Editor’s Note: This time, instead of a full-blown sermon, the blog is featuring what I’m calling “secular prayers.” They are short, very sweet, and written by two extremely prominent professors who are also co-founders of The Clergy Project. Both men are highly acclaimed in their academic fields (philosophy and science) and are often called “angry” or “militant” atheists. This is, in my opinion, because they dare to speak frankly about religion, not worrying about ruffling the delicate feathers of theologians unaccustomed to criticism from people who do not share or value their religious views. I think what theologians dislike most about Dennett and Dawkins is that they are respected academicians who make a strong, well-reasoned case for their anti-religious views. It’s understandable that this would be threatening. Theologians are accustomed to being respected on the assumption that their advanced academic degrees bring them closer to a mystical, metaphorical “divine” presence. Now, Dennett and Dawkins question the very nature of the divine, demonstrating that natural divinity is found in the beauty and complexity of the universe and in the written words that touch human hearts. They provide two excellent examples here:
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking The Spell – Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, p. 103
“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you only just scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things. Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready at hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centered, and engaged, you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will indeed be a better person. That, I believe, is the secret to spirituality and it has nothing to do with believing in an immortal soul, or in anything supernatural.”
Richard Dawkins, excerpted from Unweaving the Rainbow – Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. The full quote in his own voice is found here.
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. […] We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
**Editor’s Question** What other quotes from “angry atheists” or other famous humanists do you think would make excellent secular prayers?
Bios: Richard Dawkins is founder and chair of the board of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Literature, author and former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.
Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, author and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
>>>Photo Credits: By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11639311