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: