By Fred Strong
In Portland, Ore., the city that Huffington Post considers America’s least religious, we seculars have a plethora of meetups, discussion groups, potlucks, talent programs and lectures throughout the year. In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of more large-scale undertakings such as the annual Portland Humanist Film Fest.
Another event, in its third year, that’s gaining national attention is DARKTOLIGHT.
DARKTOLIGHT is the manifestation of an idea that came to me many years ago concerning a desire to have a secular event to celebrate in December, the month when the world around us goes mad with hyper-religiosity. As a composer and arts lover, I knew that music and art would definitely be a part.
I decided to center the event on the Winter Solstice, a natural, celestial occurrence that carries with it very deep symbolic implications having to do with the very essence of the cycle of life itself. The emergence from darkness and death into the seasons of light and life became, in my mind, a metaphor for a paradigm shift in human attitudes from myth-based thinking to an enlightened world of scientific reason.
In 2008, working with a soprano duo and a roster of musicians and performers who would work for little or nothing, I booked the 140-seat theater of the Portland Music Community Center for Dec. 21. I’d written a work called “Songs for Winter Solstice,” consisting of three contrasting songs. But when Portland was hit by an unusual cold front that essentially crippled a city ill-equipped to deal with radical weather conditions for close to two weeks, DARKTOLIGHT 2008 became a casualty.
In 2009, working with Center For Inquiry—Portland and the Humanists of Greater Portland, we held a joint potluck and interested several performers. DTL had its “sort of” debut.
The above groups approached me in 2010 and agreed to fund a small DARKTOLIGHT. I booked the 140-seat theater again, got the sopranos back on board and assembled a very accomplished group of actors, singers, songwriters and musicians. Kol Shalom, a secular Jewish group, helped with an ad in the program. We were all nervous -— no secular event like this had ever been attempted here.
Then the crowd started coming. Couples, families, children, teens, small groups and, before long, we realized we had a hit. DTL 2010 was standing room only! And, with the donations received and the sale of refreshments, the new event was fiscally almost a break-even affair.
I took 2011 off for personal reasons while receiving a fair number of inquiries about whether there’d be a solstice show in December. Early in 2012, CFI-Portland agreed with my vision of a much larger, bolder event, one truer to my original vision but also with a higher price tag.
I began putting together the newest incarnation of DTL called BANG! We booked a 200-seat, professional theater space and are doing three shows with a cast of 14 and four instrumentalists. BANG! takes the audience on a trip through time and space from the big bang to present-day Earth, with a humanist message about our choices and responsibilities. The music ranges from doo-woop to hip-hop and folk to jazz.
DARKTOLIGHT is a special time of secular togetherness, a cultural tether to fill us with a sense of pride, purpose and community. We encourage all locales to celebrate the solstice in their own way. We need to start establishing our own culture, arts and traditions, and it can certainly be done in ways that reflect individual locales.
We’ll perform BANG! at Portland Metro Arts on Friday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. and on Dec. 22 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Go to darktolight.org/ for more information.
As a proud member of FFRF, I am very honored that you have allowed me this chance to be spotlighted in Freethought Today. Please say “hi” if you attend BANG! By supporting each other, we support the greater cause.
Fred Strong lives in Portland with his partner, Sandra Brown, and her five cats. He holds a B.A. in composition from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va. As he works toward making his avocations (writing, composition, songwriting) his vocation, he owns and operates a small but popular sustainable irrigation company.
In 2011, his humanist choral piece “The Well” was performed in the U.S. Capitol by the Women’s Vocal Ensemble of Clark College, Vancouver, Wash.
My, aren’t we cranky this month, the very month Jesus their savior was born? Hit and missives are printed as received.
You piece of shit Marxist Communist! Go live in Russia. Get the fuck out of here! Can’t wait to see you burn in hell!!!!! — Joann Stump
FFRF Information Request: You people are sick, lonely, pieces of excrement. OK, it’s your right to be stupid enough to not believe in God, but to FORCE YOUR SICK EVIL WAYS on others through legislation, pressure, and attempted intimidation is EVIL and WRONG.
Almighty God DOES exist, although not in YOUR lifeless, soulless eyes. I would NOT want to be you come the day of judgement. — “Suckmy Schwang”
ridiculous: I find you people to be out of line and unpatriotic. This nation was found as One Nation “Under God” and if you don’t like it move to another Country. Having served this Country along with a lot of fellow Veterans we will put God on our side anyday, and if you don’t like God used in the military or anywhere else keep it to yourselves or move. You are a minority but can believe what you like, but abortion is against God’s will and it folks like you that have made it a political issue. Your organization is no different than the KKK. — Tom Lemmer
Freedom From Religion: You people make me fucking sick. You all don’t need any organization your just a bunch of attention-whores crying like an infant who needs attention. I hope you all realize how pathetic you all are and just crawl back in your fucking caves. Yes that is my real address and anyone who comes to meet me there in a trespassing fashion will also meet my vast gun and ammo collection in a unfriendly way. — Steven Main
morons: r u clowns 4 freaking real when im up in heaven ill b looking down at u freakin morons burning in hell id like 2 c u on judgement begging god and his son jesus 4 forgiveness but then its 2 late burn in hell 4ever r tell god u r sorry and ask 4 forgiveness
You’re watertower terrorists! I’ve concluded that your organization is deliberately targeting the water supply of an entire community by threatening its water tower and what they do with it. That makes you terrorists. You are just evil, not to mention that you have no regard for the safety of low flying aircraft in the darkest months of winter near an area where the Great Lakes exist that can perpetuate adverse weather conditions. Any kind of marking lights on that water tower is a good thing. It’s a small town. They have what they can afford. Shame on you. Why don’t you go to Colorado and attack the cross on the side of the Rockies that is lit up at night? Get a life! — Mary Adler, Waldorf, Ill.
Sickening Joke: You sick cunts are a fucking pestilence. My hope is that God is real, and you find out in the most awful way possible. Secondly, I hope each one of your deaths is slow, painful and cancer riddled. Fuck the lot of you. — Marcus Armstrong
UP YOURS: Your full of shit up yours ass holes. — Tony Roberts
assholes: why dont you idiots mind your own business.stay in wisconsin and leave everyone else alone.u are liberal assholes. — “Bendover Jerks”
Statue in Montana: You people are absolutely out of your mind. You are all sick and mentally handicapped in my opinion. You can all go to hell. — David Dempsey, Homer, Mich.
Then get out of the USA: If you don’t like living in the USA, then get out. We have freedoms too. All ragheads, and people that don’t believe in Christ should be shot. This makes me so mad, it has been fine up until a bunch of you self rightous dick wads want us all to be fair, well life isn’t always fair, so buck up, shut up, and kiss my ASS! — James Williams
You are all assholes: You fucking people ought to mind your own business and let people express their own beliefs - if you don’t agree with it keep your fucking mouths closed and don’t worry about it.....you are not the majority. What a bunch of low life losers. — Stan Rohde
Hallelujah: You fags need to get a life, or just do the world a favor and kill yourselves. Is a statute on a ski slope really that offensive to you? Seriously you all must be the most over sensitive pussies in the world. Merry Christmas Bitches
— John Nelson, Houston, Texas
You are human trash: Just because one of your stupid assholes doesn’t like a statue then it must be removed for everyone?
IDIOTS you sub-humans are! — Rick Lane
Evolution? Does your organization believe in “The THEORY of Evolution” ? If we have evolved, explain why so many people are so stupid as to vote for Barack Hussein Obama. If we have evolved, why do so many people murder their unborn? I can’t think of any animal that does that, can you. – Britt Whit
no one: who the FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? There is a God. And I think all of you will be going to HELL. — “I love God”
Scum: I look forward to pissing on your grave, as well as all your children. Your nothing but a bunch of little spoiled dbags . . . get a fucken life!! — Mike Kelley— Travis Peebles, Texas
Texas: Don’t mess with Texas. We don’t need your Bullshit here.
Freedom From Religion! HEY, MERRY CHRISTMAS....YOU COMMUNIST ASS HOLES! — Stan Knowles
Haralson County High School: The people of west Georgia have a way of life and for you people up there in that dismal state of ugly girls, snowdrifts, and millionaire athlete worship to try to tear it down is disgusting, sad, repugnant and insulting to every peace loving comm unity on the planet. I’m sure you’d love to pick on some Muslims but you four-eyed, dope smoking geeks are too chicken sh!t. — Jesup Gentry, Atlanta, Ga.
Your Star: You should be sued for your interference of an organization to excercise its right of freedom of religion. If you don’t like it here in the US, then leave dummy!!! — Leroy Smith
OF OF OF OF OF: IT’S FREEDOM OF RELIGION NOT Freedom FROM Religion you freaks! Read the Constitution! By asking government to HIDE religious events you are asking them to VIOLATE THE CONSTITUTION! YOU ARE IDIOTS! PS: GOD WILL GET YOU EVENTUALLY.
stay the hell out of my religion: bELIEVE WHAT YOU WANT, BUT STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY RELIGION AND WHAT I BELIEVE. GO BACK IN YOUR SEWER AND STAY THERE — Mickey Mathis, Brownwood
Freedom from religion: You’re a bunch of idiots. You will lift up your eyes in hell! Enjoy! — Glen Kinard
stay within in you own state: mind your own house. your work is ignorant, intrusive, and serves no divine purpose. — Tawni Flick
National Holiday: I’d like to suggest April 1st as your group’s national holiday. — Greg Thomas
assholes: Are you the Anti-Religion Nazi’s that fucked over that town over it’s cross ? What a bunch of fucking assholes. fuck off and die! — David DeSau
Kansas Town Forced to Remove Cross: Nothing but a group of progressive thugs. YOU PEOPLE SUCK — Chris Marshall
Freedom: This is America so you are free from religion. Your childish borish behavior towards people of faith is really quite telling to your character. This e-mail is sent with neither malace or respect as I have none of either for you. Oh who am I kidding “GO FUCK YOURSELVES” — Michael White, Green Bay, Wis.
Your Org: Your fucking existence is offensive to me, does my opinion matter? Or does only your opinion matter? Also it is freedom from the establishment of a state religion not freedom from religion you psycho fucks. — Miles Bouck, Carpenter, Va.
George Saunders, New York, sends a USA Today clipping in which Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research president, says “a majority of the population is spiritual but not religious.” George asks, “Does anyone really understand what it means to be ‘spiritual but not religious?’ ”
KATIE DANIEL: Spiritual means you believe in ghosts, but don’t organize rituals around them or proselytize. Religious means that you believe in ghosts, organize rituals around them, and think everyone else should too!
PHYLLIS ROSE: I don’t — “spiritual” seems to have the same connotation as the unknown quality of “religious.”
PATRICK ELLIOTT: This is how I perceive it: “Organized superstition isn’t my thing, but I don’t mind doing it on my own.” Which is equivalent to: “You won’t find me running with the bulls in Pamplona, that is crazy! But, I’m not opposed to trying my hand at running with the bulls on my own.”
WENDY GOLDBERG: To me, it means to be in tune with nature and especially with all the winter birds that “flock” to my feeders. “… and the little brown birds, which stirred occasionally in the hedge, looked like single russet leaves that had forgotten to drop.” (from Jane Eyre)
ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR: I’ve never read a definition of “spirituality” that was comprehensible. It stems from the word “spirit” and pertains to an imaginary “spirit world.” The word “spirit” can have secular connotations today, such as “team spirit” or “keep up your spirits.” But “spiritual atheist” seems like an oxymoron. I feel it’s a mistake for atheists and other nonbelievers to adopt language that clearly has a religious genesis. (That’s a joke!) Doesn’t this just contribute to confusion, as in Einstein’s metaphorical and unfortunate “God does not play dice with the universe” kind of language?
I am guessing that most nonbelievers who are using the term “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual,” probably mean that they are moved or awed and have emotional responses to music, artistry, nature or being part of the community and the universe. So why not say that? Why muddy the waters by using a religious term to describe a natural (not a supernatural) feeling, emotion or sense? People should say what they mean. It seems like a good policy for atheists and agnostics to take care that their pronouncements are not misunderstood by believers.
BILL DUNN: It means, if you’re being truly honest with yourself, that you’re more of a sociopath than a psychopath.
ELAINE HAMPTON: “Spirit” has so many different meanings, from supernatural beings to very natural beings — as in a high-spirited horse, or a great single-malt Scotch! Or genuine Napoleon brandy. I like to inhale the fumes.
When I first learned the Latin meaning of the original word, I had to laugh. “The spirit left him” = he stopped breathing. Or “holy spirit” = heavenly halitosis.
It’s like using “heart” to mean anything connected with emotions. “And then my heart stood still” is a lovely song, but if the singer’s heart had really stopped, they would have needed CPR immediately, or they’d be dead. Slippery, slippery words. I love to play with them.
JOAN REISMAN: I think people hasten to say “but I’m spiritual” in reaction to the (entirely mistaken) notion that atheists are dull, pragmatic people who only believe what can be proved, and who have no sense of awe or wonder or imagination. By claiming spirituality, they are asserting that while they don’t follow any organized religion or believe in any gods, they are still multifaceted individuals who are able to sense and experience “higher” feelings and concepts and possibilities beyond mundane reality.
NORA CUSACK: I’m neither, because neither is fact-based. They’re weasel words for people who don’t want to acknowledge that when they’re dead, they’re dead.
ANDREW SEIDEL: To be religious is to believe in widely held, factually unsupported dogma. To be spiritual is to believe in factually unsupported dogma that is all your own. To alter the Robert Pirsig quote which gave Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion its name: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called spirituality. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.”
DAN BARKER: I think when people say they are “spiritual but not religious,” they mean one of three things, depending on how “spiritual” or “religious” are defined.
Some of those people believe in a god, or gods, or a transcendent world populated by invisible personalities that have some kind of influence (they think) over their lives, but they are not members of any organized or recognized religion. They are going it on their own, defining “God” or “spirit” in their own way, and don’t think they lack anything that is claimed to be possessed by members of religion.
For these people, “religion” is nothing in itself — it is just an artificial human-made way of organizing those who hold similar beliefs into a common group. Religion adds nothing to spirituality, they think. To my mind, these people are indeed religious, though not part of any organized religion.
Others think “religion” is indeed a claim to a transcendent reality, but they reject that claim and think “spiritual” is simply a personal way to experience feelings of the sublime, to meditate, to enjoy aesthetics and positive emotions, to appreciate the finer qualities of art and music, to contemplate “higher values,” to breathe deeply and take the focus away from the mundane.
These might be atheists or agnostics who define “spirit” in a nonsupernatural manner, interpreting their “numinous” feelings in purely physical, neurological terms. They agree that others interpret the word “spirit” differently, but feel that their own material definition lacks none of the value or beauty of those who are religious. To my mind, these people are neither religious nor spiritual, even though they do try to redefine “spirit” in a nontranscendent manner.
There is a third group, comprised mostly of evangelical Christians, who define “religion” as “man reaching up to God,” but define true Christianity as “God reaching down to man.” (The sexist language is theirs, not mine.) I used to think like this; indeed, I preached sermons about it.
These people don’t eschew religion, and even agree they are part of a religion — of course they are, if they go to church, pay tithes, support missionaries, promote a Holy Book, and so on — but feel that “spiritual” is more than an attitude or emotion.
To them, the “spirit” is the Holy Spirit, an actual person, the “spirit of God” with whom they have a personal relationship. Some of them think they are possessed by this spirit. When they say “Jesus came into my heart,” they are not talking metaphorically. Pentecostals and charismatic types believe they have been “filled with the Spirit,” and feel very sorry for the (mainly) mainstream denominations that have “a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3:5)
When they say they are “spiritual but not religious, what they mean is that what matters to these people is “spiritual but not religious.”
If I were forced to fit into one of those groups, I would have to choose the second one — except that I don’t like the word “spiritual.” I don’t think the word “spirit” has ever been coherently defined. Every attempt to define the word ends up telling us what it is not, not what it actually is. It is the intangible essence or a nonphysical presence. A noncorporeal personality. An immaterial mind. None of this tells us anything.
In positive terms, what exactly is a spirit? If something exists, then it can be measured — it must be measured, or be measurable. How much does spirit weigh? How much space does it take up? When does it start to exist and when does it die or disappear? How does it differ from the “ether,” which we now know does not exist though we continue to use the word “ethereal”?
Until the word “spirit” is defined, and it never has been, then to say you are “spiritual but not religious” is to say nothing at all. Except maybe that you don’t like religion very much, and that is something I can agree with.
The multitudes mumble mythologies without end.
But me, I have trouble with "ologies" that pretend
to show what can't be shown,
to know what can't be known.
Lutherans have liturgies. Calvinists have creeds.
Muslims have their minarets. Catholics have their beads.
Methodists have methods, Holy Truth to ascertain,
But poor little me, I only have a brain.
Bishops transubstantiate. Shintos ring their bells.
Transcendentalists meditate. Wiccans weave their spells.
Hindus chant a mantra when they can't relieve the pain,
But poor little me, I only have a brain.
So fearful of the netherland, believers band together.
Unhappy with the weatherman, the Zunis wave a feather—
They dance in circles to demand: "Great Spirit, send some rain!"
But what do you do if you only have a brain?
Quakers quake and Shakers shake. Jews eat kosher food.
Rastafarians wear their hair in pious gratitude.
They all boast of miracles that no one can explain,
But poor little me, poor little me,
I only have a brain.
© Copyright 2012 by Charles Strouse and Dan Barker