Atheists and Agnostics Compendium


Heaven (1916)

Fish (fly replete in depths of June
Dawdling away their watery noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear
Each secret fishy hope or fear.

Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life is not All they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!

One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And sure the reverent eye must see
A purpose in Liquidity.

They darkly know, in Faith they cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! – Death eddies near –
Not here the appointed End, not here!

But somewhere. beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there they trust there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,

Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Scaly, omnipotent and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin
The littlest fish may enter in.



Heaven was written by Rubert Brooke. He died in 1918 serving in World War I. He was 28 years old.


Music and Lyrics by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz
From The Band Wagon

This popular song has deeper meanings. They are indicated by the phrases in italics.

Dancing in the Dark

Dancing in the dark, [living in this mysterious world]
Till the tune ends [till death overtakes us]
We’re dancing in the dark,
And it soon ends. [we die too soon]

We’re waltzing in the wonder
Of why we’re here; [philosophical questioning]
Time hurries by,
We’re here and gone. [this life is all there is]

Looking for the light
Of a new love [a meaning in life, a new religion?]
To brighten up the night.
I have you to love, [with a companion —]

And we can face the music together; [— we can face death]
Dancing in the dark.

Ah, Grandeur: an atheist’s view

[In the beginning was the explosion]
Ah, there is grandeur in this cosmic view
profound, almost beyond the reach of thought.
Spacetime’s birth thrust forth all that is and is to be
inflated, pregnant, bursting with unknowns.

Self-created from the quantum foam
the prime force breaks to four;
familiar far-acting gravity,
electromagnetic and the nuclear two.
Together they control the growing glowing ball
expanding, cooling, condensing energy to light and form.

Quarks and electrons, innumerable, congeal.
Photons and neutrinos lance the primal chaos
till protons form, clasp errant electrons
and hydrogen and helium appear.

Majestic gravity out reaching, ponderous and slow,
draws effervescent gases into balls of light.
Chaos yields to secret rules that self-form far flung systems
and galaxies blossom in the cosmic dark.

[With the beginning came organization]
Yes, there is grandeur in this studied view
Where like conjoins with like and forms appear
that being more complex remake the world.
Combine, combine a secret law commands
while all around the second law demands
“Destruct, reduce the specialness of things..

There is a counter current to that downward flow
Parts organize without a plan. Complexity arrives
unbidden to create far greater than the sum of parts.
Systems form, connect and bring new properties;
the flower’s color, the neural network’s rings of thought.

Oh, celebrate the periodic order of the universe
Enshrine the chemists’ table, that monument to intellect,
that shows the structure of the world.
Whence come the varied elements
that make our bodies and our minds?
Pressed within the heart of giant stars, they come.
Strewn forth in nova flash to seed the sun and us.

Is it not astonishing that we are of dying star-stuff made?
Listen and the mind will hear the rumbling of the cosmos.
Our birthplace is the stir of galaxies. O
ur home is in the universe.

Sing you the fable of the garden,
of creation fully formed, immutable.
of the tempter, wrathful parent God?
Tosh, it is a feeble flight of fantasy.
Poor ghost of robust reason’s testament.
Poorer in glory far, and in majesty remiss.
And of power? The dark energy that flings
a hundred billion galaxies, creating
space-time as they go, is nothing like
the ancient tribal God who speaks to man
and whose likeness in our form resides.
And if you say dark energy defines your God
then how relate the “I” with “Thou?”
Go – toss tissue prayers to tempest storm
and bid the wind take notice of your woe.

[In time came life evolving]
From contemplation of an entangled bank
clothed with its myriad of living forms
that bearded English gentleman saw
the “grandeur in this view of life.
where so elaborately constructed forms,
so dependent on each other are
produced by natural law.”

At the first dawn of life he saw
a progenitor emerge, unplanned.
Of structure simple but whose chancy copy
better fit its world. Copy to copy, change on change,
increase and adaptation shaped the living forms.
And all the while by famine and by death
Nature pruned her growing family.

“and whilst this planet has gone cycling on
according to the fixed law of gravity,
from so simple a beginning
endless forms most beautiful and wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved.”
says the bearded one.

[Then enters consciousness and free will]
There is more than grandeur in this view of life.
There’s reason to exult in who we are.
Emerging from our mesh of neurons
Sliding down the axons of our inner world
and flashing through the synapse gaps
comes dream-disturbing consciousness.

Our brain, our true and only self,
Makes models of the outer world. We see
ourselves in future actions that permit a choice.
The cortex, that grand structure of complexity,
makes thought-readers of us all.
We scan another’s face for clues,
and thinking what he’s thinking
we act with perception in a busy world.

But trailing remnants of our origin we come.
The village god and tribal ways hang on
and vex with strife our modern days.
Emotion-governed actions that preserved our lives
left in our genes by nature’s winnowing
leaves longing for a lost leader for our herd.
In tears we search for him among the stars.

Nature omnipotent but blind stumbles forward
and unthinkingly brings forth her thinking child
still subject to her power but gifted with the sense
to examine and to know and judge.
And then in free imagination to create.
There lies his hope and his superiority
Through intellect alone can he be free.

The sea of the uncharted surrounds us
How are we to fix our place?
Follow the dim light of reason.
Ignore that dreamy cloud of life to come
and search slowly for the distant shore.
Knowledge is our destiny.

[Of meaning and a way of living and dying]
The chimera of all-embracing meaning beckons
The church points out the single course.
The intellect denies there is but one.
Each life proves out a multiplicity

There is no cosmic current guiding us.
We do not drift on the disorder of time.
The disciplined mind perceives the distant good
looming larger than the present pleasure
and knowingly alters course.

“Riches, fame, and the pleasures of sense:
These three so absorb the mind
it has little power to reflect on any different good,”
our excommunicated friend exclaims.
Pursuing these brings only satiation and dismay.
Find that which all may partake in ample portion
and not envy your possession of or take away.

Love towards a thing eternal can feed the mind forever.
There is a union of the mind with the whole of nature
and the good life is not in scattered moments of felt delight
but in perception of the order in all things.

“Sub specie aeternitatis” The words ring clear.
To see things illuminated by an eternal light,
To know that "the mind is its own place
and can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell”
or can rid itself of both and be content.
This is the power and the glory.

I have at moments perceived that general order
In exultation felt the beauty of the whole
A quality of life emerges from roots embedded far below
and bears blossoms in the brightening light.
What fruits may come I wish I knew.
My only faith is they will be wonderful.

I do not care that human value, works and dignity
finds no support, no status in the universe.
There is no division betwixt man and nature.
All man’s achievements are nature’s too
and Truth, Goodness, Beauty, dreams of man,
find reality in the world because we put them there.

Though death’s dread wave rolls in and breaks my being.
Pierced heart constricts, breath laying dormant will not come.
Yet I will rejoice that I had mind and vision
knowing this world is all there is and was enough.

R. Golden 3/06