Saturday, March 24, 2012

Secular Sabbath

Earlier today I got to participate in a panel at Columbia University on Alternative Comics in NY and used the time afterwards to wander around uptown. It's an area I never get to, so it was visiting a new place, which, if you read this blog regularly, you know is one of my favorite things in life. Anyway, I went trudging up Riverside Drive and came across the Riverside Church, a beautiful Gothic behemoth covered with ornate carvings.

As I passed each carving and took in their superb craftsmanship, the subject matter reminded me of why I left organized religion. Look at these people:

An obvious reading is that this is a representation of Heaven, and of the icons of holiness and piety. But what I see is a giant, well-appointed tenement filled with solemn people being judgmental. And early on, I remember thinking that if Heaven is a giant, joyless banquet of judginess and ass-kissing of the divine, I really didn't want any part of it.

I decided first on agnosticism, and then on atheism. It seems to me that one of the great challenges of the 21st Century is to achieve a public morality that has nothing to do with God. Too much violence, too many bad laws, too many cynical power grabs, and far, far too much repression have been achieved under the guise of religious morality. I self-identify as an atheist because I think life is too important to put any power higher than that of human goodness. Human evil is, of course, the inverse, and organized religion attempts to curb that. But I think, ultimately, people should do the right things because they're the right things to do, not because there's a cookie waiting for them on the other side of the death bed. I think we should cherish the relationships we have in our life while we're here, because a spiritual reunion in the hereafter is much less important than the beauty of the bonds we can form in the material world.

When I walk past a church like this, I see vast beauty created by human hands and human minds. I can't imagine a power more creative and transcendent than those two things.

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