Does Religion Work Without God? (Part 2)

Can secular institutions benefit from religious practices like communion and the Passover meal without acknowledging the God to whom they point?  Can the warmth of genuine community be found through a religious ritual without a Fire to empower it?

These questions (read part 1 here) were inspired by an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Philosopher and author Alain de Botton,  Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.  According to de Botton’s website the book suggests “ that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. Blending deep respect with total impiety, de Botton (a non-believer himself) proposes that we look to religion for insights into how to, among other concerns, build a sense of community, make our relationships last, overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy, inspire travel and reconnect with the natural world.”

Is that possible?

Logically, if God is the source of all truth (a Christian assumption) and if something is true, then to act on that truth is to experience its good results without necessarily knowing its source.  Another term for this idea is “common grace.”   If an atheist follows the Ten Commandments, he or she will likely reap the benefits of a morally satisfying life.  Similarly, non-believers enjoy metaphysical aspects of life, like beauty, love, forgiveness, and community even if they reject God.  In that sense, some of religion’s rituals and practices, if they are rooted in truth, can be beneficial for non-believers.

However, religion is more than achieving human benefits.  At least it is for me.  Unfortunately religion is often reduced to the human sphere, which severely limits its purpose.  Religious practices are ultimately an expression of the relationship between God and man.  The power in religion is not in its rituals, but in the God they honor and serve.

In my opinion, religion without God is like an unplugged lamp.  It might look nice, but it is disconnected from the power source.  There might be warmth and light coming in from the window (common grace), but a disconnected lamp is just a decoration.

What do you think?

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About Judy

At heart I am a student of truth, an observer of culture, and a communicator. Jesus is my teacher and my Lord. In pursuit of these passions, I read as much as I can, serve as Teaching Director for a Community Bible Study group, and write a blog in an attempt to synthesize it all. I take great delight in my relationships with family and friends, and I also enjoy long walks, bike rides and cooking. And did I mention that I like to read?
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2 Responses to Does Religion Work Without God? (Part 2)

  1. Sue Anderson says:

    I think that lamp can be plugged in and STILL be without light. I think that Christians can end up being decorations too. Certainly the difference between a Christian believer and all others, is that he has believed in and received the gift of salvation, offered and provided for him, by Jesus Christ at the cross. At this point of belief and reception, the plug goes into the socket. Then it seems like there are progressive strengths of wattage throughout a growing believer’s life. It seems to me that the progression occurs based on whose will is being pursued and done. One reason Jesus is the “light of the world,” is that He did only the will of the Father. It was the Father’s will, over the Son’s will. Maximim wattage. I think our process of sanctification (changing to be more like Jesus), can be measured in “willage,” not “wattage.” I may be a believer, but operating fully in my own will. We could call this zero willage – no light from the lamp, although it’s plugged in. We are all somewhere on this continuum, with Jesus being at maximum “willage.” I think is takes a high “willage” to raise a child of God and the wattage of a society. :) Ideas can be stolen from Christendom, and society might be affected in a positive way, but light that will transform the world, can only come through Him. I’m going to go do a willage self-check right now! Thanks for your thoughts Judy. They are always so well thought out, studied, and gracious.

    • Judy says:

      Ah – excellent observation Sue. I agree completely that just because we are “plugged in” to the power of God doesn’t mean that we have turned it on. It’s kind of funny to think of a lamp straining to shine without flipping the switch to “on.” It’s just as ridiculous for us to try to do Kingdom work without flipping the switch of our will from SELF to GOD’s will thereby engaging His power – “willage” (love that!). Thanks for your thoughts. You always challenge me to take it a step closer to the heart. I appreciate that!

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