© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

god’s burning love for me

The Minneapolis Star Tribune contacted me a few weeks back to see if I’d mind being featured in their “Believer” profile, a weekly sidebar in the Faith & Values section. Why not. They sent a few questions and gave me a 200-word limit. Here’s the result:

BELIEVER
Dale McGowan, 44, Robbinsdale

Occupation: Writer.

Identifies as: Secular humanist.

Favorite work of music
Piano Concerto in G Major, Maurice Ravel. The whole bittersweet human comedy is in that one amazing piece.

What do you believe in?
This natural universe is all there is. We are all made of the same material as the stars, but unlike most of the stuff in the universe, we have the astonishing good fortune to be conscious for a short while. We should never stop dancing and singing in the face of that magnificent luck. We are cosmically insignificant, inconceivably unimportant — except to each other, to whom we should therefore be unspeakably precious.

Describe something your values have helped you navigate.
I’ve spent 30 years reflecting on my father’s death. Now that I’ve reached his final age, a naturalistic understanding of death has led me to fear it less. I’ll never experience death, since my death, by definition, will be the absence of me. I won’t be there — so what’s to fear? Our identities spring entirely from a constantly recomposed electrochemical symphony playing in our heads. Asking where my “self” goes when that electrochemical symphony ends is like asking where the music goes when an orchestra stops playing. We are living music. How wonderful is that?

Only two Baptists called to save me, followed by weeks of silence. I thought I was out of the woods — until today, when I received this letter:

Dear Dale,

I’m sending these booklets to you so that you know God loves you. When you die, you don’t die like a dog. You will go on forever!

I’m 74, & received Christ into my life at age 11. I’ve never regretted it for a minute.

Love, & Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus,
Virginia H—

Enclosed were two signs of God’s burning love for me: a Jack Chick tract, including this panel:

lakeofire

…and a second pamphlet:

first6days
YOUR FIRST SIX DAYS IN HELL.

She sent them, she said, so I could know God loves me.

If that’s God’s idea of love, Virginia…well, he can frankly go love himself.

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This was written on Thursday, 31. May 2007 at 14:34 and was filed under belief and believers, death, Uncategorized. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. This looks like one of the (in)famous “chick tracts”, published by Jack Chick.
    An amusing parody of one of those tracts can be found at:
    http://www.jhuger.com/tract/dtr/index

    Comment: Steelman – 31. May 2007 @ 4:02 pm

  2. “What do you believe in?
    This natural universe is all there is….unspeakably precious.”

    Holy smokes that was beautiful! That should go on a coffee mug and a book of quotations. Good work.

    I ordered your book through Amazon, by the way, and it should arrive next week. (Super saver shipping for cheapo me!) Looking forward to reading it. 🙂

    Comment: OsakaGuy – 31. May 2007 @ 8:14 pm

  3. Dale – was there more to that interview? We’d love to read the whole thing.

    And, entertainment wise, I’m disappointed that you only got three “hits”.

    Comment: Amanda – 31. May 2007 @ 9:30 pm

  4. Thanks, Osaka! I rather liked it, too. Once in awhile it comes out right.

    And no, Amanda, I’m afraid that’s the whole thing. It’s just a little box they put in once a week. I was so pleased when they contacted me and said they wanted to include a secular humanist! They toyed with titling it “(Non)Believer,” but in the end decided it messed with the template too much for cross-referencing, etc. “Besides,” said the reporter, “you do believe in stuff — just not God.” True enough.

    As for the three hits — HA! I’m quite sure I’m in for more than that in the long run, including the hits I’m destined to take on Satan’s anvil. I could really do without the actual phone calls, though. That’s just cheeky.

    Comment: Dale – 31. May 2007 @ 11:19 pm

  5. Can you just imagine calling up the next “Believer” in the paper and trying to persuade them that God doesn’t exist? Where do these people get the hoo-haas to do that? The more I pay attention, the more it all just baffles me.

    Comment: Amanda – 01. June 2007 @ 7:13 am

  6. Dale, is there any particular reason why you chose (choose?) to be identified as a “Secular Humanist” over, say, “atheist”, “freethinker” or the like?

    Not that labels matter much to me, but I was just curious about your choice for this particular “template”.

    Keep up the good work! Love the book.

    Comment: Theo – 05. June 2007 @ 4:50 am

  7. I like this question, especially when it’s posed fanglessly. I use them all in different situations, depending on what I’m emphasizing, because I am all three. But secular humanist includes the most information and is the culmination of the other two.

    If I’m distinguishing myself from a theist, I call myself an atheist. But as Vonnegut noted, atheism is only a starting point, a negation — albeit an important one. When a believer asks why I don’t call myself an atheist, I ask why s/he doesn’t call herself a “theist” instead of Methodist or Druid or whatever. Why, that’s too vague, s/he says. It doesn’t say enough. To which I say bingo.

    Once you’ve rejected the idea of gods, secular humanism articulates the worldview that results from that, including personal freedom, a focus on this world, and mutual responsibility.

    I add “secular” to “humanist” because there are some theistic and religious humanists who believe in god(s) but choose to focus on humanity.

    If on the third hand I’m emphasizing the ability to think freely without the constraints of orthodoxy, I call myself a freethinker. That’s what comes first, methinks: Being a freethinker led me to atheism, which led to secular humanism.

    A Venn diagram of secular humanists and atheists, btw, would be almost completely round. I have never known one who was not also the other.

    Comment: Dale – 05. June 2007 @ 8:50 am

  8. Brilliant. I really like the way you express yourself. I’m surprised you didn’t get more positive responses.

    Comment: matsonwaggs – 05. June 2007 @ 6:24 pm

  9. I’m embarassed to say that the person that sent you those horrid pamphlets sounds like my Mom! What a way to win people over to christianity, eh? I guess they can sleep better now knowing that they at least TRIED to save your sorry soul. LOL I have a blog called “Mom’s a religious nut and Dad was an atheist” – (savemenot,wordpress,com) so, you can imagine that I can relate.

    I want to say thanks for this website (which I just found), and for your book (PBB), which I am about half way thru. WONDERFUL to have for a person like me.

    Take care.
    smj

    Comment: samanthamj – 14. June 2007 @ 7:54 pm

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