I don’t believe in God.
Let me rephrase that: I don’t believe in the omnipotent arbitrary supreme being advocated by Western religion. But I’m not atheist. I can’t empirically prove there isn’t a God any more than I can prove there is one. I think there is a life force that exists in nature which we aren’t required to praise or appease, it just is. I call myself agnostic because people are comfortable with the label and it’s least likely to provoke a negative reaction. To put a fine point on it, I’m a secular humanist. However I find people have trouble grasping the notion that morality doesn’t have to flow from religion.
It has been argued that religion is man’s defense mechanism in response to awareness of his own mortality. This is a valid point. Yet I reject the stridency of militant atheists who declaim that believers are fools and religion is the opiate of the masses. It is religious institutions and contrived rules devised by man, which distort the message and is the source of great harm, that I distrust. That being said, there is a place for religion in the world. People like to believe there is a point to their lives, that all that striving isn’t for nothing, that somebody cares and watching over them. Belief can be a source of comfort because it suggests a sense of order to this chaotic world. Most of the great religions advocate love and compassion for fellow creatures, and if people can’t find that within themselves but need belief in a higher being to motivate them, then it’s still all good. I support people believing what they want as long as they don’t feel entitled to force their beliefs on others.
This view took years of deep soul searching. Oddly, the first Christmas after I stopped calling myself a Christian I was in a quandary: did this mean I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my beloved carols anymore? How could I play my 24 versions of O Holy Night without feeling a hypocrite? The word I received from a minister turned atheist was this: do you really need to believe the words to appreciate the song? So I listened again. I realized the musical arrangement was still haunting. The voices were still beautiful. The simplicity of the lyrics were still lovely even though I didn’t subscribe to the meaning. I hummed secular songs whose words meant nothing to me. It dawned that I didn’t have to get mystic to find the carol beautiful or any other spiritual piece. Religious music can not only be devotional, but also powerfully soothing and serene.
So on Sundays, I would like share some of my favorite religious songs as well as any others I come across. Here is a prime example of how a song can still be compelling, even though the singer has a different religious background: Barbara Streisand singing Ave Maria, Bach/Gounod version.