vileness on our behalf. He did this for his joy, which was to glorify his Father in heaven. But he also did it to enable all who now look to him in faith as the only adequate substitute for their brokenness to have hope amidst a hopeless world.
“Everybody Knows” finds its success in exposing what we all subconsciously know and feel. She illuminates the derelict attributes of our wayward souls that we try hiding with darkness. We are all tempted with the desire to conceal our flaws. Yet, in a strange way, this lament of offenses helps heal and strengthen what is broken in all of us by drawing more attention to what is already known: we are broken, which gives rise to a relentless search and desire for an eternal hope.
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