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?