Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Mass for Atheists

Over the past five years, my thinking about religion has evolved more quickly than at any other point in my already notoriously fickle history of beliefs, disbeliefs, church-joining and church-leaving.
After all my flipflopping and recidivism and born-again this or that, I have finally reached what I sincerely hope is my "final" spiritual phase:  simple, unrepentant atheism.

Or, more accurately, I suppose, agnosticism--since I am not absolutely "sure" that there is no God--I merely see no evidence that there is and I therefore suspect that there is not.

Consequently, for the sake of intellectual integrity, I have found myself obliged to discontinue my participation in all rites, rituals and ceremonies associated with an almost certainly non-existent supernatural being.

Interestingly, though, this withdrawal from religious ritual has caused me considerably more grief than has my renunciation of Christian belief.  Quite honestly, I find that I do not miss any of the untestable and unprovable dogmas enumerated in the Nicene Creed--but I DO miss the simple (mindless) recitation of the Credo itself--as part of a regular, unchanging, reliable liturgy--something I can count on to calm me, console me and, yes, mesmerize me, emptying my mind of all thought.  I wonder how many Catholics (or Episcopalians or Lutherans) would admit that, when it comes right down to the nitty gritty, what they truly believe in--much more than in God or Jesus or Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation or whatever--is the beautiful and utterly mind-numbing mumbo-jumbo of the Mass itself.

Priests, shamans, witch doctors, kahunas--all have known, for as long as mankind has contemplated the mystery of life, that we humans require regular doses of mumbo-jumbo (i.e., magic) in order to infuse our otherwise humdrum and painful lives with a sense of wonder, joy, and communion with others.  So no matter how they defined or envisioned the "transcendance" they served, mankind's spiritual magicians have always sought ways to impress us, awe us, excite us, exalt us--with displays of beauty (or horror) that unabashedly appeal to all our senses.

Unsurprisingly, earth's holy men and women are well-paid for their efforts--not always with money, to be sure--but with respect and power.  Also unsurprisingly, some take selfish advantage of their position, duping and exploiting their "faithful."  Fortunately, others choose to use their ceremonies--their sacraments--primarily to serve, primarily to bring about in their fellows that sense of joy, gratitude and communion that Christians call "the eucharist."

But, alas, ALL of this "good" stuff is traditionally dispensed within the context of an organized religion, a rigorous system of beliefs largely insulated from evidence and reason--including nonsensical and (in my opinion) frequently unjust and harmful demands for human behavior.  That "bad" context is what I feel must be discarded, lest the total package be more injurious than beneficial.  Yet I would dearly love to keep the "good" stuff--the rituals, the eucharistic magic.

So I wonder how long it will take for atheists and agnostics to realize that we, too, despite our rejection of the mythological and dogmatic context, nonetheless have a very real need for transformative ritual--for a kind of "church" or "congregation of unbelievers" who meet regularly and celebrate all that is joyful, sacred and mystically binding in purely human life.  A John Lennon sort of celebration.  A John Lennon (dare I say it?) sort of church.

When will we begin organizing such fellowships? And when will we formulate our own liturgies and sacraments for our meeting days?  When, in short, will we be able to attend a "Mass for Atheists"?

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