Monday, 4 August 2014

Missa Whaat?

Half-listening to the radio last night as I drifted towards sleep, I heard what I took to be a traditional setting of the Mass for four male voices - but there seemed to be something wrong with the words. What was it? I could only make out odd fragments, so was none the wiser, until the presenter (the Right Rev Mark Tully) came on and told us that it was... Missa Charles Darwin!
Yes, a bright spark called Gregory Brown had decided to put words from Darwin's seminal works and correspondence to a traditional Mass setting. You can read all about it here, and listen online if you care to... It put me in mind of those absurd Temples of  Reason that sprang up after the French Revolution, appropriating the apparatus of Christianity and adapting its rituals to lend spurious resonance to atheism and humanism. A Mass based on Darwin's writings strikes me as either a fabulously stupid gesture or blasphemy, or perhaps both. No doubt some keen atheist is already at work on a Missa Richard Dawkins...


  1. Vespers for Christopher Hitchins.....?

  2. I once read that some high-minded Victorian atheist produced a version of Handel's Messiah with secular words, but I've never been able to find out what they were. Does anybody know? It sounds just the kind of thing that Samuel Butler - atheist and Handelian - would do.

  3. Well, it's all of a one with those atheist 'churches' that have popped up and then find they can do nothing but do a secular palimpsest of a Low Church service.

  4. In 2003, a musical based on Darwin was presented at the Cambridge Science Festival. Mysteriously, it never made Broadway despite such unforgettable toe-tappers as "I'm a Selfish Gene and I'm Programmed to Survive".

    You are right to analogize to Temples of Reason, Museums of Atheism, etc. One of the reasons our militant angry atheists scour the land for simple fundamentalists to skewer and mock with charges of superstition is that it deflects from the vacuousness of their own faith that the human spirit keeps rebelling against in large numbers. Dawkins is obviously senstive to this charge. His last book was an effort to "transcendentalize" evolution by trying to show how beautiful and inspiring it is. I'm guessing he found the dismissive techniques he perfected when arguing with undergrads and rural Baptist preachers in Appalachia didn't work so well with learned Dons at High Table in Oxford.