A New Look at Religion | Ben Crockett
In the present day many people are quick to laugh and sneer at those who still uphold the religious traditions of their forefathers. I was guilty of this very thing for much of my young life, but as I come of age in a society racked by mental illness, drug abuse, loneliness and disillusionment, I can’t help but wonder if our old places of worship, diminished though they are by the seemingly unstoppable tide of modernity, might be worth another look.
I should be clear here that I have never attended a church service. I was a child of the new atheist movement. A devotee of the teachings of the likes of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. I have, however, begun to seriously question the utility of my hostility towards the religious traditions of our society. Churches for example- aside from their aesthetic value, beautifying even the quaintest English villages, seem upon reflection to have provided something sorely missing in the communities of modern Britain. Namely, a communal meeting place where citizens meet on equal terms and in search of some kind of higher purpose. A place that demands respect and provides support, reassurance and a sense of belonging. Can rationalistic doubts as to the scientific validity of the fables of the bible really justify the encouragement of the hollowing out of such an institution? Can we truthfully say we are better off without it?
Then there are the more ethereal elements of religion. The psychological and spiritual implications of faith. What I once derided as nothing more than soothing fairytales, upon further examination, seem to actually serve several important needs. Needs which our current secular culture is having a hard time meeting. Chief among these is a sense of purpose. Of meaning. I, and many others I know, have found themselves unable to answer the most fundamental questions. What is the point? Of life? Of society? Hedonism provides short term pleasure in exchange for long term misery. Not an attractive proposition. Nihilism is a dead end by its very nature. Vague notions of spirituality or aiming at ‘the good’, fall flat due to their subjectivity and vacuity. Religious commitments on the other hand are absolute in a way that scientific deductions or rationalist arguments cannot be. This can be dangerous but it can also provide us the strength to persist when the world seems hopeless. When all logical indicators point to failure and misery, faith can provide the spirit necessary to continue to strive for something better. Is that not something worth cherishing in a world so full of pointless destruction and destitution?
Lastly, there is the moral structure which organized religion provides. The more intellectually minded of us may take pleasure in pouring over the great works of moral philosophy in an attempt to derive some system of ethics suited to their circumstances and intuitions but is this really a practical or desirable solution for the bulk of humanity? We need a system of common values, aimed at fostering development of the self and cooperation amongst one another. A framework to shape and guide our behaviour toward the common good. It will be imperfect of course. As all things are. Surely providing a basic structure within which we have space, both as individuals and as a society, to grow and adapt is better than stumbling around blindly in the darkness?
So, I will make a commitment, to myself as much as to the readers of this piece, that I will attend a church service in the near future. In fact, I plan to attend a few. To see what the various denominations have to offer. And I will go with an open mind and a warm heart, to see if the echoes of our ancestors yet have something to say in our new world. Could it be that religion is worth another look? There is only one way to find out.