On Sunday mornings, you'll likely find me en route to Devil's Teeth Baking Company to grab some breakfast sandwiches and beignets with Asha. There's a good chance that in the car ride over we will be getting our weekly sermon from Chance the Rapper's beautiful song "Blessings." The hook unapologetically resounds:
When the praises go up
The blessings come down
You'll find me — the self-proclaimed atheist — unironically singing along for the entirety of the song, one of many gospel-infused tracks on Chance the Rapper's excellent album, Coloring Book. In a later track, "Blessings (Reprise)," Chance proclaims "I speak to God in public." In a stirring musical tribute to Muhammad Ali, he makes it clear that he wants to wear his faith on his sleeves. I love Chance's genuine gospel music.
Does this present a contradiction? Alain de Botton's intriguing book Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion says no. He begins with a controversial statement: "The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true.” I have some qualms with that, though I resonated with de Botton's overarching message. He writes:
I never wavered in my certainty that God did not exist. I was simply liberated by the thought that there might be a way to engage with religion without having to subscribe to its supernatural content - a way, to put it in more abstract terms, to think about Fathers without upsetting my respectful memory of my own father. I recognized that my continuing resistance to theories of an afterlife or of heavenly residents was no justification for giving up on the music, buildings, prayers, rituals, feasts, shrines, pilgrimages, communal meals and illustrated manuscripts of the faiths.
In short, my aversion to the supernatural shouldn't prevent me from engaging with the good stuff. So, I'll praise praise music if it resonates with my soul. I'll enter churches and reflect deeply on the nature of our existence. I'll walk the pilgrim's path in the mountains.
The religious might object to my secular participation in what they find sacred. That's okay — I'd understand. I'll take my chances at offense if it means that I feed my own becoming.