Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter and the Longing to See Pharoah's Army Drowned: A Project in Which Atheists, Agnostics, and People of Faith Should Be Able to Collaborate

In this Easter Sunday's New York Times, philosopher William Irwin describes a strategy for people who question the notion of God who want to contribute to meaningful conversations in the public square — especially in the public square of a culture like that of the U.S., which is saturated with religion that is often downright demonic. For many of us who really want a viable alternative to demonic religion that has harmed us, and who welcome the persuasive critique of religion offered by our atheist or agnostic friends, the absolute, dogmatic certainty of those same friends places us between a rock and a hard place: it's the mirror image of the dogmatic religious demon from which we want to escape, in order to find safety. 

Irwin writes (and I say amen),

People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.

What to do, for those of us seeking escape from the demonic face often displayed to us by people who believe in God? What to do, when we're told by our atheist-agnostic friends that they represent a viable alternative to demonic religion that has hurt many of us — but when all that we can see in their militant atheistic-agnostic dogmatism is simply another version of that same demonic face?

Irwin concludes, 

What is important is the common ground of the question, not an answer. Surely, we can respect anyone who approaches the question honestly and with an open mind. Ecumenical and interfaith religious dialogue has increased substantially in our age. We can and should expand that dialogue to include atheists and agnostics, to recognize our common humanity and to stop seeing one another as enemy combatants in a spiritual or intellectual war. Rather than seeking the security of an answer, perhaps we should collectively celebrate the uncertainty of the question. 
This is not to say that we should cease attempts to convince others of our views. Far from it. We should try to unsettle others as we remain open to being unsettled ourselves. In a spirit of tolerance and intellectual humility, we should see ourselves as partners in a continuing conversation, addressing an enduring question.

And I think he's absolutely right about that. Why would those of us worn out from warfare — from being caught always in the middle of war we haven't started and do not wish for our lives— want more warfare? For us, the idea of being on pilgrimage to a more humane world is likely to be far more vital and compelling — along with the idea of traveling to that destination with anyone else, believer or non-believer, religionist or anti-religionist, who shares that vision and is willing to deal with us humanely, to treat us with respect and humanity, in contrast to so many people we encounter every day who exhibit that demonic face of religious certainty to us.

A good Sunday, a happy Easter to those celebrating that holiday, to all of  you readers. The video: Some of these mornings bright and fair, going to take my wings and cleave the air. Pharaoah's army got drownded! We sang this old black spiritual full of hope and pain and exultation at the vanquishing of oppression at the seder supper Steve and I attended last night at a black Baptist church. 

As we prayed together and sang, we remembered all those who have gone before us in the struggle for liberation — Martin and Malcolm, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth, Harvey Milk and Audre Lorde — and we remembered the struggles through which many of us continue to live, as we seek liberation and resurrection. I woke this Easter morning with the lyrics of the song bright and fair in my mind, as I live towards a future in which I hope to see pharaoah's army drowned one more time in places like the state of North Carolina and Georgia, as those states assault the humanity of people like me who happen to have been born LGBTQ.

And, yes, pharaoah's army musters in the Vatican, too. And I read "drowned" as a metaphor: I certainly don't relish the thought of people being drowned in a literal sense. I do relish the thought of oppressive power being drowned, however — and that's what I hear as I sing these verses.

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