Last night at choir we began rehearsing a song called "Autumn Canticle" which is, as our choir director commented, one of those pleasant musical pieces that we can pull out of the hat when there's nothing obvious in our playbook to tie in to the theme of the sermon. Luckily for us, choral composers have given us a plethora of seasonal songs to choose from throughout the year: if you think about it and know anything about choral music, there are a ton of songs about Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter out there which are relatively church-friendly.
In last night's piece, there are a couple of lines about the Lord's blessing and other such nonsense that some sensible humanist Unitarian choir director changed to "the Earth's blessing." (And this is why I feel like I'm stretching the word "reasonable," because I find nothing reasonable about belief in God.) We have a couple of Jewish folks in our Unitarian choir. They are not members of the church, nor are they Unitarians or Universalists -- they just come to sing with us. During the rehearsal for this piece, one of them muttered quite angrily, grumbling, "Why do they have to take God out of everything?" I leaned over and whispered, "Because He isn't there."
It was not particularly well-received by the mutterer, but I frankly don't give a single crap.
First of all, I was offended by the use of the word "they" in her grumble. I always find language that uses some form of the phrase "those people" or "you people" offensive, and this was no exception. Secondly, if you are going to sing with Unitarians, you have to be at least a little sensitive (or at least knowledgeable) about their history. While recent years have seen an increase in spirituality in the music and language of Unitarian church services, the fact remains that for a good stretch of our recent history -- say, the 1960's through the early 1990's -- Unitarian congregations were largely white, liberal, humanist, and agnostic or atheist. (I myself am a large, white, liberal humanist atheist.) So probably twenty or so years ago, some previous choir director thought to themeselves, "This is a really nice piece of music. We can do this easily. All I have to do is change the God language." (Well, probably the thought was more likely, "All I have to do is change the 'God" crap," but I digress.)
I regret my flip response to my fellow singer, even though it prompted a welcome chuckle from the people sitting around us, but I feel entirely justified in my bristling reaction to her use of the "they" language, as well as to her frustration with our removal of God language where possible. I appreciate that she and others in our community value their theism, but I also feel disrespected when objections are raised to our humanism and agnosticism in the Unitarian church. Especially when those objections are raised by people who refuse to fully join the church. A lot of us joined the Unitarian Church because we were damaged by religion. We are deeply uncomfortable when we find God in our language and music. I personally take it a step further. I find the idea of God not only to be completely unreasonable, but an active negative force in how human beings act with one another. "Imagine no religion" indeed. As an atheist, I sing because I like performing, and I sing in the Unitarian Church because I believe that, unlike many, they walk the proverbial walk by actually doing good work in those parts of our community that most need it without worrying about who or what might be one's Personal Savior.
I'm very happy to raise voice in song with anyone who wants to join with us. Anytime. Ever. But if you're missing God in your music, well...I hear Temple meets on Friday nights.