Saturday, April 08, 2006


An article I wrote in The New Statesman - here - prompted this email from Steve Beck in the US.

"You describe the decline of christianity as a "problem." I think it's great. You speak of new age "spirituality" as "ersatz," and I agree, but how is new age mumbo-jumbo any worse than christianity? Both are false.
"I am an atheist who lives in Illinois, and I would love to live in a place like England, where so few people are religious. It seems that almost everyone I meet is devout, including my very own girlfriend. Sometimes I feel that the religious people who surround me are like zombies or robots.
"I don't think anything is missing when people give up their superstitions. If anyone wants to get involved in something "bigger than himself"--well, go for it: join a political party, become an expert in early christian religion, take dance lessons, whatever. I have never believed in "god," I never will, and I don't think I'm missing anything."

I sympathise. Being surrounded by the excessively religious must be just like being surrounded by the excessively secular. I am trying, however, to explain religion as something other than a superstition, a church or even an explicit faith. We've all got it, some just don't know it.
But - a smaller point, though an important one - Steve's email reveals the true depth of the gulf between Britain and America.


  1. We do indeed belong to something larger than ourselves; it's called the physical universe! As your correspondent from Illinois indicates, we also belong to a human society larger than ourselves, and perhaps the case of the USA demonstrates clearly that the unplesant aspects of modern society, such as feelings of alienation, are caused by consumerism and individualism, rather than secularism. Certainly, if crime rates can be taken as a symptom of alienation, then sectarian USA suffers worse than secular Europe.

    We live in a society where people mostly believe that they have rights, but rarely believe that they have obligations to others, and this, it seems to me, is the main problem.

    Clearly, when people claim that 'we' feel a need to belong to something larger than ourselves, the implication is actually that we feel a need for there to be a metaphysical reality beyond the physical universe. Why is this any more reassuring than belonging to a physical universe larger than ourselves? Well, I think Bryan is correct here when he refers to the conditions of our existence. Our sense of self-identity, combined with our sense of mortality, are the conditions of our existence responsible for engendering metaphysical and religious beliefs. Most people fear death in the physical world, and only the invention of a metaphysical reality is capable of providing us with a form of continuation beyond death, which also preserves our sense of self.

    Contributing to various institutions, companies and projects, creating works of art, making scientific discoveries, inventing, designing and developing technological devices, generating progeny and rearing them; all these things create a legacy for us, all these things leave tracks in the sand, but those tracks are all too easily swept away by the tide, and none preserve our sense of self beyond death.

  2. The use of the word 'false' is the giveaway here, isn't it? It simply can't be applied to 'religion' as such, implying as it does a yardstick against which religion cannot be measured. What was it Wittgenstein said about religion? 'For a mistake, that's too big.'
    Thought it was high time someone posted a comment on this one, with its forlorn zero...

    Mahatma Kane Jeeves

  3. Thanks to both of you. This is something people think about far more than media coverage suggests. It is one that, especially as it relates to art in particular and culture in general, preoccupies me more and more. And that Wittgenstein quote - "For a mistake, that's too big" - pure genius.

  4. Bryan, methinks you should check out these 5 related references.

    Real God Is The Indivisible Oneness of Unbroken Light via:



    The Secret Idenity of the Holy Spirit of God at:


    Essays on politics & culture at:



    John Melbourne/Oz

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