A Synthesis between Religion and Atheism?

Categories 5 Zeitgeist
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For some considerable time now, we’ve seen a strong and at times fierce, divide between religion and atheism in UK society. Gladiators from both sides have slugged it out in public debate ; adverts have been posted on London buses proclaiming either that there is, or that there isn’t a God ; books challenging belief in God have sold by the million. In this divided society, individual churches can often thrive, but in total they represent a very small fraction of the population, much of which is indifferent, or simply atheist. The confrontational argument has subsided, but it’s left a stand-off. Is it now a permanent fracture line? And if so, how do we achieve any social cohesion between such conflicting views?

We could ask whether the two views are in fact necessarily so diametrically opposed? At first it seems they must be ; one side believes in God, and the other side doesn’t. If religion is defined as claims about truth, and presented as doctrines which have to be believed, then the argument with atheism may indeed be irreconcilable. Church, temple and mosque – and society – may have nothing to say to each other, and simply withdraw to their own corners. But religion can be interpreted differently, can offer more value, and become more inclusive. This is the interpretation of religion as myth. Not myth meaning empty untrue stories, but myth generating meaning reflecting on the big issues we face. All societies have their mythology, the ancient Greeks famously so. They are usually presented as value stories or morality plays, such as Hinduism’s wondrous myth of Ram and Sita, where a lover goes to any extremes to rescue the beloved. Christianity has great myth content too. Christ’s dialogue is full of stories and parables with moral meaning, challenging human behaviour. Grand themes of justice, the eternal struggle of sibling rivalry, the nature of the virtues, of forgiveness, and of love are all played out. No doctrinal belief is required. Not even in God, since for the atheist, these virtues themselves can define what is divine.

Atheism does not rule out spirituality. It simply defines that spirituality to be a human enterprise. It’s notable that in France, the best selling book on these issues is not one arguing against God, but a book by an atheist philosopher at the Sorbonne, André Comte-Sponville, who writes elsewhere on this site, called ‘A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues’, in which he argues, not against anything, but in favour of the virtues. The virtues become god. Perhaps here we have a synthesis with great potential for a more common understanding – one which every society needs for its cohesion.

3 thoughts on “A Synthesis between Religion and Atheism?

  1. Geoff Crocker on

    Thanks. I agree it would be good to have more activity and sharing on the site. We keep trying to get it to more people to notice. I try to keep the posts short, but don’t want the language to sound too academic :) Geoff

    • Perhaps another problem is that spirituality seems to be a taboo topic for atheists. I found your website when I was grieving and didn’t feel comfortable talking to my relatively non-religious family.

      I read the synopsis to your book btw. I think that it’s great that you find ways to interpret your old religion to fit your new set of beliefs. More power to you.

      I’m laughing because you blame contemporary atheists for the “materialist self centred consumer society.” First of all, as contemporary refers to the present era, I think that you accidentally insulted us both. Secondly, I don’t know about your country, but the majority of people in mine are Christian and we still have materialism and consumerism (even though Jesus wouldn’t approve).

      So called ‘militant atheists’ annoy me too, but I guess that they are probably like that because being told that you are going to hell hurts whether or not you believe in it.

  2. Your website does not seem to have much activity, which is too bad b/c I’d love to talk with other Atheists. Anyways, I’ll reply:

    To me, Atheism means more then just not believing in God. The reason that I am an atheist is not because I have examined all the facts and have concluded that, without any reasonable doubt, God does not exist. I never bothered to do that. I am an Atheist because viewing the world as Godless is -for lack of better word- comforting. It’s a relief. I do not like trying to believe in God, and doing so does not help me to become a better person. As an atheist, I not only don’t believe in God, but I also try to answer the big conflicts of life without relying on the existence of God. I am at peace with what I believe happens when you die (sort of). I am at peace with the fact that there is so much injustice in the world (again, sort of). I am at peace with the question of whether or not my life is of value (for the most part, hey I’m only 19). It is comforting to not have to rely on God in order to feel at peace.

    Not everyone views the world the way I do though. Some people need religion in order to feel at peace. I understand this, and that’s why I would not wish for them to loose their faith in God. If Jesus is what makes you the best person you can be, then Hallelujah, praise your Lord!

    There are two religious stories that are my all time favourites that I would like to mention. These are stories that I have been told by religious folk, and I view them as guidance on how to live.

    The first one is the story about Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, Jesus had to carry His cross through this town. The villagers gave Him a path of palm leaves so that His feet would be less sore. Christians like to say that ‘we each have our cross to bear,’ and by that they mean that each of us have our own struggles in life that no one can deal with for us. Jesus was forced to carry His cross and there was nothing that the villagers could do about that. Instead they made His journey more bearable.
    I think that this is totally applicable to real life, regardless of what religion you are or lack there of. Sometimes it is tempting to try to get rid of someone else’s burden, except that you can’t do that. You can’t, for example, make someone who is suicidal to stop wanting to kill themselves. You can, however, give them resources and compassion and listen to them. The cross is still theirs to bear, but you can make their journey a bit easier.

    The second story that I’d like to mention is not from Christianity, but from Islam. I apologize that I don’t know which verse it is (as I’m aware how important accuracy is. Again, sorry). It’s the story where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) goes to pray in the same spot each day, and each day this jerk keeps dumping garbage out the window onto him. Then one day the jerk did not come to the window. The Prophet went to the jerk’s house to make sure that he was all right.
    I think that atheists have a lesson to learn from the Prophet. It is so easy to lash out at those who do not tolerate our atheism. We mock their spirituality and call them fools. What if we were to instead show religious folk the tolerance that we wish we were shown? What if we just refused to move from our spot, continuing to not believe, and just never threw any of the garbage back? What if we tried to feel compassion for those who relentlessly try to ‘save’ us? Surely they must be hurting if they require everybody else on the planet to believe what they believe.

    Anyways, thanks for the distraction. Maybe it would help if you tried making posts with simpler english? I know that this is an academic website, but not all atheists have university level education. It’s just a suggestion, take it or leave it. Good luck with your website :)

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