Acting on reliable information that a group of atheists have petitioned the SOG (Seat of Government) to create a position within the Chaplains Corps of the Armed Forces of these Untied Sates for an Atheist Chaplain I first went to my dictionary, then Wikipedia for some guidance as to what, exactly, an Atheist Chaplain would be. I found none. But, there must be some mold into which such a thing may be poured, and that being done, there must be something it, well he or she, could do once so conformed to type. If precedent is followed, it means there will be created, at least in the Armed Services, regular Chaplain led Atheist, umm worship?, services on a day regularly set aside for such things. Muslims already have Friday. Jews have Saturday. Christians, I hope, still have Sunday, but nothing’s guaranteed. I’m not sure but I think Wiccans and Pagans and New Agers have whatever day looks good.
Perhaps Atheists will take Monday, for Moon-day.
Anyway, in the spirit of welcome from the already worshiping multitudes I have been thinking this morning of offering atheists a framework for a regular , umm, well sort of worship service, and struggling all the while with coming up with a name to call it. It can’t be anything like Mass because of course that word means meal and what is eaten is the Bread of Life which brings salvation and Everlasting Life; two things in which no self-respecting non-believing atheist could possibly believe. How odd that sounds now that I read it, but how true. Any atheist worth his/her salt believes, actually, in nothing. Creation? No! From what, how, why, they would ask. And, don’t dare mention the word Who. Good? Evil? Heaven? Hell? Truth? Beauty? Love? Hate? Virtue? Vice? At the best, a smart atheist would probably finesse each question by saying, “It all depends.” This was, essentially, the answer Sartre gave to everything; I meant to write existentially, of course. “It all depends”, and “Lemme get back to you”, atheists and siding salesmen, separated at birth?
Anyway this morning the thought occurred to my mind as I said to offer them something to do during the time set aside for them to gather as a group of non-believers and witness to the absence among them. Well, that’s an odd sounding construction, too; on a par with that bit about non-believing believers above. The possibilities are positively Hellerish, as a professor friend has already noticed.
Perhaps it’s better put in this way: witness to the non-presence of… No, that doesn’t work any better, and Festivus is taken. Anyway, I’m sure they’ll come up with something to call it. Atheists, I have heard, are smart folks; which says a thing or two about mere human intelligence left on its own.
Having put aside the problem of a title for what atheists will do on their day, I’d like to offer them my thoughts on exactly what they may do. Since I am a Catholic the form of, err, worship for want of another word, I’m suggesting is based on the one I am most familiar with, the Holy Mass in the Latin Rite. I don’t wish to suggest they actually use Latin which may upset the traditionalist Atheists out there… Funny, the concept of a traditional atheist yearning for a return to a Latin atheist , umm worship, service had me laughing out loud just now. But, atheists are big fans of what is pleasantly called Sacred Music if you must know the truth, most of which is sung in Latin. Attend a concert of such music and half the wet eyes in the audience, I guarantee you, will be atheist eyes.
Anyway, feel free to tweak the following if you think of something which will help these folks get their act up and going. Make any suggestion that comes to mind as you read by which they may be helped to meet and give thanks for and praise to…to…err, each other?…for…for…well, umm…stuff…and, and…each other?…to, umm…well, whatever… for the greater good of…ahhhh…you know?
We start with a song. We’ll not call it a hymn, and you know why; too many negative associations. So, let’s call it The First Song. I’m thinking something along the lines of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel would be great here for it’s denial of responsibility and simultaneous celebration of random and chaotic successions of events, perfect atheist non-theology. It establishes a theme based on the “It all depends.” fall back position, a sort of “Quien sabe?” kind of thing, a kind of devil may care insouciance that epitomizes the best atheist response to existence.
After this warm up, this loosening up, there ought to be something similar to an opening prayer, which is just plain silly for a group of atheists. No one prays to themselves. But, I think we could do something along those very lines. Here the Chaplain would say: “Let’s stand tall and think how nice we just sounded, and how nice it is to be here in this, umm, big room right now.” Then he or she could read something from Garrison Keillor’s Poem for the Day thing on NPR.
Getting right into it, two or three people then would come up to the front of the , umm, congregation in the , uhh, big room and read selections from…. Well from anything, really, anything that would help them, or make everyone feel good about, oh, stuff; a New York Times editorial, a Maureen Dowd op-ed on Catholicism, anything from a Dan Brown, Ayn Rand, Ann Rice or Jacqueline Susann novel, Time, America, Commonweal or the National Catholic Reporter. Whatever.
When they sit down, the Chaplain gives a little talk about anything he thinks is nice to talk to a bunch of folks about. I don’t think this should be called a sermon. Lecture is a better word; the kind of thing any college professor, many of who are atheists, do all the time. In fact any college professor would be happy to stop by and give a lecture to such a group, I’m sure, and consider it a civic duty so to do; especially if they were social scientists.
After the lecture is done, the Chaplain then invites everyone to stand while he leads them in the Statement of Non-belief. I am working on one, soon to be posted on this blog as a, err, worship aid. I thought of a very simple, “NOPE!”, but discarded that idea as not being properly liturgical.
After the recital of the S o N B there will come a period when all gather around a common table to share in a communal feast of Dry Sack, water crackers and two year old aged cheddar; a brief refreshment and opportunity to experience the closeness of people who don’t have anything in common with one another except their non-belief. One or two people, not a choir since that would over power the conversation, could sing something like “Bring in the Clouds” softly in the background. Either that or a similar song would be wonderful for the ambiance, so necessary in gatherings of this type.
As this winds down, the Chaplain draws everything to a close with a simple, “Well, I guess that’s about it. Don’t forget to think about yourself this week.” All respond, “Yeah. You bet.”
On major, I can’t call them feasts or holy day, how about “Big Deals”, “Special Days”, or something like that, the form of dismissal could be along these lines:
CHAPLAIN: “Go forth and be the best you can be; whatever best means to you at this time and place, however you conceive being to be for yourself alone, careful not to impose on however anyone else, if they exist, is in being with you.”
ATHEISTS: ” You bet! You really bet!”
The last song? “My Way” of course.