To Whom the Bells Toll



Why do secular democracies still allow church bells to be a pain in the ass, invading and disturbing people’s private lives? Which part of the lesson on religion-state separation they didn’t get?

It’s always the same: you wake up early for work and still drowsy promise yourself that in the next weekend you’re going to sleep till the cows come home.

Well, I do make such a promise every working day. However, since I moved over five years ago to Mülheim, a small town in west Germany, I could never keep it.

The thing is that about 1 km from my home there are two churches. On Sundays, their bells ring loudly in the morning, probably calling people to the mass. Sometimes the bells may chime for 15 to 20 minutes straight. No, I can’t get my wished sleeping-time stretch.

For me, these bells are not only annoying, but I feel them as an intrusion in my private life; or, as Erza Pound once put it, the bell-ringing “implies the pointless interference with the quiet of other people.” I’m not a Christian, why should I care about prayer calls? Why should I have my routine impolitely disrupted by them?

It’s funny, but many non-religious people to whom I talk about that do not really seem to be annoyed by the bells. They take their ringing for something, say, natural. It’s tradition, they claim. It has always been like that. You just get used to it. Maybe without meaning it, they imply that it’s fine to invoke tradition to justify the interference of religion on people’s private lives.

When I listen to this kind of mis-reasoning, I start to imagine how would the good people of Mülheim react if one of the mosques there started to publicly call for prayers through loudspeakers, as they traditionally do in Islamic countries. (Thank all gods that they don’t do it in Mülheim: there’s a mosque just few blocs away from my home…)

Would that happened, I’m sure that left- and right-wing partisans would be holding hands in front of the Rathaus early in the next day, protesting against the Muslim calls. Liberals would be praying that it’s inadmissible that a religion may impose its proselytism on the general public in a secular democracy (exactly my argument too!); conservatives would be barking their usual bullshit against Islamization of Europe.

Then, how could anyone rationally reconcile the notions that a call for a mass is allowed to be a public pain in the ass, while an adhān isn’t allowed to? Why are traditions from the majority acceptable, but those from minorities not? Why those who just want one more hour in bed have to be awaken by either of them?

Living in Europe, I shouldn’t need to write about the benefits of a secular state, where religion is kept private. This should have been settled decades ago. But the bells toll insists in remembering that it isn’t yet.

I’m not one of those radical atheists, who complain against religion all the time. On the contrary, I see it as an important component for social cohesion and I even enjoy some of their traditions.

But I draw the line at where I can’t choose anymore and religion imposes itself over me, even if it’s a minor deed like their damn bell-ringings invading the peace of my Sunday morning.

Anyway, I already told you, I’m no radical. I’m a liberal focused on results. And I have the prefect solution to make everyone happy: the bell app.

Do you enjoy the bells ringing in the Sunday morning? No matter whether you’re a zealous prayer afraid of missing the 8:00 mass or a traditionalist for whom the chimes evoke a long-gone childhood, just download the bell app into your smartphone. In no time, you will be listening to the bells within the comfort of your home without disturbing anybody else.

I even see a business plan to $atisfy the church: the basic app version is available for free. For a couple of euros, you can choose your favorite bell: the harmony of the Notre-Dame chimes, the polyphony of the Westminster bells, the tradition of the Vatican carillon.

Naturally, the bell app is available for iPhone, Android, and Windows.

Do you like the idea? Then, go in peace and spread the word: #StopTheBells


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  • The only sounds of carillons I appreciate are the “Sons de Carrilhões” by João Pernambuco, in the beautiful interpretation by Dilermando Reis:

Categories: Culture

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1 reply

  1. I’ll pray for you found your inner peace!!! 😉

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