March 31, 2013, by Stephen Mumford


I have largely avoided one of the biggest topics of all: religion. I have my reasons. Spirituality and religious belief are considered private and sensitive matters. For fear of causing offence, we are often embarrassed to talk about such things publically. Hardly anything in this world is quite so controversial, especially now that so many conflicts are divided on religious grounds. Even as I write, I realise that a word out of place could incur someone’s wrath.

But today is Easter Sunday. It is said to be the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and is thus the most holy day of the Christian calendar. Now is the time to broach the topic. I am not sure how many believe the resurrection to be a literal truth or whether the Bible is largely read metaphorically. I confess to feeling very few religious inclinations. Having read essays such as Russell’s ‘Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilisation?’, it is easy to think of religion as an unmitigated blight. With churches trying to hold back women’s equality and gay marriage while remaining silent on the plight of the poor, I can’t see any signs of improvement since Russell wrote. And having watched the old Swedish film Häxan it is tempting to dismiss religion as part of a primitive and pre-scientific view of the world in which evil spirits could be blamed for wrongs. Prayer to God could be seen as a desperate lack of understanding.

Through the years, however, I’ve come to be more accepting of those who do not see the world the way I do. And I have also tried hard to understand the continuing appeal of religion and why many people of science seek to retain spirituality and reconcile it to an enlightened outlook. I think I get something of it. There is more to the world than matter, wealth and the claims that are verifiable empirically.

With a sole aim for the acquisition of material possessions, a bleak and empty existence awaits. More important are abstract ideas, learning, appreciation of the arts, intercultural understanding, morality, love and friendship irrespective of wealth. These all enhance and improve our lives and give us a sense that there is something deeper and more meaningful to the world that what we are usually given. This sense – that there is something more – is what tempts us to explore a spiritual dimension of life. And as I follow Plato in thinking of the world of ideas as the most important realm, I see that I too am spiritual, with a small s, despite my atheism. I see that there is a common feeling I share even with those whose beliefs stand so far from my own.

Happy Easter to all true Christians! Peace to those of other faiths!

Posted in PhilosophyTheology and Religious Studies