Religion for Atheists

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In his column in the Guardian this week, George Monbiot reaches conclusions strikingly similar to those I reached in my recent blog post. Because of this, and because reactions to my last post wildly misinterpreted what I was trying to say, I thought I’d try to give a shorter and clearer summary of my claim.

Monbiot is onto something when he says that the left needs to learn lessons from religion. The Occupy movement died because it had nothing to do with the everyday lives of its members outside of their political convictions. We need institutions which connect people up, not just for a march or a campaign, but through the very fabric of their lives: birth, marriage, death, coming of age.

But there is an easier alternative to creating brand new religion-like institutions, and that is to open currently existing religions up to atheists. Indeed, to a certain extent this is already done although little recognised: Quakers, Unitarians, and the ultra-liberal wing of the Church of England reject dogma and are open to members who see God as nothing more than the personification of human ideals. Why take the time and energy to create new religion-like institutions, rather than evolving those which already exist?

Our country is dominated by consumerism and a Tory press which is able to rewrite the 2008 failure of markets as a failure of progressive government; there needs to be something to counterbalance these powerful forces. Churches have been a powerful force in opposing government cuts and running food banks. If their ethical project were opened to those who are unable to believe in the supernatural, society could be transformed.

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.

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