(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.