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(This was first published in 2009.)

I’m a Christian. I’ve been a confirmed Anglican since 2003. I’m a regular churchgoer and continue to be involved in all kinds of areas of parish life.

I am also an agnostic. I accept the intellectual arguments for atheism, and recognized about 18 months ago that I had long since given up on theism. I believe God is a human construct.

Where the mainstream arguments of atheists fall down, I think, is in assuming that because there’s (probably) no God, there’s no place for religion. In my experience, this just doesn’t follow. I’ve had to radically reinterpret my faith recently, but its language, rituals, symbols and meanings have remained. To me it’s all about metaphor, and the outward practice of religious worship is about acknowledging the sacred dimension of life and taking time to remind oneself to live in it.

Everyone has some way of connecting with the sacred. It might be nature, music, a relationship, an intellectual pursuit. Mine just happens to be a religion, and it’s not inherently better or worse than anyone else’s means of engaging the sacred. I frequently hear from atheists that we “don’t need religion,” as if “not needing” were enough of a reason to abolish it. “Don’t need” is in itself ambiguous. What is need? Do you need a beautiful sunset? Do you need your wife? Do you need Beethoven’s symphonies? There’s a sense in which we don’t need these things at all. We could live without them; we don’t need art in the way we need oxygen, for example. Why must the next logical step be abolishment? There’s another sense in which we can’t live without these things.

I need religion only in the way other people need an art or a beautiful landscape or a loved one. An emotional crutch? Only if you can call Mozart or marriage or movies an emotional crutch. We don’t all need these things, but we all need something.

3 Comments

Sabio Lantz, May 29, 2012 Reply

(1) When writing about Christianity, Hinduism and Atheism, I try carefully to use the word “SOME” more often than I’d prefer. For instance, adding “some” in front of atheists in this sentence changes the meaning improtantly:

I frequently hear from atheists that we “don’t need religion,” as if “not needing” were enough of a reason to abolish it.

(2) I, like you, am not an anti-religion atheist. I am anti some of the elements inside of the religions of some: exclusivity, hatred, bigotry (against women, gay, blacks …), jingoism, anti-science and more. These things exist outside of religion too. But a major problem with many religions is they capitalize on the sanctitity/taboo part of the brain and forbid doubt, questioning and reasoning of such things — they have means to seal in ugliness. At least ugliness in secular society is open to dialogue. Only one thing damages like religion — government. Religion can seal in ugliness and stop all doubt of authority by using the taboo part of the brain, Government can do the same using the power of monopoly of violence.

We might agree on the above two points, but your post was centered on a mistaken notion:

3) Likening the giving up of art with giving up religion is a mistake of categories and a rhetorical tool used at the expense of understanding. We find cultures that thrive without religion, but we don’t find cultures without art.

I understand that your religion — which you are largely invested in — has become like an art to you, but giving up religion for those who it is not an art and for who it is oppressive, is not like giving up art. I have not raised my children with religion and thus they have more room for art in their lives and will never have to wrestle like you have to justify keeping silly beliefs when their logic catches up with them.

I think it is possible to stay healthfully involved in religion as you have and I think this is very good for the planet. Religion done right can offer the world many good things.

David L Rattigan (post author) , May 30, 2012 Reply

Hmm, I didn’t really intend to generalize about atheists, but point taken.

I don’t deny anyone the right to give up religion altogether, and I certainly don’t condemn them for it. I totally understand it. My art/religion analogy may be flawed, but my point is that just because the world doesn’t need religion, that doesn’t mean it’s of no value. I’m not arguing that religion has to be valuable for everyone — just that to some people it is valuable in a way comparable to art. Say I happen to like Beethoven. The statement “You don’t need Beethoven” may be true, but it doesn’t mean anything. It just happens to mean something to me; whether I “need” it isn’t an argument for or against its value.

Lastly, while I’ve done my fair share of trying to justify keeping silly beliefs, I’m past that now; I don’t believe any of it in that sense. Now I just have the silly rituals, the same way some people have Star Trek, techno music or mountain-climbing. 😉

Jacquie, August 11, 2012 Reply

David, you have captured my interest in your writing here…as one who has left church behind and was in danger of leaving behind any spirituality I have recently awakened again to the joy of discovery of that which is bigger than myself.

You have chosen to worship in a formal church setting which I can understand would hold much less risk than the fundi days of yore and I have no qualms, knowing your love of music as an example, that both worship and music (not exclusively) give meaning and pleasure to your life. For me the choice is different (i.e. leaving church involvement behind) but I don’t see either of us being right or wrong. Would it be too trite to say “whatever floats your boat” to be an apt phrase in this circumstance. It is good to have the freedom to choose any path that brings colour to our lives.

I would recommend a new website for yourself or any of your friends who are spiritually seeking…

http://www.nakedpastor.com/?p=11886 (video by David Hayward, Naked Pastor) introducing the new website.

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