As I was having breakfast this morning and listening to Radio 4, I heard an edition of the regular “A Point Of View” slot. It’s always a favourite of mine, with its being intelligent, well-delivered and – most important of all – short. So pin your ears back and listen to Tom Shakespeare on being Religious But Not Spiritual (there’s a page here with a written version of the talk)
I think I mainly agree with him – the Christian pilgrimage I go on each year is still a powerful experience for me, even though I no longer believe the ontology that underlies it. But I don’t think I could have continued with it without the others knowing I no longer believed; and I would love to see a version of pilgrimage that was explicitly godless. What religion offers – he’s right about this – is a disciplined and communal experience, and for me pilgrimage is the archetype. But to go along to synagogue or church under false pretences would be wrong. If you want what church has to offer, but don’t want to sign up to the supernatural beliefs, then be honest enough to say so.
So I’m not quite sure what he’s about, whether he wants atheists to pretend to be believers (which would clearly be bad), or to go along explicitly as atheists, whether they were welcome or not (bad in a different way), or to just keep quiet about their lack of faith (still bad, but perhaps less so), or to be upfront about their atheism and only attend if the believers are OK with it (better). You know my position – best of all is to take responsibility for creating the thing you want for yourself, rather than getting a free ride with something that the faithful take utterly seriously.
Of course, what you can’t create is a centuries-old tradition, worn smooth and usable by time and adversity. But you can grow novel practices that do pretty well.