Religion: Ignore God, It’s About The Sacred
The author, Roger Scruton, is surprised by ‘the extent to which religion is caricatured by its current opponents, who see it as nothing more than a system of unfounded beliefs about the cosmos – beliefs, that, to the extent that they conflict with the scientific worldview, are heading straight for refutation.’
Refuted they might be, but going away, they ain’t. And this is what really riles Dawkins and Hitchens. They get very wound up at having exposed the whole thing as a fiction, only for people to nod and go on believing it. Scruton, as others have, points to work that has shown how the sacred (‘moments that stand outside time, in which the loneliness and anxiety of the human individual is confronted and overcome, through immersion in the group’) is actually a hugely important part of what it is to be human.
He goes on to look in particular at the writings of René Girard, who works with a kind of inversion of Nietzche: religion is not the cause of violence, but the solution to it. The arguments are too involved to set out briefly here, and I would strongly encourage you to read it fully, (PDF here) but a Scruton summarizes his position:
“The experience of the sacred is not an irrational residue of primitive fears, nor is it a form of superstition that will one day be chased away by science. It is a solution to the accumulated aggression which lies in the heart of human communities.”
The question this leaves me with is: once we have returned to the sacred, where is God, and what of the Christ event? Girard does touch on this, but what I am really looking forward to at Greenbelt this summer is hearing Peter Rollins talk on this very subject.
Connected post: Gift Exchange and Terror. Violence occurs when ‘the gift’ – an act of openness between the self and an-other – breaks down.