“Fascinating,” Mr. Spock used to intone dryly, revealing not a hint of emotion in his flat voice, and perhaps only the slightest bemusement with his single arched eyebrow.
For many people in the rational, skeptical, critical-thinking, freethought, atheist, agnostic, humanist communities, Star Trek’s Mr. Spock has always held a special place in the pantheon of popular culture heroes. His use of pure logic and intellect, his clear-headed calculations, and his cool composure under pressure made him the very icon of reason and, thus, the embodiment of that to which any good (not)God-fearing person aspired.
But, of course, even casual fans of the Star Trek saga will remember one very important fact about the Spock character: he was half Vulcan AND half human, the son of Sarek, Ambassador to the Federation, and Amanda Grayson. And while he strove to sublimate his emotions beneath his cool, calculating exterior, there were moments in the series that he couldn’t keep his human side from bubbling to the surface, for example when Spock witnesses the destruction of his home planet at the hands of the Romulan villain, Nero.
What on Earth (or any other planet, for that matter) does this have to do with Sunday Assembly?
As much as many of us might like to be like our pointy-eared hero, observing the world around us and making rational choices based on the evidence available, we mustn't forget that logic and reason are only half the Spock story.
Anybody who has been around the atheo-sphere for any length of time has surely been to events that appeal to our most Spock-like organ, the brain. Many of us thrill at the mind-bending accomplishments of science. We love the intoxicating feeling of being steeped in heady ideas (indeed, look at the very adjective just used to describe them). At Sunday Assembly when Craig Stark demonstrated how our memories morph and change or Jessica Cail showed us brain scans of straight men comparing them to straight women and gay men, many of us were thrilled to follow the stories of those discoveries.
But there is that other organ, the heart, which of course we understand to be a metaphor, knowing that our emotions are the result of electrochemical processes taking place in the brain. Even so, we still experience many emotions, from excitement to joy, to fear and to sadness through physiological reactions that seem to center in our chest, so the metaphor is an apt one.
I wasn’t raised in a church-going family. I was never exposed to the “smells and bells” of religious ritual. But I have had those transcendent experiences that many people can have in a religious setting. Once, I was swept away by a searing blues guitar as I drove along a lonely coastal highway in the middle of the night. Another time, I had the sensation like I was falling into an abstract expressionist painting in a museum and lost all sense of time and place. Sam Harris, in his book "Waking Up", explores meditation in a secular context as a means to the transcendent. Maybe for you it is a walk among the redwoods or holding a newborn baby.
I’ve long wondered if Sunday Assembly can create a stimulus response anywhere below the neckline. When we asked Terri Walton to do the reading for April and sent her the story of the man spending time with his aging mother as she reminisced about kissing her late husband whose name she could no longer recall, Terri said she would have to really rehearse it to get through it without crying. As she shared it with the Assembly, I watched many in the audience fighting back the tears. So, yeah, there are times that the Sunday Assembly experience can touch the other side of our Spock-ian being.
Are there other ways that Sunday Assembly can touch the emotional side, to celebrate more than just the cerebral, to create those transcendent moments? Can that be achieved through the music? We don’t have a pipe organ on which to play stirring J.S. Bach fugues, but can “Johnnie B. Goode” sung in unison lift us up out of the mundane? How about the social events? At our Explore Deeper discussion group, people have shared their stories from the heart and formed lasting relationships through them. What about service projects? When we put somebody else’s needs before our own, does that make us part of something greater than ourselves?
In what ways could Sunday Assembly be more than just a “head trip” for you? Sunday Assembly likes to promote itself as “the best bits of church without the religion, and awesome pop songs.” We shy away from becoming too much like the church experience that many Assemblers have rejected. But is there a “best bits” that we’re missing for you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, either here in the comments section or on our active Facebook forum. In the meantime, (with apologies to Mr. Spock) continue to “live long, help often, prosper more.”