Getting into Trouble as an Atheist Poet and a Poetic Atheist

Perhaps my true religion is tintinnabulation.  Before I knew what the world was, I wanted to chime rhymes. Before I wanted to be any of the other things that I am, I wanted to be a poet. Poetry was what rang my bell and I wanted to ring bells too. Life as a ride on the clacker. When I really got into history and philosophy, or rather when I really started writing history and philosophy, I found glory in that too.  Yet I still believe that poetry is a path to truth that is unrivaled.

But it is strange, where life takes you.  My second history book  Doubt: A History was a history of religious and philosophical doubt all over the world, through all history.  One of the consequences of its success is that I am regularly asked to give talks at colleges, secularist and skeptic meetings, and lately, churches and temples.  Never in my life have I spent so much time in houses of worship.  Why do they invite me you ask?  They read the book or hear me talking about Doubt on the radio or something and they like the poetry of my approach.

Doing all this talking radicalized me. At first I didn’t want to say I am an atheist, as such, because I was inviting other people to think with me and worried that it might not help to alienate many of them with a single moniker.  Now I do say it, and count on my arguments and my charm to make up the difference.   At a certain point I started to believe it was important to try to say just what I mean, even if it is shocking and difficult, and even if it causes me some distress.

Bleaders and hardware, I write to and on you today in a mood of a cocked gun, or a head-cocked cocker spaniel.  I have always worried that being an out unbeliever might keep some people away from my poetry, or change how it was reviewed, or how received.  I decided it was a matter worth losses, even losses for poetry.  That really does make me pause, but if I have learned something from reading thousands of historical lives, it is that you have to do the right thing when it is in front of you to do, because if you try to avoid it, it comes back at you anyway.

Yet the real point of this increasingly pointy-headed post is that now I’m a controversy within the secularist movement, because I champion poetry above science.  Isn’t that funny?  An interview I did with Point of Inquiry came out this week and I’m getting intense responses by email (via my website I guess).  Especially the thing about suicide, at the end.  (intense and positive about the suicide thing, sparks fly like a rock thrown at a fire on poetry versus science). So I thought, huh, I wonder what the poets would think of all this.

So?  What say you?

 

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About jennifermichaelhecht

I'm a poet with a PhD in the History of Science from Columbia University and I've written five books, two poetry, two popular philosophy, one intellectual history. I live in Brooklyn with my husband and our two little kids. I teach seminars in poetry in the MFA programs at The New School and at Columbia.
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