The Lingering Faith in My Godlessness

New York City is, from many perspectives, an ideal haven for the newly godless. It is a stronghold of American secularism, its flagship store, if you will. Religion is mostly not discussed, at least not among the twenty- and thirty- somethings I've met over the last six years, except perhaps as a political force, a cause of explosions in distant marketplaces. I have never heard anyone at a gathering here casually reference his or her faith in any god -- not my Jewish friends when discussing their plans for the High Holy days, and especially not my friends raised Christian. Even the unlapsed, I suspect, fear seeming naive at best, at worst, evangelical.

So we do not talk about faith, even though New York is also a city teeming with believers -- Muslims and Sikhs, Jews and Jains, Wiccans and Jehovah's Witnesses, all practicing openly. In the almost subterranean studio I occupied on First Street in the East Village a while back, I had the Catholic Workers across the street, the Hari Krishnas around the corner, and, three blocks up, the Hell's Angels. The broker who helped me find that apartment confided in me without an ounce of embarrassment on the way up to the lease signing that she had known I was going to beat out other applicants because the Virgin Mother had appeared to her in a manhole cover on 2nd Avenue and told her so. A couple of years ago when I was reporting a story on the United States' only and now defunct Kosher Gym, I saw a man spread a small rug between two parked cars on Coney Island Avenue, kneel facing Mecca, and prostrate himself. I envied all of them their devotions.

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