The Search for Transcendence, or Whatever

The New York Times is running a piece today by Charles Blow in which he asks why so many of the children of the “religiously unaffiliated” turn to religion. It’s a mildly interesting question, but the answer is straightforward: the religious impulse is innate. It’s the way our species has evolved. Blow gets this, I think, but I was interested to read that his “non-religious friends” apparently still believe that most people are only religious because of the way they were raised. Oh dear. If that’s indeed what they think, that says something about the left-liberal pieties of the circles in which Mr. Blow moves (I’m guessing about this, but he is a writer for the Times) and their continuing faith in the perfectibility of man, but not much else.

Belief in a deity (or deities), and the desire to worship it or them, is an almost universal aspect of human nature. This not something that can be wished or indoctrinated away, and it’s pointless and maybe even destructive to try. It’s far better, surely, to channel that impulse by giving children some sort of gentle religious grounding, preferably in a well-established, undemanding, culturally useful (understanding all that art and so on) and mildly (small c) conservative denomination that doesn’t dwell too much on the supernatural and keeps both ritual and philosophical speculation in their proper place. Better the vicar than Wicca, say I.

Mr. Blow goes on to write

While science, logic and reason are on the side of the nonreligious, the cold, hard facts are just so cold and hard. Yes, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. Yes, there is a plethora of Biblical contradictions. Yes, there is mounting evidence from neuroscientists that suggests that God may be a product of the mind. Yes, yes, yes. But when is the choir going to sing? And when is the picnic? And is my child going to get a part in the holiday play?

Fair enough, but then we get this:

“As the nonreligious movement picks up steam, it needs do a better job of appealing to the ethereal part of our human exceptionalism.”

Oh please. Spare us that. That way lies madness, boredom, ritualistic replacements for ritual, cults of Reason, readings from Dawkins and endless, achingly tedious hours of discussion about the meaning of life, the evils of religion and all the rest of it. And while you’re at it, spare us a ‘movement’ based on disproving this, refuting that, and getting all bent out of shape by trivia such as the reference to God on the currency.

Mr. Blow claims:

We are more than cells, synapses and sex drives. We are amazing, mysterious creatures forever in search of something greater than ourselves.

Speak for yourself, Mr. Blow. I’m just looking for a nice life.

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