Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I sound my barbaric yawp

The New York Times has jumped on the bandwagon of media covering the supposed rise of atheism. I'm not surprised by the continued coverage; after all, it's not the first time these observations have been made. Three things struck me about that particular article. First of all, the pictured board member of the Secular Humanists of Lowcountry is also a church musician, which I find ironic and mildly troubling.

Second, the organizers likened the new-found visibility of atheists and agnostics to "coming out of the closet." This group (and others like it) are getting attention simply because people are willing to stand up and announce their beliefs (or lack of belief). How many of us are willing to do the same? Even simple things matter: does your Facebook page state your religious affiliation and link to Bethany's web site? Atheists and agnostics may have been an invisible minority for quite some time, but are mainstream Christians becoming an invisible majority as we turn our attention inwards to ever-smaller congregations?

Third, people who join an agnostic group are missing the irony. They often become dogmatic and orthodox in their own way, coming together as a group for mutual support, acting nearly "religious" in their fervor, and resembling the purpose of a church in several respects - community, conversation, and a shared quest for meaning.

Refrains of Whitman's Leaves of Grass kept drifting through my mind as I read the article. I dug out my old copy from my undergrad days and was struck again by the pagan/deistic/pantheistic theology that suffuses the verses. Like the best poets and musicians, Whitman asks more questions than he gives answers. One line that I particularly like is the confession that "I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least." (Follow the link to read the whole thing - it's infinitely more brilliant than any of my ramblings!)

MacDowell composed a Requiem Mass using Whitman's poetry, and I think for many troubled agnostics the thrilling language of a thinking seeker may be the perfect remedy for a confused agnosticism. We need to help point the way, as always, by "coming out" in our own way, sounding a Christian yawp with our bells and our hymns and our daily actions.

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