The bridge ends in midair

Meanwhile, James Croft is struggling.

Obama was exercising his capacity for leadership at a time of extraordinary uncertainty, when the USA is wracked with debate about the reasons for those terrible events, and he drew heavily upon the reservoir of his Christian faith to do so. Repeatedly quoting scripture, enjoining Americans to kneel and pray, and movingly speaking of the heaven to which he believes Christina Taylor Green has gone, jumping in puddles. This is truly faith and leadership in a fragmented world.

Well, I would rather he didn’t enjoin us to kneel and pray. I don’t think there’s anyone to pray to, and if I did, I don’t think I would want to pray to it. What would be the point? To ask it not to do it again? To thank it? To ask it to make everyone feel better?

And the idea of Christina Taylor Green in heaven jumping in puddles isn’t really all that moving or comforting once you think about it. She was nine, not three; she wanted more than just jumping in puddles; she wanted worldly things, like politics and meeting her Congressional Representative. She wouldn’t have wanted some fluffy fantasy-life where she just jumped in puddles all day. Notice it doesn’t sound very moving to say Christina Taylor Green has gone to heaven where she is meeting a different, dead Congressional Representative. One wonders what they would talk about, and what the point would be. It doesn’t work. That’s because we’re human beings, not angels, and we want human things, things of this world. It’s childish to let ourselves be fobbed off with talk of bending the knee and a dead child frolicking in the sky.

The thing is, though, Croft realizes this. His problem is that he’s agonizing about it. I don’t think he needs to.

I can see that Obama’s faith provides him with both courage and hope – essential qualities in a leader facing dark times – and I am challenged by the thought that much atheist writing provides neither.

That’s one thought too many. Much writing of all kinds provides neither courage nor hope some of the time, but that doesn’t mean it never does. Much atheist writing is simply talking about other things; that is not a reason to conclude that atheism can’t possibly provide courage and hope. On the contrary: atheism dispenses with many sources of needless fear and despair.

Yet I recogniz[e], too, that I cannot join the ranks of Americans bending knee to pray while remaining true to my beliefs, to myself. I must express my shock and sadness in another way. I’m standing outside the church, my face pressed against the stained-glass windows, longing for solidarity with those inside, but unable to cross the threshold.

Wait until they come out. Join them somewhere else. Seriously. Church is not the only place we can find solidarity with people. It is a handy, ready-made, familiar one, but it’s not the only one.

I don’t see belief in God as “another way of understanding the world”, or as “a different route to truth”. I see it as wrong. Mistaken. Unsupported.This realization – that despite the positive connotations of the word I cannot consider myself a true religious pluralist (at least in Eck’s terms) – has troubled me. I strive for respect in my work and writing, and I want to make it clear the majority of those attending the workshop next week that I respect and value them as people. But Eck’s description has led me to the understanding that I cannot honestly say that I respect their faith. There truly is a gap between my worldview and a religious one, and despite the best efforts of Stedman and the Foundation Beyond Belief, I see no authentic way to bridge it. However much I respect an individual and work beside them, I cannot put the Sun of God in the center of my intellectual solar system. However grave the situation, however powerful the incitement, I cannot bend my knee to nothing. I am stuck outside the church, face pressed against the glass.

And it’s getting cold.

You don’t have to bridge the gap – and I would say you shouldn’t. You can’t expect to believe that all human beings are right about everything. Build solidarity independently of belief.

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