Unbelievers seek religion too

Know your enemy, ran the headline in a recent editorial of New Scientist: “To rule out God, first get to know him.” God, New Scientist seems surprised to find, is still everywhere. Try as we might to reduce the Almighty to the small “god” promoted by secularists, we can’t seem to rid ourselves of Him.

Perhaps, it suggests, we’ve been looking at “god” the wrong way. The new science of religion shows religious belief as more subtle and interesting than atheist prejudices have allowed. Belief seems to be ingrained in human beings – which is just as well, the magazine concedes, for “without it, we would still be living in the Stone Age”.

“Religion is deeply etched in human nature, and cannot be dismissed as a product of ignorance, indoctrination or stupidity. Until secularists recognise that, they are fighting a losing battle.”

Indeed, despite confident predictions of religion’s imminent demise, “religion is much more likely to persist than science”.

The magazine takes it as a given that we should all want to loosen religion’s grip. This, despite evidence “that a belief in god or gods does appear to encourage people to be nice to one another. Humans clearly don’t need religion to be moral, but it helps”.

In his new book Religion for Atheists, the British writer and “committed atheist” Alain de Botton makes the case for not throwing religion out with the holy water.

De Botton starts from the assumption that religious belief is “of course” nonsense, but departs from the militant atheism of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens in finding that religion is “not entirely daft”.

To the contrary, religion’s ability to “promote morality [and] engender a spirit of community” can be quite useful, provided one jettisons God from the equation.

De Botton wants to have his unbelief and religion, too. It is possible, he writes, to be an atheist and still find religion “sporadically useful, interesting and consoling”.  Continue reading


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