A Christian Atheist’s Benediction

Brits have a quaint expression:  “put me in the picture”.  I’ve seen pictures like the ones below so often, looked briefly, and moved on.  These are the ones that come around repeatedly on my mental carousel, and on each appearance groove themselves more deeply into my mind – into my spirit.  I have entered into them, and have not really ever left them.  They embody my religion — that of a Christian Atheist.


 Glimpse of a Renegade:  If we can insert ourselves into this climate in the ‘thirties, there are two things we can know for sure:  the man at the center of the picture is despised by his peers, and is shunned – a traitor.  All those people around him?  They are patriots….


August Landmesser (born 24 May 1910;[1] missing and presumed dead 17 October 1944; declared dead in 1949) was a worker at a shipyard in Hamburg, Germany refusing to perform the Nazi salute at the launch of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel on 13 June 1936.


My endless ruminations surrounding this picture involve the nature of dissent, as well as trying to imagine how Germany descended into this condition – and knowing that we are not as immune to it as we like to think we are.


Anne once more, radiant with possibility at 13.  In two years her body will have been destroyed – but her spirit is now immortal:

This picture still brings me tears of grief – for hatred’s victims,  and so for us all – if I look too long.

I try to imagine who she might have grown to become.  From her diary I know I would have liked to know her; and from what I have learned from people I have known, and myself, I’m quite sure she would have borne a load of defects as well.  As to whether she would have nudged us toward or away from becoming more worthwhile people, I’m quite sure of the answer.  And of course, through her diary, she did that after all.


n February 22, 1943, Sophie Scoll at the age of 21 was guillotined, along with her brother and an ally, for refusing to renounce their resistance to Hitler.


Was Hegel right, that the only thing history teaches us is that we learn nothing from history?


I’m so glad I found Carl Sagan’s masterpiece, repeated once more here.  I have called it the antidote to arrogance.  For me, I suspect it’s the best perspective I’ll ever get, and reinforces something that’s becoming a guiding light for me – that all that counts is people, and the quality of our bonds.  Here is Carl Sagan’s “Mote of Dust”, a sacred vision:





 Let the Master get his 400-year-old oar in, justly ridiculing our arrogance.  This is Richard II’s soliloquy of remorse because he’s been such an ass:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d:
………………… for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable,
…………………………………and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king! – Big Bill, “Richard II”

I am quite fond of the image of that little pin! And there’s this:

Life is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.

 (Well it is, you know.)


 The Greeks gave us the word “hubris”; but it was a Roman slave who stood behind his recently-victorious, hubristic emperor, charged with helping him regain perspective:  “Memento mori!” – Remember also that you will die!  It doesn’t seem morbid to me; just an entirely appropriate re-balancing.



God help us all.  God bless the children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *