O Karma, Dharma, Pudding, and Pie

Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. ‘Setting the Inner Compass’, is a column where I share poems that I find meaningful and hope others do as well.

This month’s poem has a little edge to it. It’s funny and at the same time not so funny. The poet, Philip Appleman was a Darwin scholar. He was known as the “Poet Laureate of Humanism and Freethought[1]“. In his writing we find a harsh critique of religion and the violence done in the name of God. It may seem odd to include him and this poem in a church publication. I don’t. I think it’s important to hear and take seriously how those outside religion may see people of faith.

A few years back now, in 2004, along with my close friend and professional Futurist, Glen Hiemstra, I was invited to host a seminar at the national meeting in Washington, DC of the World Future Society. The topic was, Will Religion be the Death of Us? Glen and I expected a group of twenty to thirty. We were amazed when we overflowed the meeting room with more than one hundred participants. I began the session with the poem below. It was received with laughter and robust applause. We then spent the seminar talking about the danger of religion and the rise of what was then called the “religious right”. We looked ahead and wondered if religion threatened the future or if there was an approach to religion that could help create a secure future working alongside reason and science. The sense of those in the room is that the anti-science approach they felt was present in much of religion in general and American Christianity in particular was a threat to the planet and future we needed to create. This was 2004. Eighteen years later, Will Religion be the Death of us? is a question and topic worth exploring. 

As a person of faith and a member of a denomination that values the life of the mind, I can see clearly the danger posed by any religion that divorces faith from intellectual pursuits and critical thinking. Presbyterians have a different story to tell. Let’s tell it!




O Karma, Dharma, Pudding, and Pie.” by Philip Appleman

O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die:
grant me wisdom, will, & wit,
purity, probity, pluck, & grit.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice—
these little blessings would suffice
to beget an earthly paradise:
make the bad people good—
and the good people nice;
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.

[1] From the Freedom From Religion webpage.


“O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,” by Philip Appleman, from Selected Poems University of Arkansas, 1996. Used by the permission of the University of Arkansas Press.

Rev. Dave Brown [email protected] is a writer and the creator/host of Blues Vespers. The Washington Blues Society recognized him with the 2022 Keeping the Blues Alive award. The former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma WA he is a member of the Self Development of People National Committee and serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable. Dave, with Imam Jamal Rahman, does programs around interfaith relationships.  His most recent poetry collection is, I Don’t Usually but…

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