Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oh God! Book 6:24-26

At my friend Ann's funeral, the rabbi started his talk by saying that Ann had made him promise that there would be no mention of God at the funeral.  She did not believe in God, she loved to debate whether God existed, and her willingness to acknowledge publicly her atheism grew stronger in recent years.  When she and I went to the spa in Ojai four years ago, she was reading Christopher Hitchens' tome, God is Not Great a little light reading for a short holiday. After her cancer diagnosis, she joked with me that God was apparently punishing her for reading books like that.  But in the end, her disease did not cause her to adopt a faith she never had in order to find comfort.  I know that she struggled with the issues of faith under the bleak circumstances of her last years, but concluded, for example, that she did not have faith due to lack of the religiosity gene that was a matter of discussion in recent years.

I could not finish God is Not Great,  but I did read Richard Dawkins" The God Delusion.  I found the tone annoying. Why do vocal atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens  (who as one might expect also has strong opinions about his own  terminal cancer) think they are the smartest people on earth? However,  I thought some of the ideas in Dawkins' book were intriguing and as a result started to lean toward atheism as well. Other than in my young childhood when I went to parochial school,  I have never been much of a believer.  Although I was raised Roman Catholic, my view of religion could for a long time be summed up in the religion I thought about starting in college called the "apathists"--because we just do not care about religion. Perhaps, like Ann,  I do not have the religiosity gene either, particularly given how hard my mother tried to get me to believe and observe, which is why I forced my religiously unaffiliated husband to go through a Catholic wedding, including weeks of "education" before we could get married in the Catholic Church.  And the Dawkins' book explained that the origins of life as we know it are the result of evolution, which makes  as much sense as, and maybe even more than,  a divine creator.  I am also not impressed by the argument that God must exist given the pervasiveness of religious beliefs.  Perhaps as a species we are too wedded to notions of causes for what we see around us rather than the seeming randomness of mutation and selection. And humankind is abundant in its ideas about deity, which I have done my best to study over the years, reading people like Karen Armstrong and Bart Erdman.  Whether there is one true God or deity exist in animal spirits is a question of faith, not empiricism or rational thought and argument.

I look at nature and its wonders and do not see a divine creator/source.  The only thing that gives me pause as to whether there is a divine creator is music, particularly classical music.  Evolution could have led us to produce and love a pounding beat and simple melodies.  But the complex harmonies that derive from the musical scale that we perceive with such pleasure,  as well as complex rhythms, suggest to me divine intervention.  How could this combination of events, which are so organized in structure, be the result of evolution?  But I am just musing, which is what I do here.

As for my friend Ann, I need to listen to my favorite music to cope with her death.  She did not like classical music.  Country was her thing, one of the few areas where we disagreed.  And she would not want someone invoking God to mourn her.  But I am comforted by the music of  John Rutter which is so holy and reverent and ultimately ironic because John Rutter is also not a believer. (He describes himself in a 2009 interview with Alan Macfarlane as "friend, fellow traveller, and agnostic supporter of the Christian faith".)  This song below was composed for the 1981 funeral of John Rutter's mentor, Edward Chapman, and is based on text from Numbers 6: 24-26  (part of the Priestly Blessing) which makes it so appropriate for mourning an atheist who was born a Jew. Listen to where the Rutter version resolves up on the last "peace" which I hope is what Ann has found, even if she is  in God's countenance and arguing with him/her whether he/she exists. I love you Ann and miss you beyond words.

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