Friday, 22 March 2013


Once a year or so, New Statesman runs a special issue focusing on religion. I'm a big fan of New Statesman - a subscriber actually - and enjoy it each and every week. The magazine engages with topics of religion and spirituality often and I always find their annual special "God" issue a particular treat.

This week's issue's cover is, "After God: What atheists can learn from believers". Below is an abstract from the New Statesman's website, showcasing the intelligent, reflective and thought-provoking writing to be found in this weeks's magazine on this topic:
Swept away by science and the scathing scrutiny of New Atheists, religion seems to be on the point of extinction, yet billions still cling to it. For our cover story this week, we ask some of the leading “New, New Atheists” – those who “separate their atheism from their secularism” and treat religious heritage as “a treasure trove to be plundered” – if faith has a place in modern life. Here is a preview of each contributor's position:
Alain de Botton: The three elements of religion that a post-religious society should “steal”.
“The challenge facing atheists,” de Botton writes, “is how to separate many ideas and rituals from the religious institutions that have laid claim to them but don’t truly own them ... Secularism is not wrong. It is just that we have too often secularised badly.”
1. New priest
“The most sophisticated response we have yet come up with is psychotherapy ... [But there] is also, in a serious sense, an issue of branding. Therapy is hidden, unbranded, depressing in its outward appearance. The priests had far better clothes, and infinitely better architecture.”
2. New gospels
“So, why does the notion of replacing religion with culture, of living according to the lessons of literature and art as believers live according to the lessons of faith, continue to sound so peculiar to us? The fault lies with academia. Universities are entirely uninterested in training students to use culture as ... a source that can prove of solace to us when confronted by the infinite challenges of existence ...”
3. New churches
“You sometimes hear it said that art museums are our new churches ... The challenge is to rewrite the agendas for our art museums so that collections can begin to serve the needs of psychology as effectively as they served those of theology, for centuries.”
Francis Spufford denounces the “burning simplicities” of New Atheism
This post-Christian puritanism, largely oblivious now of its history, is highly visible in the New Atheism of the 1990s and 2000s, and especially in Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Strange indifference (except at the margins) to all religions except Christianity? Check. Sense of being locked in righteous combat with the powers of darkness? Check. Puritanism, it turns out, can float free of faith and still preserve a vehement world-view, a core of characteristic judgements ...
I don’t expect the puritan call will lose its appeal to the young and the zealous, but maybe we are entering a phase of greater tolerance in which, having abandoned the impossible task of trying to abolish religion, atheists might be able to apply themselves to the rather more useful task of distinguishing between kinds that want to damn you and kinds that don’t.
Jim Al-Khalili: “It is time now for the New, New Atheists”
Believing in a god is fine by me, if it is important to you ... But what I, and many other atheists, take issue with is the arrogant attitude that religious faith is the only means of providing us with a moral compass ...
Our society is no longer predominantly religious. Atheists are the mainstream. This is precisely why we should set out our stall to be more tolerant and inclusive ... The New Atheists have laid the foundations; maybe it is time now for the “New, New Atheists”.
Karen Armstrong: “The biblical God is a starter kit”
Most of us are introduced to God at about the same time as we hear about Santa Claus, but over the years our views of Santa mature and change, while our notion of God often gets stuck at an infantile level ... The biblical God is a “starter kit”; if we have the inclination and ability, we are meant to move on. Religion, too, is a practical discipline in which we learn new capacities of mind and heart. Like premodern philosophy, it was not the quest for an abstract truth but a practical way of life.
Richard Holloway: The former bishop of Edinburgh calls for a “critical sympathy towards religion”
A good approach here is not to try to stop the revelation argument from going round and round but to ask a different question, thus: given that there probably is no God, where did all this stuff come from? To which the obvious answer is that it came from us.
So it’s a mistake to do what most unbelievers usually do at this point, which is to dismiss them as fairy tales ... The word to grasp here is myth: a myth is a story that encodes but does not necessarily explain a universal human experience.
The wrong question to ask of a myth is whether it is true or false. The right question is whether it is living or dead, whether it still speaks to our condition.

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