Posts Tagged ‘secularism’

Angels to worship and lovers to tolerate

January 17, 2015

The benefits of a philosophy of neo-religious pessimism are nowhere more apparent than in relation to marriage, one of modern society’s most grief-stricken arrangements, which has been rendered unnecessarily hellish by the astonishing secular supposition that it should be entered into principally for the sake of happiness.

Christian and Jewish marriages, while not always jovial, are at least spared the second order of suffering which arises from the mistaken impression that it is somehow wrong or unjust to be malcontent. Christianity and Judaism present marriage not as a union inspired and governed by subjective enthusiasm but rather, and more modestly, as a mechanism by which individuals can assume an adult position in society and thence, with the help of a close friend, undertake to nurture and educate the next generation under divine guidance. These limited expectations tend to forestall the suspicion, so familiar to secular partners, that there might have been more intense, angelic or less fraught alternatives available elsewhere. Within the religious ideal, friction, disputes and boredom are signs not of error, but of life proceeding according to plan.

Notwithstanding their practical approach, these religions do recognize our desire to adore passionately. They know of our need to believe in others, to worship and serve them and to find in them a perfection which eludes us in ourselves. They simply insist that these objects of adoration should always be divine rather than human. Therefore they assign us eternally youthful, attractive and virtuous deities to shepherd us through life, while reminding us on a daily basis that human beings are comparatively humdrum and flawed creations worthy of forgiveness and patience, a detail which is apt to elude our notice in the heat of marital squabbling. ‘Why can’t you be more perfect?’ is the incensed question that lurks beneath a majority of secular arguments. In their effort to keep us from hurling our curdled dreams at one another, the faiths have the good sense to provide us with angels to worship and lovers to tolerate.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.185-186.

De Botton is an atheist but recognises the benefits of the religious perspective working itself out in life.

Secularism has not solved human needs

January 17, 2015

It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting.

We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.

God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.12

De Botton assumed that God was ‘invented’ (he doesn’t provide a scintilla of evidence for this). Whilst he is on shaky ground there, he is on sure footing when he points to the needs that remain for the non-believer. An atheist may reject God because of the problem of pain, but he must still experience pain in this world. His admission about the selfish nature of humans fits better with the Christian idea of Original Sin not of naturalistic humanism.