Jennifer Michael Hecht’s Poetic Atheism
The following talk by author Jennifer Michael Hecht is highly recommended. My own comments follow below…
Hecht brings up many wonderful points in her brief talk. A key point that is certainly relevant to Sacred River is the idea that atheism doesn’t have to be antagonistic towards the idea of religion/spirituality. No doubt many visitors here are familiar with thinkers such as Dawkins and Hitchens who are downright militant towards religion, and it is no surprise that they have become the public banners for non-theism. Although I myself agree with 90% of what they have to say, that 10% difference is rather critical, and it seems that Ms. Hecht is of like mind.
Specifically, I agree with her that there is a place for communal and personal ritual in our lives and that it is beneficial to seek out transcendent states, two things that historically fall under the provence of religion. I also agree that there is no need for gods or supernaturalism to have them. Hecht is one of those who believe that life can be fulfilling and wondrous without the need for the metaphysical, even while looking towards structures and models that we call religious.
Something that Sacred River hasn’t yet delved into is the subject of death, which Hecht rightfully suggests is a key component of religion. As she says, millions of people go to a building once a week to stare at an image of a dead guy. While Sacred River will not adopt the morbid elements of resurrection worship, it is important to address the meaning and import of death, to allow our knowledge of human mortality to make our lives richer and brighter.
We stand with those who say that non-theism can be much more than a movement of NO. Religious naturalism is one promising manifestation of that notion. While we at Sacred River explicitly reject supernaturalism of any kind, we also embrace human excellence, beauty and imperfection, the majesty of Nature, the challenges and comforts of intentional community, and our ability to transcend the everyday and see ourselves as part of the sacred web of being. The universe is so stupendously complex and amazing that—even as science offers the best way to comprehend it—it requires art, poetry, and music to even begin to capture our experience of it. And is this not one of key elements of any religion, to provide a system for transmitting an understanding of reality and what it means to be a living part of the world? At one time (and, alas, for many people still), God (and his supporting cast) was the best possible model for all we didn’t grasp; now it is time for new models that reflect the grandeur, terror, and ecstasy that is life.