I don’t believe in Santa Claus.
But I do believe in the ‘Christmas spirit’: the spirit of peace and goodwill to family, friends and all humankind. I share in seasonal rituals such as the giving of gifts; the breaking of Christmas crackers; the wearing of silly paper hats; the sharing of inane jokes; and the ingestion of turkey, ham and pudding.
I can do all these things without believing in Santa Claus. Or the divinity of Jesus Christ.
So why is it so difficult for us to imagine a secular religion?
This would be a ‘religion’ – a cultural and philosophical institution – the role of which is to give meaning to our lives, to explain the workings of the world and our place in it, that provides a set of values to live by, that guides us towards living a happy and fulfilling life, that supports and comforts us in times of hardship, and that encourages community and social cohesion.
All without resorting to the supernatural or divine.
Is that so hard to imagine?
I don’t think it is. It’s just that we haven’t been prompted to imagine it yet.
Now is the time for us to begin a serious discussion of what a secular religion might look like. To imagine a substitute for conventional supernatural religion that is entirely compatible with our best rational and scientific understanding of the world – yet not limited by reason or science. An institution for those of us who have acknowledged the non-existence of God or gods, yet are reluctant to abandon all of the benefits that religion has to offer.
An institution designed from the ground up to be flexible, revisable, pluralist, inclusive, non-dogmatic, rational and scientific, but also wondrous, supportive and able to satisfy our deep seated need for meaning and morality.
It’s nearly 2010, and it’s time for secular religion to emerge. For thousands of years religion reigned. For the last few hundred years reason and science have grown to replace religion as our descriptive tool for understanding the world. Over the last decade or so atheism has eroded belief in the divine and the supernatural. Now it’s time to build something new – something prescriptive beyond just the negative thesis of atheism.
It’s time to build a positive philosophy that is capable of handling the tremendous challenges we are sure to face in the future, challenges that any belief system based on myth and fantasy won’t be suited to face.
It’s time for secular religion.
Merry Christmas, and have a peaceful, wonderful and contemplative new year.