Ash Wednesday for a Non-Believer

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People are mystified by how I can be religious without believing. One thing I find incredibly affecting is the Ash Wednesday service: periods of silence, and then having ashes put on your head and being told ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’.

I had a vivid experience this time of realising that, after recent personal success, I’ve started to be a bit reliant on that personal success for my sense of self-worth, which has impacted me morally and spiritually, a little bit. I think this is why it’s hard to be rich and spiritually fulfilled (camels through eyes of needles and all that): because it’s hard not to get reliant on wealth, comfort, and success, for your sense of who you are.

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.

5 Comments

  1. Jinkun Han says

    Maybe that’s why wealthy ones oftentimes feel obligated to be involved in philanthropy work, as a mean.
    I
    t’s hard to find an end within oneself, since (in my opinion) the process of searching for independent intrinsic values easily leads to nihilism and inaction. (which has been bothering me lately)

    Maybe that’s why most people find peace within religion – the end has become a divine figure so that prevents one from probing deeper into her inner-self.

  2. I attempted to write something one time on a sense of the sacred independent of any belief generally regarded as religious. Years ago I was much impressed with Religion Without Revelation by Julian Huxley. There is so much wrong with religion but there is still a need it fulfills. I’m not sure exactly how well Huxley’s would work to satisfy that need.

  3. Neil Macdonald says

    Religion, or if you like, a spirituality that demands more of us than self-satisfied naval gazing, draws us out of ourselves into a larger whole, and reminds us of our obligations to each other and to the cosmos. As Jinkun Han notes, it’s hard to find an end within ourselves without retreating into nihilsm.

    The older I get, the more I realize how deeply interconnected we are with each other and nature. A walk in the woods; a simple conversation with a friend; moving through a crowd; playing with a child: so many small moments in my life reveal to me how deeply embedded we are in this world.

    Philip reminds us that wealth and accomplishments often isolate us from our world and obscure those deep connections. ‘Twas ever thus, but the consequences have never been more dire than they are today.

  4. Steven Evans says

    “after recent personal success”

    Have you derived a single fact about matter or a single step towards an explanation of consciousness from your theory of panpsychism which is supposedly an ontology of matter and an explanation of consciousness?
    No, you haven’t. So you mean that you have had “success” making money and gaining attention by lying. So you are a fraud. It’s not surprising you are attracted to religion as it is also a fraud.

    “My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.”
    Tell us even one step you have made in this direction. You are a complete crank.

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