This began with a conversation with a friend about some recently published articles in the WSJon the value of religion to atheists and another in "the Spectator" talking about the need for believers to be at the forefront of their own defence.
Coincidentally, I read a related article in "The New Statesman" on a similar topic.
I personally agree strongly with The Spectator article.
Religion is about belief; when we talk about “looking for meaning” in our life – in a previous age this would have been called “a crisis of faith”. There is a pressing need at least in the popular press, for what Mathew Parris calls "a muscular defence of religion", particularly in the neo-liberal circles. As acommitted Muslim, I continue to believe that there is absolutely value in religion to the population at large driven through a multiplicity of factors.
The WSJ article on the value of religion is certainly interesting – but leaves unanswered the question; why do we need the Agape restaurant; why do I need this concept when I have religion? Unless it is offered only as a limited solution to either those who already lack religion or to engender bonds and feelings of trust between those of different religions. But even at this point the argument starts to break down; in calling for a return to community based values, surely those communities are best defined around their own belief systems.
It is surely too much to ask a commited pro-lifer (I’m using the American cultural context as short-hand for the rest of the world) to form bonds of community with a radical lesbian pro-choicer.
Surely it would be easier to ask that within the confines of our religious doctrines; a return to belief as called for in the Spectator article; or at least enhanced debate about it. I fully agree that the slow subsidence of religion into a set of quasi-cultural practices and rituals ultimately diminishes anddissipates the ability of religion to break down social barriers and enhance communities.
Looking back through history, one need only look at Christ for an example of a radical social reformer; determined to undermine the established hierarchies and rebuild a society where self-worth was not measured in terms of power or riches but in terms of 'goodness', in terms of empathy. The prophets Muhammad and Moses; can similarly be seen as radical reformers determined to reinvigorate their societies from a centuries old decay.
In our current post-modern reality; the need for this is all around us. The stench of decay emittingfrom our current decrepit institutions is starting to cause people to look for new guidance. What else is the American "Tea Party" movement and it's ideological bed-fellow (albeit from a different angle), the "Occupy" movement; but an attempt to radically reform society? And it is the failure of religion to respond to the needs of the people, to reform society, which saw "Occupy" protesters being evicted from their position at St Paul's Cathedral in London
But, without a single clear lode-stone guiding these movements, they're bound to fail. Which is why, the most successful revolution in history that of the Protestant movement; is intrinsically bound up within the framework of religious doctrine and dogma. It's not for nothing that Communism has failed conceptually; it is because without a clear illuminating doctrine; the position will continue to be shifted by externalities until what remains is but a pale shadow of itself.
So to be clear, I disagree with de Botton, his temple of Atheism will not (can not) succeed. True reform and the ability to help dramatically reshape society must come from within a religious conceptual framework.