Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Atheists Need Better Liturgists

Religion News Service reports on the phenomenon of atheists who feel the very-telling need to get ritually de-baptized. From the ritual:
In a type of mock ceremony that's now been performed in at least four states, a robed "priest" used a hairdryer marked "reason" in an apparent bid to blow away the waters of baptism once and for all. Several dozen participants then fed on a "de-sacrament" (crackers with peanut butter) and received certificates assuring they had "freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition."

I'm going to leave all the irony alone here, in part because it's too obvious to my readers. I'd like to discuss why these guys need a new liturgist.

A symbol is powerful because it is at the same time obvious and suitable for sustained contemplation.

On the obvious side, water is necessary for life; flame gives light; bread provides nourishment.

A very little deeper, water drowns; flame burns; the bread which gives nourishment is itself consumed.

Both meanings are very suitable for the presentation and contemplation of Christian doctrine and there are many more meanings to these Christian symbols.


A good symbol also requires no label, unlike the atheist hairdryer labeled "Reason". The symbol for "Reason" should be obvious and powerful enough that it requires no label. But there is no clear connection between a hairdryer and "Reason". Someone who labels things is more of a sloppy editorial cartoonist than a powerful image maker. Isn't that one reason we hated those 70s felt banners?

Leaving that aside, what does a hairdryer do? It blows hot air. Umm, on second thought maybe they picked a revealing symbol for atheism after all.