Beyond “Religion” and “God”

August 23, 2016 in General

In a recent book, Mark Vernon discusses agnosticism, with the premise that an infinite being or beings may exist beyond human experience. However, does this necessarily follow? How could any compassionate ‘deity’ allow the Holocaust or other tragedies of that scale or magnitude? And this is where I part company with religions that are existential, interpersonal and privatised experiences, whether personal ‘spirituality’ or collective religious ‘traditions.’ The latter strikes me as neurotic, selfish, elitist and western, irrelevant to the rest of humanity beyond our lives of relative privilege. And why would an infinite being concern itself with a tiny planet in a nondescript galaxy and a particular species? And if this ‘deity’ permitted the existence of genocide, then how can this distant, absent figure be perceived as a ‘moral ideal?” Or depicted as such? And how can religious institutions survive in its wake? And doesn’t the device of a distant, remote autocratic ‘deity’ promote destructive existential, psychological and social dualisms, leading to personal mental illness and destructive social relationships? I want no part of such a ‘deity.’

Vernon then deals with the experiential dimensions of religious belief and encounter. Frankly, Soren Kierkegaard’s (1813-1855) narrative approach strikes me as neurotic and melancholic. As for narcotic experiences, they have physiological and psychological risks and dangers. And when it comes to the fever dreams of fundamentalist and Pentecostal apocalyptic fantasies, this neurotic fear and dread of a punitive, authoritarian deity that is the reification of their own authoritarian personalities, social networks and institutions turns into an unholy lust for extermination of difference and nihilism. “Fear and trembling,” indeed. I do not cower before phantasms born of coercive interpersonal relationships, depression and crushing, authoritarian conformity. That is no way to live.

Is ‘god’ therefore relational or ecological? But again, isn’t this a reification of actual human relationships and environmental interdependency? These are useful ethical premises to hold, but I do not see the need for the interpellation of a deistic overlay upon it. Don Cupitt suggests a ‘nonrealist’ approach, treasuring the positive ethical attributes and aesthetic anchorings of tradition. In other words, the question of religious belief is parked and one lives as an aesthete. Which is one way to live, but only one way. Personally, I prefer something like the concept of the Buddhist boddhisatva, embedded and caring for human relationships and the surrounding world. I care nothing for the trappings of heaven or nirvana and I do not believe that there is an afterlife. If I act morally or ethically, it is because there is a relational, environmental or social goal that is either immediate or strategic.

So, I am not a religious person, let alone any sort of Christian, and have not been for some time. While I cherish and respect elements of religious philosophy, art and literature, it is as an aesthete, flaneur and disinterested party. And not as any sort of ‘true believer’ within any community of faith.


James Vernon: God: All That Matters: London: Hodder: 2013.