This is what atheist spirituality looks like?

I kind of like the above video, but there’s also a part of me that feels the undercurrents of a hijack, not just of religion, but of poetry: scientists unweaving Keats’s rainbow and replacing it with, well, this. And notice the Christmasy church bell feel that starts the video is soon followed by the not so subtle anti-Platonic and anti-Kantian refrain of Richard Dawkins:

There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.

But if science is the poetry of reality, then what is religion and poetry, well, good for? What are they the poetry of? The refrain would seem to suggest an either-or, not a both-and: you’re either a science-literate person enmeshed in the poetry of the real (material) world, or a muddle-head living in Don Quixote Land.

But is life really this simple and easy to coherently integrate? Is it just the perversity of the theist and poet that makes things seem more complicated than they really are? At one level, of course, science is the poetic map of the material world, revealing the contours of its poetry. But at another level a philosophical question must always linger behind the empirical: why should the material world show itself to have any poetic contours at all? Why, in other words, is the material world a cosmos and not Shakespeare’s sound and fury signifying nothing (that is, a chaos)?

Afterall, the universe signifies or it doesn’t. Which is it? Chance can’t signify. Chance means zip. So where is the space for atheist spirituality and feelings of wonder except in the sublimation of chance and the illusion (delusion?) that the universe answers the questions we put to it with harmony and significations? But the atheist universe is a text without an author, so how can anything that is not an author—or the product of an author—signify?

William Blake called the universe without the human imagination a desert. I agree. But the chance universe, actually devoid of independent significations, births intentional ghosts by the billions who are full of significations (that is, us). Isn’t that interesting? The poetry is not in the blind mechanisms of the stars, but in ourselves, Horatio. And, well, how did we get here? 

Maybe there’s still room for religion and poetry afterall.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to This is what atheist spirituality looks like?

  1. ozymandiaz says:

    SPIRITUALITY and poetry yes
    these encompass the human soul
    religion, on the other hand, is the perversion of spirituality
    for the ends of subjugation
    that being said i see no hijacking here
    poetry is expression
    in this case expression of the natural world

  2. Heuristics says:

    “There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.”

    Did Dawkins use the scientific method to predict that statement and after failing to falsify it came to hold it in high regard? I think he’s just proselytizing, that was his dayjob at the time after all.

    If science is the poetry of reality then reality is not much too cheer for: no values, no opinions, no emotion, no subjectivity, no purpose (one can’t even sneek in purpose by granting humans magical abilities and seperating them from nature in science). If science is the poetry of reality then it is only the poetry of a subset of reality. The really interesting part of reality, the part that makes relationships possible, is left out of the reductionistic view (a little bit of Stuart Kaufmanish language there :) ).

  3. Wow, thanks for this. Investigating atheist spirituality has been a theme of mine recently, as you probably know – see http://spritzophrenia.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/atheist-spirituality

    I’d like to adapt/link to this if that’s ok?

    Warmly

    Jonathan

  4. santitafarella says:

    Jonathan:

    Link and adapt as you please.

    —Santi

  5. Santi

    I fail to see why the hell you put religion and poetry in the same boat.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    I think that nonliteralist religion and theology are forms of poetry: they are elaborate and often collectively generated imaginitive expressions of longing. Making a beautiful building and burning a candle in it to “God” is an aesthetic and imaginitive poetic practice.

    Literalist religion (fundamentalism) has made a category mistake: it has mistaken the heart’s poetic love letter to the ontological mystery and made it into a crass and proscriptive cage upon the mind (Blake’s Urizen).

    All religion begins as metaphor (the sea is Neptune etc.). All fundamentalism is metaphor literalized and gone bad.

    —Santi

  7. ogatoprecambriano says:

    All religion begins as metaphor (the sea is Neptune etc.). All fundamentalism is metaphor literalized and gone bad

    I’m affraid you are plain wrong here historycaly speaking.
    Today one can say that nonliteralism is predominant, but this is a very recent trend. As we goes back in the past, people used to be more and more literalists, litertalism was the rule not the excception. So to claim that “all religion begins as metaphor” is false. In the begining all religions were fundamentalists.
    Concepts as ‘moderate religion’, ‘religious tolerance’, ‘freedom of religion’, and whatsoever, are unconceivable before the Enlightment and the secularization of western societies, and the separation of church and state.
    As for poetry, it’s not an intrinsic quality of anything. WE humans make poetry and we can “see” poetry in anything, even bull shit.
    As for literalism and nonliteralism, you seem to think that there is something as a “true” religion, and the nonliteralists, the ones who “see” the poetry, are the adepts of this “true” religion, and the literalists are the mistaken ones who don’t understand or see the “poetry”. I think it’s a silly claim, and a strange one coming from a self called “agnostic”. Who are you may I ask?

  8. santitafarella says:

    Gato,

    I don’t dispute your historical trend line. I think that you are right that the first temples to the first gods treated the gods as literal in their existence. But this is my point: institutional religion has always hijacked the human ontological impulse, and the metaphorical mind, and tethered them to power. Humans also have an impulse to be free and to live in a just community of human brothers and sisters, and 21st century marketing hijacks those emotions to manipulate the electorate.

    In other words, it is the human ontological and poetic impulse that has always been seized by religious power grabs. The human mind is metaphorical, and as such it is readily seduced by metaphor (especially if you can convince someone that the metaphor is real).

    Blake laid this out theoretically and poetically in his “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”

    —Santi

  9. Pingback: Atheist Spirituality: Real Poetry? « Spritzophrenia

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