A secular religion

The most boring question to ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.” It’s a measure of the banality of recent discussions on theological matters that it is precisely this issue which has hogged the limelight, pitting a hardcore group of fanatical believers against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.

We’d be wiser to start with the commonsense observation that, of course, no part of religion is true in the sense of being God-given. There is naturally no Holy Ghost, spirit, geist or divine emanation. Dissenters from this line can comfortably stop reading at this point, but for the rest of us the subject is henceforth far from closed.

The tragedy of modern atheism is to have ignored just how many aspects of religion continue to be interesting even when the central tenets of the great faiths are discovered to be entirely implausible. Indeed, it’s precisely when we stop believing in the idea that gods made religions that things become interesting, for it is then that we can focus on the human imagination which dreamt these creeds up. We can recognize that the needs which led people to do so must still in some way be active, albeit dormant, in modern secular man. God may be dead, but the bit of us that made God continues to stir.

That is Alain de Botton, writing in Forbes India of all places.

It’s part of a series, 25 ideas to change the world. (At least two of those ideas are about development, where they hear from Mohammed Yunus and Abhijit Banerjee.)

Hat tip to Michael Clemens, who really should blog rather than send me links all the time. I love the links, but I would love his blog more…

2 thoughts on “A secular religion

  1. Two ways for a specialization argument to play out:

    Blattman specializes in his blog; Clemens specializes in his blog. The blogs are different and they trade ideas.

    Blattman specializes in blog writing; Clemens specializes in … anything else he’d rather do. Blattman (and his audience) still get the benefit of Clemens’ links and Blattman’s writing style. In the error term: the audience’s utility evaluation of Blattman’s vs. Clemens’ writing, the value of whatever else Clemens spends that time on, the value of whatever else Blattman didn’t do while posting Clemens’ links…. Trade is probably more value-creating in this model, and the links come with a double recommendation.