Embrace of, Rejection of, Indifference Toward Religion

As I was reading Michael Winerip's article this morning in the New York Times, titled "Teenagers Speak Up for Lack of Faith," on the rise of atheist (and agnostic) clubs in U.S. high schools, I was drawing parallels to the secular music scenes with which I am familiar.

It has been my perception, confirmed from time to time by studies, that rock and roll musicians, and a good number of fans of popular music, take music as their religion or spirituality, or at least as a substantial part of it. Especially in rock cultures, this frequently means an agnosticism or atheism regarding what is taken to be traditional religious belief. (For example, I posted recently about one venerable rock singer's self-description as a Jewish atheist.)

Advertisement

Winerip's article mentions that there is a new legal space in U.S. high school life for atheist clubs, and in secular music culture the cultivation of music as its own spiritual, religious or quasi-religious "end" is widespread and the subject of much popular culture research. When these habitations between faith and music, whether religiously "orthodox" or atheistically "secular" or some other configuration, are the best that people can do at a given point in their lives, I encourage it intellectually, based on my theological sense for an ineffable yes to life calling everything forward.

But at the same time, I want to say to the newly-confident secular atheist clubs, whether in school or in music, that commitment to secularity itself, as freedom from religion, is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card. As philosopher of religion Talal Asad among others have argued in a series of important works, secular culture in the West has its own history and interlocking relation with religion, and arises in tandem with -- and frequently serves -- the power of modern states. This does not mean therefore that religious people "win". Only that there seems to be no religious or anti-religious position that is non-ideological, by which I mean, separate from what is possible culturally and psychologically in a given life situation.

As I remind myself and those of my students who consider ourselves religious: just imagine if you had been born in another place, not to mention another time, say Iran of the 1970s, Israel of the 1950s, or India of the 1930s, and imagine what religious positions you would be defending in our class, and what you would take to be the most pressing issues of faith and culture. So I am led to recommend thinking about and practicing religion, or rejection or indifference toward religion, with a deep and disconcerting, but in its own way, freeing, sense of the contingency of our ideologies.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.

On this week's episode, we talk with Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, Cyrus Habib.
Olga SeguraMay 25, 2018