A Religion for Atheists? | Secular Transcendence
Interesting article from last year by Alain de Botton on the possibility of a ‘Religion for Atheists.’ De Botton is clear:
‘by getting rid of God, one would also be dispensing with a whole raft of very useful, if often peculiar and sometimes retrograde, notions that had held societies together since the beginning of time.’
So if God was got rid of, what sort of atheist religion could take its place? Interestingly, the problem he identifies is the lack of transcendence that our pretty much atheist society has:
We are the only society in history to have nothing transcendent at our centre, nothing which is greater than ourselves. In so far as we feel awe, we do so in relation to supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. The pre-scientific age, whatever its deficiencies, had at least offered its denizens the peace of mind that follows from knowing all man-made achievements to be inconsequent next to the spectacle of the universe. We, more blessed in our gadgetry but less humble in our outlook, have been left to wrestle with feelings of envy, anxiety and arrogance that follow from having no more compelling repository of our veneration than our brilliant and morally troubling fellow human beings…
He goes on to argue that this transcendence would be restored ‘through works of art, landscape gardening and architecture.’
Imagine a network of secular churches, vast high spaces in which to escape from the hubbub of modern society and in which to focus on all that is beyond us…
What is beyond, he argues, is the universe, is the sky and stars that make us feel so small. The piece actually made me feel rather sad, as if a lament for this God who has died – a longing to have something that replaced him, without actually wanting Him back. I wonder if other atheists agree, or if there are more who are more ‘low church’ about their unbelief, more materialist and earthy?
If, even in unbelief, we still long for transcendence, what are we transcending into? Transcending the self we have community, transcending that, humanity, and transcending that… our selfish genes? Gaia? It seems that at each level there is a natural drive to seek ‘the other’ beyond. And without that, as de Botton rightly notes, we get rather stuck in mundanity.