Thursday, 23 October 2008

Ban Art!

Gilbert & George have offered the world a simple manifesto as part of a Serpentine Gallery show : 'Ban Religion'.

That's about as sensible as saying 'Ban Art'.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Atheist Spirituality

'The Book of Atheist Spirituality' by André Comte-Sponville is an intriguing recent read. (It was the closest thing to a theological book in Borders bookshop, which nonetheless had four bookcases of tarot, astrology, occult, self-help meditation etc). Though an atheist, the author values his Catholic background and sees much that is valuable in religion. He recognises the need for 'communion' - that sense of a common bond or shared values that creates community. He recognises that religion creates communion, but argues that communion does not require religious faith. I'm not sure, however, that he manages to escape a general problem with atheism - that there are as many atheisms as there are atheists, and the only thing they really have in common is what they all reject, namely, belief in God ('God' defined in a particular way, that is).

He works with a broad definition of religion first offered by Durkheim, but then (recognising that there are major non-theistic religions) narrows it down to "a belief in one or several deities". Effectively, then, he redefines religion so as to 'ex-communicate' himself.

The strangest thing about the book is that his spirituality is ultimately grounded in a religious experience. In the middle of the book he says "one of the rare things I know for certain is that God has never spoken to me"; but then grounds his 'atheist spirituality' on a series of profound religious experiences that he describes in his final chapter! Nothing in those experiences as he describes them conflict with anything that a Christian would recognise as an experience of God, although by the selective reference to one or two Christian mystics he attempts to suggest it cannot have been that. The experience was one of immanence, not transcendence (so it can't have been God . .); a warm and glowing experience of the absence of God. I was left feeling that God had tried to raise his sights and show him that the god he had come to lose faith in was far too small and mechanical to be the real thing; but his religious intellectual baggage just couldn't let him admit it.

How can the Church do that to people? I hope that in my witness I don't shrink God down to some doctrine so narrow that it forces people like him to define themselves as outside Christian communion.