Poetry Sunday: Credo

Today I’m proud to introduce another new feature to Daylight Atheism, Poetry Sunday. While we atheists see no need to attend church, every human being’s life could use a touch of beauty and artistry now and then. And what better time to celebrate human creativity, and appreciate the perspective on the wide world it gives us, than the day when the Christian faithful are sitting on musty pews listening to stale sermons?

And for the first Poetry Sunday, I’m privileged to have a very distinguished contributor: Philip Appleman. Those readers who are members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation may already know of Professor Appleman, whose work appears regularly in the FFRF’s Freethought Today newsletter and Freethought Radio podcast.

Professor Appleman is also the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Department of English at Indiana State University, the author of seven volumes of poetry and numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including the widely used Norton Critical Edition, Darwin. His poetry has won many awards, including a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education, and the Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association. His work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, and elsewhere. His latest book is New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996, from which I take today’s poem, “Credo”. It is reprinted here by permission.


I am modern. And educated. And reasonable.
And I believe in Jesus Christ, son
of the living God.
When they tell me He
was born of a virgin, I say, well,
it’s unusual, of course, but in the arms of God,
anything is possible…
When they tell me that a bright new star
appeared in the eastern sky,
shining over His manger, I say, well,
I know it’s not customary
to improvise stars like that, but remember,
we set up searchlights now, just
to open a used-car lot, and after all,
this is the Son of God, isn’t it?…
They tell me He cast out demons,
and I say, well,
you have to understand the peculiar idiom
of a given historical time…
They tell me His voice could calm a tempest,
and I reflect on all the unexplained
of our physical world…
They tell me His touch cured blindness,
made the lame walk, the lepers clean,
and brought corpses back to life—
and I’m reminded of the psychic component
of so much modern medicine…
They tell me He fed five thousand
with five loaves and two fishes,
that He walked on the surface of the sea,
that He rose from the dead—
and I relish the poetic truth
of those venerable symbols.

In the backward villages of Asia,
the gods have as many limbs
as spiders, and take on monstrous forms
as quickly as a cloud. The natives,
shrouded in their age-old ignorance
and superstition, believe
the most bizarre tales about them,
despite the best efforts
of our enlightened missionaries.

Other posts in this series:

Alabama Speaking Recap
Weekend Bonus Music: Hard Believer
You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
A Christian vs. an Atheist: On God and Government, Part 11
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • terrence

    Love that poem so much I am prompted to get his books….the entry reminded me of the below, by Pablo Neruda:

    Religion in the East

    There in Rangoon I realized that the gods
    were enemies, just like God,
    of the poor human being.
    in alabaster extended
    like white whales,
    gods gilded like spikes,
    serpent gods entwining
    the crime of being born,
    naked and elegant buddhas
    smiling at the cocktail party
    of empty eternity
    like Christ on his horrible cross,
    all of them capable of anything,
    of imposing on us their heaven,
    all with torture or pistol
    to purchase piety or burn our blood,
    fierce gods made by men
    to conceal their cowardice,

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I second the idea of obtaining some of Prof. Appleman’s books. His poetry is truly wonderful; I plan to feature him for at least the next few Poetry Sundays (which I’ll probably do one or two of per month), so people can get a better idea of the way he writes.

    Terrence, I believe your poem (another great one, by the way!) ends like this:

    “and there it was all like that,
    the whole earth reeking of heaven,
    and heavenly merchandise.”

  • Alex Weaver

    I never could write poetry. x.x It’s nice though.

  • terrence

    quite so..gremlins clipped off the ending. No, I can’t prove they exist…

  • anti-nonsense

    I’ve got a lot of poetry in my head, but I rarely get it out on paper and I think of it once and then it goes away.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I may be dragging this post off topic, but when it comes to me, I found that poetry became much, much easier once I read The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry and started using form. Any form will do, but I work best with strict ones: sonnet, sestina, villanelle. You see, no matter what you do, to write a good poem you need to be thinking about the overall structure as well as the individual lines. If you’re writing within a set form, that aspect of it comes naturally. Besides which, there are no many things you can do with rhyme and metre! Even when you don’t have a set metre to the poem (like in most sestinas), having worked with metre before means that you end up hearing the beat of the poem and using it even when it’s irregular. It’s a really great way to learn.

    I reckon maybe one day in the future I might be good enough to write free verse. For now, though, it’s form, form and occasionally messed-about-with form all the way.

  • terrence

    Well, since tbis wonderful site has now become The Poetry Corner, and since I am assuming there may be 1) some of us in the community who love cats and b) some of us who apprehend that wild drunkard Welsh crown prince of the English language, I give you:

    Do Not Go Peaceable to That Damn Vet
    by Dylan Thomas’s Cat

    Do not go peaceable to that damn vet,
    A cat can always tell a trip is due,
    Hide, hide, when your appointment time is set.
    Wise cats who watched, and learned the alphabet,
    And never let men know how much they knew,
    Do not go peaceable to that damn vet.

    Young cats who want to keep their claws to whet
    On sofa legs, and save their privates, too,
    Hide, hide when your appointment time is set.

    Sick cats, poor things, whose stomachs are upset,
    But hate to eat some vile-smelling goo,
    Do not go peaceable to that damn vet.

    Old cats who ahve no wish to sleep just yet,
    And plan to live another year or two,
    Hide, hide when your appointment time is set.

    And though your human sweetly calls his pet,
    Or rants and raves until his face is blue,
    Do not go peaceable to that damn vet,
    Hide, hide when your appointment time is set.

    From the book: Poetry for Cats:
    The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse
    by Henry Beard

  • norman ravitch

    I once believed;
    Nothingness could not be blessedness.
    I now concede:
    Blessedness is nothingness.