Songs of Praise

Here’s the common thread that runs through half-a-dozen news stories every day. Yesterday, for example: a schoolteacher arrested and charged in Sudan for allowing children to call a teddy bear Muhammad; the poor, ethnically mixed housing estates around Paris going up in smoke again; Israel-Palestine peace talks, with their implications for relations between Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere; a Jewish school in London criticised for insisting that for a child to qualify for admission the applicant’s mother had to be born Jewish; angry scenes in Oxford as a student debating society offers a platform to a Holocaust denier.

Timothy Garton Ash, in The Guardian, might have also mentioned a incident that occurred today in my workplace.

Someone had left a pile of flyers for a performance of sacred music at their local church on the counter in the kitchen. I was intrigued because I happen to enjoy cello music, Christmas Carols and Episcopalian churches and I expect I would find the combination of the three especially pleasing.

A colleague, though, felt that it was inappropriate to advertise a religious service in the workplace and we discussed the topic over email. I made a rather clumsy case for liberal tolerance of religion and so was pleasantly surprised to find, during my lunchtime browsing, TGA’s article making the same case in The Guardian in which he says many wise things.

We do, however, need to be clearer about the difference between secularism and atheism. Secularism, in my view, should be an argument about arrangements for a shared public and social life; atheism is an argument about scientific truth, individual liberation and the nature of the good life.

It’s a good article and I heartily agree with most of it. The comments are (mostly)  good too.

I think western civilisation would be much the poorer without Christmas Carols and a policy that bans flyers for church services in the workplace would not only be unfair (unless it also banned flyers for craft fairs of wives CEOs and Free Kiwis) but would make the workplace a less pleasant place to be.

Not sure why TGA felt it necessary to preface his article with a declaration of his liberal faith…

I’m a liberal, so I start from liberalism – not in the parody version propagated by the American right, but liberalism properly understood as a quest for the greatest possible measure of individual human freedom, compatible with the freedom of others.

… but I kind of like that too.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

8 thoughts on “Songs of Praise”

  1. I don’t think the fliers would be a bad thing. I whole-heartedly agree also that Christmas is a cultural part of America, especially the shopping part. None of the Christmas themed decor of the season bothers me at all. Nor do the Hanuka symbols. I am even tempted to get a tree myself, though I would want it black with red ornaments and lights.

    There are some religious things that are ingrained into our daily lives that do bug me. What do you do when you sit at a dinner table and someone says grace? I usually *look* down and stay quiet (no amen). What would you do if you were *asked* to say grace? I know that I would politely refuse. When saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school, did you skip the “Under God” line like me? In a courtroom, what book does an atheist get to swear on? Would you endure it with a bible? Have you ever attended church with someone for some reason or another just to be respectful? I did for the last time about 9 years ago. It was terrible. They made everyone march in front of the minister and take the bread wafer and if you refused (like I did) they said out loud, “Are you sure?” The common theme to these is that I am expected by social norms to participate and I cannot in good conscious do so.

    Do to the nature of these conversations we have had though, I have changed my posture on what I believe. I no longer answer the question, “What do you believe in,” with a meek response. I now hold my head high and state my belief and I never worry about who hears it. A change for the better I think.

  2. Huh – your comments were stuck in my spam filter. odd.

    I am fine w/ grace. I’ll even say amen. I could probably even muster up some humanistic words of gratitude if the occasion called for it. Wouldn’t enjoy it though.

    Have never been called on to pledge allegiance although I did promise to serve my God, the queen, the Commonwealth and the Sea Cadet Corps on several occasions. To the 14 yr old who said them, they were just words. I wouldn’t say them now.

    I’d happily swear on the bible. It’s the thought that counts and I am a sucker for tradition.

    I went to church nearly every Sunday for several years after we got married. I enjoyed hearing what The Bish had to say. He was a good speaker. Still enjoy going to church when the occasion calls for it.

    Never received communion. Never felt pressure to do so. Contrarian that I am, if I were forced to go to church, I would refuse.

    At my girlfriend’s funeral in Malta, I was invited to deliver the Salt and Vinegar (whatever it was) to the priest. I felt very self conscious and had to decide whether to wave my hands around in cross-like gestures and whether to genuflect when I crossed the aisle like I had noticed everyone else doing. I decided I would not. I simply nodded my head respectfully when I handed over the Holy Condiments.

    When asked what I believe, I too hold my head high and pronounce my creed in a loud clear voice. It feels good.

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