About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ophelia Benson on whether religion can be replaced

Ophelia Benson has written on this topic at The Guardian 's Comment is Free site. As everyone "knows", Ophelia is strident, shrill, unreasonable, unfair, unnuanced, etc. (yes, the scare quotes indicate that I'm being sarcastic). Accordingly, her reflections may surprise you:

The sad thing about this is that church is, among other things, a way to get together with other people and focus the mind on being good. The religious version of being good is not always on the mark, to put it mildly, but even the opportunity to contemplate goodness seems valuable. This is something it's truly hard to reproduce with secular institutions. Politics seems like the closest thing to a substitute, and it's not a very close match.

However, she concludes:

I can get quite melancholy, sometimes, thinking about this. But then – there is no obvious easy replacement for a weekly sermon on being good, but there is also no obvious easy replacement for the belief in eternal torment. Swings and roundabouts.

As with Peter Tatchell's recent Comment is Free piece, it's worth reading the whole thing.


386sx said...

Heck I'd probably go to church all the time if I didn't have to hear the utterly stupid superstitious crapola, and if I knew the preachers weren't mostly a bunch of hypocrites gettin some free collection plate cash from people.

Ophelia Benson said...

Just so. In some ways church seems quite attractive (once in awhile, and in the afternoon rather than the morning) - if only it weren't for all the goddy stuff. But as it is...

Roko said...

@ Ophelia Benson:

I think that *maybe* religion can be replaced, in terms of many of its functions.

I read your article, and I didn't see any really solid arguments to support the claim that it cannot. For example, I quote:

Secular pseudo-religion strikes me as not just hopeless but also faintly nauseating. I'm not about to sit in a circle holding hands, or worship The Principle of Humanity"

hardly constitutes solid evidence, careful sociology or social science.

Roko said...

On the other hand, this was an "opinion piece", so I guess you're not really trying to answer the question.

Russell Blackford said...

In many ways, science fiction fandom is a good substitute, if a substitute is really needed.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I find that the (secular) singing group that I direct is a decent substitute.

The members come together regularly (weekly) to create something larger than themselves - fun, pretty, sometimes even beautiful music - and enjoy each other's company. (In fact, like I imagine happens in many churches, the social aspect sometimes has a tendency to take over what we're actually there for!)

Because it's a group (not a bunch of solo singers, a la American Idol) and because we're amateur, rather than professional, nobody has to be able to sing particularly well (though many can; as one would expect, the talent levels vary considerably).

There are other parallels with a church. E.g. we take collection - well, annual dues - and accept donations.

In our case, we even 'do good', as we are a registered charity that sings, for the most part, in seniors' homes, community centres etc., for people who might not be able (or in some cases afford) to get out to see decent entertainment.

Which, despite what I said about uneven talents, we are.