In the spirit of truth in advertising, it may be time to write a bit about religion in the town of Agincourt and its hinterlands. Yeah, there is some, probably quite a bit.
In fact I know there is, because I’ve designed four of the city’s churches (Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and Christian Science) and lent a hand with two others (Roman Catholic and Lutheran). But, like any good architect—remembering I’m not one—I can sublimate my own personal scale of values to aid in addressing the needs of others, without trying to impose those values on them. It was important a few weeks ago while visiting Notre Dame du Haute at Ronchamp, France to recall that LeCorbusier was an atheist. And that Louis Kahn, the less-than-Orthdox Jew, designed a magnificent mosque at Dakka in Bangladesh. Both of these guys were tapping into that which unites, rather than divides us, and the results are noteworthy in an age characterized by divisiveness and a tendency toward exclusivity.
On any given Sunday or Saturday or Friday—take your pick—is there religious activity in Agincourt? Are folks putting on their finer duds and traipsing across town or across the street to encounter the ineffable? Absolutely! If I found myself in town on one of those days, would I attend a service? Very likely. Especially in the company of my curious friend Howard Tabor.
I have, in fact, added several clerics to the story line already: Candace Varenhorst, for example, the Rev at Asbury United Methodist delivered a mighty fine sermon a few Sundays ago on the merit of letter-writing, given how many of them were written to the Philippians, the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and the Galoshes and now form several installments of the Newer Testament. Pastor Varenhorst performed the first same-gender marriage in Agincourt.
Saint-Joseph-the-Carpenter, Agincourt’s Episcopal church, has been shepherded by some quintessentially colorful characters, including the reverends Benjamin Franklin Cooley, Stephen Grimaldi, and Chilton Fanning Dowd (one a real person, two of my invention). Finally, there is the redoubtable Father Francis Manning, pastor for fifty years of Saint Ahab’s parish of Roman Catholics. Father Manning was, in fact, a 19th century woman who had felt “the calling” and sublimated her own gender for a ministry to others. But why stop at creating priests? I also invented Ahab.
Many aspects of a probable religious presence in Agincourt are, frankly, beyond my means. The Baptists, for example, are ABC (northern) rather than SBC (southern) Baptists. But why create characters intent on condemning me to their Hell? Christian Scientists base their belief on the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, whose vision told her that we have the power to heal ourselves through prayer or what I would prefer to characterize as meditation. As someone who has made himself sick through rumination, I can certainly support the contrary notion that I can make myself well, though Divine Scripture would have little to do with it. Christian Science is an aging denomination with a low birth rate, however, whose numbers unofficially are in significant decline. So, much as I might support Ms Eddy’s concept, I would attend one of her services only to appreciate the clarity of their architecture. And what of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Their history is fascinating; their theology colorfully curious; their family values admirable. But here, too, I am not welcome as I am and will continue to be.
Toward the other more Fundamentalist end of the spectrum, there are choices in the Baskin-Robbins thirty-one-flavor lineup of Christianity that are simply not to my taste. Seek me not at the Antideluvian Pentecostal Holiness church requesting my snake. Not my thing, but go ahead if you want to. I am also less than likely to attend services that espouse the control of women’s reproductive rights (though I myself am Pro Life) or the corralling of homosexuals for shipment to barb-wired compounds in Wyoming (as has been promoted by James Dobson of Focus on the Family). These folks certainly have a right guaranteed by the Constitution to such views, but I also have a right to resist tax exemption for the places where they promote this crap.
Approaching the metaphorical sunset of my life—it’s already well past noon—I think now and again on death. Several feeds on FaceBook bring the discussion of both atheism and agnosticism to my doorstep, and I welcome the dialogue. I support the Theory of Evolution because it is scientifically demonstrable and will likely remain my preferred explanation for the Origin of Life until something equally testable comes along. I do not know that there is an intelligence beyond our own that may have been responsible for the creation of the cosmos. But, if there is, I suspect it is so far beyond human comprehension as to be unrecognizable. It is, in my opinion, not the Sky Guy father figure onto whom we have projected all the fears and foibles of human kind. Like the reprehensible Christopher Hitchens, the atheist we love to hate, I understand that “Religious faith is…ineradicable. It will never die out, or at least not until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other.” And to the extent that those fears exist in Agincourt, as elsewhere, yes, religion will be around for a long time.
In the meantime, I do not fear death. It is dying that gives me the beegeebees.