Serene Sunday: Ave Maria

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.

10 thoughts on “Serene Sunday: Ave Maria

  1. Gives new meaning to your blog title.In the RA World, I’ve effectively muted my voice concerning such subjects. They’re in my journal, and I’m currently wrestling with how much to reveal.Suffice to say that I do believe in God, and a very specific one, but I appreciate your remarks.

    • Yes, your blog is wholly devoted to RA so religion is unsuitable. Mine is tangentially related, so I felt I had a bit of leeway.This post is the result finding something to fill on Sundays. I’m interested in all types of music and being from a Christian background, wanted to share some spiritual songs I liked today. Servetus posted a song on her Shabat which I thought lovely so I thought I might share some of my favorites. Then I faced the dilemma of possibly creating a dishonest impression of why I was doing this, hence the preamble. It’s not an effort to proselytize or put down anybody’s beliefs, just sharing something I enjoy. I don’t intend to say anything more at length about religion, per se, in future posts, but will simply present what I think is a remarkable piece of music.

      • I’ve always loved Streisand’s version of that song, and look forward to any music you will post. But also know that I would be glad to look at or read whatever you post.As for my blog, it’s not strictly about RA and never has been. Perhaps it gives that appearance, but that’s not the case.Hope this is a relaxing Sunday for you.

        • I appreciate your encouragement! It was really outside my comfort zone to post this, having never before publicly stated it. Thank you.As for your blog, I stand correct. :)Today is shaping up just fine; snow is expect shortly. (Yes, total snow freak here). Hope yours is the same.

          • Yeah, I think many of us are blogging about Armitage as a way of discussing something else. (Me, too.) I talk about religion a lot because it’s part of my problems. Or maybe that’s putting it too negatively. :)Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that if you were a German there’d be a better niche for you — a lot of people in Germany talk about Kulturprotestantismus — highly educated people who don’t really believe in Christian dogma, but experience something sublime through the appreciation of religious art of various kinds. Some are churchgoers but most are not. This experience is widely understood among Germans and not thought to to need huge amounts of explanation, as it would in the U.S.

            • I looked this up but there wasn’t much information about it (in English anyway) but this concept sounds very interesting. There is a tendency in the U.S. towards things being black and white. For example, if you’re atheist/agnostic, then anything religious should be anathema. Having been trained to see all shades of gray in profession, I can’t really understand that way of thinking.

              • People are socialized into religion really differently in Germany than in the U.S. — this has to do with the legacy of the state churches and their presence in public life today. So the decision to have a religious education is not really a choice in a meaningful way: the state guarantees that every pupil will have some kind of socialization in that sense (even if it’s a secular one. If you don’t enroll in the religion class in school you usually have to take something called “ethics and norms”). This ultimately leads to a different relationship — belief in the sense that many Americans experience it would have to be the result of a concrete choice for a German that it would be hard to make under the same circumstances in the U.S.

  2. To be fair, to secular Europe, the religious zeal of most Americans tend to freak us out just a wee bit. 😉 We also scratch our heads in wonderment when we hear things like in the US, atheists are considered less trustworthy than Islamist terrorists, because “at least the fundamentalists believe in God”. Say whaaaat?!Like you, I don’t believe in God, but in a life-force in nature. Sure, some people might call that God, but to me, “God” sounds too dogmatic and carries too much negative connotations. Needless to say, I enjoyed your post.On another blog, I once wrote a post called Do Atheists celebrate Christmas?. I thought I had a post about why I hesitate to call myself an atheist as well? *checks* Oh, I did, but it’s in Swedish. Never mind. Basically, I hesitate to call myself an atheist because I think they can be about as annoyingly preachy with their beliefs as many religious people. (“I have no problem with God, it’s his fanclub I can’t stand!” – Believe whatever makes you happy, but don’t try and shove it down my throat or try to convert me. Loved Servetus’s posts about Hanukkah, for instance. Heartfelt, informative and honest, not preachy or proselytising. “This is how I roll, welcome to my world – I’m not asking you to join it”.)The way I see it, just because you don’t subscribe to the notion of God, you don’t automatically have to class every other unexplained thing as a load of rubbish. No, I don’t believe in God, but why should that stop me from being open to concepts like reincarnation and/or a spirit world, for instance? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The world is a mysterious place, and as long as we can get along (and perhaps agree to disagree), it doesn’t matter which faith we all subscribe to, because as they say, it’s just like farts anyway. Your own’s okay, other people’s stink. 😉

    • Welcome! Sorry for taking so long to reply Traxy. Toshi seems to like me so I’ll take a run at replying again.I’m a bit freaked about the zeal too. It’s the fundamentalists in this country who giving religion a bad name. More moderate types are actually rational. We have a schizophrenic relationship with religion since our country’s foundings was supposedly about getting away from religioius tyranny. Yet the logical conclusion of this current trend towards extremism is another kind of religious oppression. As a result the atheists are becoming militant in their views as well.Sigh. I would love to live in Europe for awhile at least. Thanks for sharing the post!.

    • This “at least the fundamentalists believe in G-d” thing has a long history in the U.S. The U.S. Constitution legislates very little about religion (the famous “freedom of religion” clause is actually and amendment) except to say that governments shall not require a religious oath for taking public office. This was a law that almost every one of the first states of the Union broke in their state constitutions, and the states’ practices were not overturned until the 1950s when somebody in Maryland sued over being required to take a religious oath in order to become a notary public. [Can you tell I teach a class on this?] These early laws typically specify that office-takers must take a religious oath, usually not a pledge to any specific Christianity, though fairly often they require the person to affirm a belief in the Triune G-d, thus excluding Unitarians and non-Christians. This was essentially because the cultural mood was that if you weren’t afraid of specific divine retribution for transgression your oath would be worth nothing.Thanks for your kind words about the Chanukkah series. Jews don’t proselytize, and I have a Xian pietist childhood behind me, so I’m sensitive to the need to talk about religion in sincere but non-judgmental ways, and I’m glad that you read the posts that way.

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