All Gone

Listening to William Billings’ “Chester”

I cannot help but weep to sing these words,
and by them, lodge my soul with those who sang
them many years ago. From their hearts rang
both faith and freedom, backed with lives and swords,
who fought and lived as one against their foe.
In God they trusted; He inspir’d their zeal
and courage. God to them was true and real,
a God to praise, proclaim, adore, and know.

Well, that’s all gone now, all long gone. And we
the people are no more; instead, a sea
of feeble and self-centered folk pursue
agendas different as their names, and do
whatever seems to suit their interests. Now
we are the only god to whom we bow.



T.M. and Susie Moore make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. He is Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, and the author of 8 books of poetry. He and Susie have collaborated on more than 30 books, which may be found, together with their many other writings and resources, including the daily teaching letter Scriptorium, at

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13 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    The point is not new, yet this sonnet brings one up short.
    I’m reminded of a statement that none of the American revolutionaries, not even one like Paine, would have avowed atheism.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Paine was never an atheist — in his works he specifically mentions his belief in a benevolent God. But he was a typical eighteenth-century Deist, and not connected to any organized religious sect.

  2. Monty

    This is a beautifully-written sonnet, TM: in which you’ve bared your soul as well as your lamentations. Although you convey a feeling of exasperation at the prevalent atheism in today’s society, it seems that – at the same time – you’re reluctantly coming to terms with it. And so you should! It’s not worth losing sleep over; just be grateful for your own faith. A dear chum of mine in England once wrote a poem (some 30 years ago, now) in which the last line read: ‘The church is dead . . long live love!’ Of course he was only generalising (with the first four words), and he was speaking only of the British existence; but it was a valid statement in its day, and a hundred times more valid today! And its validity will continue growing in the western world as each day passes; thus you’d do well to fully come to terms with it.

    Of course you’re right when you say that, these days, “a sea of folk pursue agendas as different as their names; and do whatever seems to suit their interests”: but you’re wrong to label such people as “feeble and self-centred”. How can it be anything other than positive that folk these days pursue interests which actually interest THEM as an individual, as opposed to days gone by when they were expected to pursue the collective interests? What better way to attain self-fulfilment than pursuing one’s own interests?

    With religion, you yourself have always pursued YOUR own interests, in the same way that birdwatchers or art-collectors have pursued THEIR own interests. Live and let live, TM: and be grateful that your own faith is as genuine and deeply-felt as your poetry always informs us.

    • T. M.

      Monty: Of course you are correct, that each of us is free and responsible for the choices we make. At the same time, none of us makes choices or takes actions in life without some underlying set of beliefs to guide us. And, in a very real sense, we choose those beliefs, nurture and guard them, and use them, as we hope, to our advantage. The person whose beliefs say basically, “I can do whatever I think best or feel like doing, to the extent that I can do it without bringing harm to myself” is not the kind of person you want to entrust with your life savings or your deepest secrets. “I am the captain of my soul” rings pretty hollow when we consider how basically self-interested, self-serving, and unwilling to put others first most of us are. We gather in tribes of like-minded people in the hope that together we can obtain more of what we want, even if it is at the expense of others or other tribes. I find it more satisfying for myself and more beneficial for my neighbor to embrace as my basic set of beliefs love for God – Who is good, true, faithful, wise, and more – and love for my neighbor, even if at my own expense. And, yes, I have chosen this way of life, because the love shown me on the cross of Calvary convinces me I can do no better for my life now and hereafter than to deny my naturally selfish tendencies and, to the best of my ability (with God’s help), to think of others as better than myself, to regard their needs and interests as of at least equal importance as my own, and to do whatever I can to bring to their lives and mine as much of the righteousness, peace, and joy which is in Jesus Christ as I possibly can. I am persuaded that this is how we were meant to live.

  3. Julian D. Woodruff

    Are you being facetious or are you one of those cringe-worthy practical atheists?

    • Monty

      Is that your only two guesses? Will you not venture a third? Or push the boat out for a fourth?

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Suppose you tell us, Monty. You have more to go on than I .

      • Monty

        What d’you mean by “tell us, Monty”? Who’s “us”? It’s only you who’s asked me a question – no one else. But, let’s face it, it wasn’t really a question as such, was it? What you actually did was tell me – not ask me, but tell me – that there were only two possible reasons for me writing an advisory comment to TM: a/ I was being facetious.. b/ I’m a cringe-worthy practical(?) atheist . . . meaning you’re secure in the knowledge that it could only’ve been for one of those two reasons.

        Hence, if you’re that certain that I could only’ve wrote the comment for one of those two reasons . . then instead of trying to decide which one it was, why don’t you simply lump them both together – ‘Monty wrote that comment to TM ‘coz he’s a cringe-worthy practical atheist who was being facetious’. That way, you’ll be satisfying yourself, given that that’s what you wanted to say all along!

        I offered TM what I considered to be genuine, valid, and sound advice. It was unsolicited advice, admittedly, and possibly unwanted by TM; but I offered it. You’ve obviously decided that I did so for more sinister reasons.. and you’re perfectly entitled to reach that conclusion. But stick with it! Don’t ask me questions about it, ‘coz nothing I say will make you change your mind.

  4. Julian D. Woodruff

    First, I say “us,” because, although I am the one who called you on this, I certainly hope that others are paying attention, and that your words ought to be appropriate to a public forum.
    Second, if I was making assumptions about you, you are now certainly making assumptions about me! And I was actually trying to get you to explain further your comment: assuming it was, as you say, honest, it honestly struck me as a show of the sort of indifferentism exemplified by the “coexist” bumper sticker, as in “one is just as good as another[–isn’t it great?],” which I (and I suspect others) translate as “let’s just forget the whole thing and be happy hedonists.” If that’s not what you meant, show me how I’m being a thick-headed ass and I’ll apologize. Appreciation is possible. Tolerance, to a point, is possible. But to say that the state of unbelief in our society (let alone China et al), and its ramifications over the last 70 years is not worth losing sleep over (or writing earnestly about) is definitely something to take issue with.

    • Monty

      You should always speak only for yourself, Ju: if you choose to question something that another says, it’s imprudent to assume that others will also want to ask the same question. Don’t concern yourself with what others may or may not want to know. On top of which, I personally have always found it to be disingenuous when someone uses the words “we” or “us” when they really mean “I” or “me”. It signifies that they’re not wholly confident in what they’re saying; so they write “we/us” instead of “me/I” to pretend they’ve got the support of others, in the hope that their words will sound more convincing: will carry more weight (another contributor to these pages has always tried to use the same tactics).

      Another such example of when one speaks without conviction is when they start straying away from the original subject; and golly.. how you’ve done so here. My initial comment was a simple and personal offering of advice to TM, suggesting that he – for his own contentment – comes to terms with the increasingly atheist world in which he finds himself today (a comment which speaks for itself, hence doesn’t need to be “explained further”) . . and from that simple comment, you’ve somehow managed to pluck relatively alien words from nowhere, such as “indifferentism”.. “coexist bumper sticker” (whatever that means!).. “hedonists”.. “tolerance”.. “China”.. and (my firm favourite) “70 years”. What are you going on about? Those words belong in another conversation; they bear no relevance to my simple comment to TM. It’s like you’ve invented a different conversation!

      If, as it seems, your bubble may’ve been burst by my indubitable assertion that the western world has become increasingly (some may say predominantly) atheist; if you choose not to believe it; if you challenge my right to make said assertion; I can offer you evidence . . just read again TM’s sonnet. Before the break, he writes of previous times when Man had “faith, to praise, proclaim and adore” god: a time when there were many believers. But after the break, he laments: “Well, that’s all gone now, all long gone. And we the people (the believers) are no more. Now we (the believers) are the only god to whom we bow”.

      See? His own words.. evidence! Although he’s obviously generalising, TM is lamenting the fact that he’s living in an increasingly atheist (western) world. It’s written there for all to see. And yet when I said exactly the same thing, you challenged my right to say it; you challenged whether my words were “appropriate to a public forum”; you used the words “cringe-worthy” and “facetious”. You then went on to utter all kinds of irrelevances (“China”.. “70 years”.. phew!).

      Thus I trust that I now HAVE shown you how, in this instance, you were being – in your own words – a “thick-headed ass” (although they’re not the words I would’ve chosen myself – I feel they’re a bit harsh. I would’ve simply said that you misguidedly jumped on the bandwagon to create a debate which didn’t exist).

      I’m now satisfied that I’ve defended myself adequately from your accusations, and I shall make no further comments on the matter; so feel free to say what you wish if you comment further – I won’t reply. I must also stress that I’ll have absolutely no qualms at all about you questioning any future comments I make on these pages (there’s no harm in a healthy debate); but I ask that if you choose to do so, you will only represent yourself, and not try to represent other people.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        As I have no means of carrying on a private conversation with you, asking you a question the answer to which might be directed to any who might visit the site and wish to speak in support of either of us (or against us both) seems only appropriate. If we were in a public debate, I might surely address to you a question we’d both anticipate the answer you furnish to be of interest to people besides myself. Same here. And I suspect at least Mr. Moore has read our exchange with interest. (Only a suspicion, mind you–I’m not imputing that he has done so.)
        So, I did not say, mean, or imply that your words do not belong in a public forum. An amplification or clarification is what I sought.
        My problem is that, although you hold the “indubitable assertion that the western world has become increasingly (some may say predominantly) atheist,” you seem quite accepting of that state of affairs. To me (to go off on what you would call one of my wild tangents, or worse), this is to “go gentle into that good night” of moral eclipse, evidence of which is seen almost everywhere one turns.
        When Mr. Moore says, “a sea of folk pursue agendas as different as their names; and do whatever seems to suit their interests,” I read (yes, my take, not necessarily anyone else’s) that he’s concerned with the fragmentation of society due in part to irreligion: “all we like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way” is the scripture passage that came instantly to my mind. I see them not as “feeble,” but surely “self-centered,” and, even more, lost. You respond, “How can it be anything other than positive that folk these days pursue interests which actually interest THEM as an individual, as opposed to days gone by when they were expected to pursue the collective interests? What better way to attain self-fulfilment than pursuing one’s own interests?” At that point I felt I had to make sure I should take you at your word. (I do apologize for doing so in a way that could not have elicited a dispassionate response from you!) Perhaps you were thinking of pursuits like writing or city planning, wherein the world is enriched by a diversity of skills and experiences. But that’s not the sense I get from what you’ve said in these posts. To me, to Mr. Moore (I would guess), and maybe to you too, it’s a matter of moral orientation. And the fragmentation to which Mr. Moore alludes (which I feel strongly) relates to the first question man asks in the bible: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
        I confess I am still unable to make out your position on such a question. But maybe you wonder why it should matter to me (or else be amazed at my uncertainty–making me to you that “thick-headed ass”).
        P.S. It should have occurred to me that the “Coexist” bumper sticker might not be found in the British Commonwealth or Ireland. Possibly you can access an image of one online.

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