Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Off The Path

Neglected to mention listening to CD2 of The Pilgrim's Progress and being utterly devastated by the extraordinary beauty of the work in its entirety. It seems some critics claim the various segments, composed at different periods of VW's life, don't hang together. Bah! Double humbug! What has happened to their ears?!
The work gives us answers, glorious ones, to the fundamental questions of the pilgrimage we are all on. The only puzzle it leaves is to why its creator saw himself as an atheist. Not that this troubles me at all, it's just that if that's what he thought he was, he was obviously deeply, wonderfully, wrong.
I found my thoughts running along similar kinds of lines when reading Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists, a typically readable, wise, funny and, sometimes, spectacularly daft book. It's a cogently commonsensical bracing refutation of all the Gnu Atheist nonsense about how harmful religion is. (I'm thinking here particularly of the disappointingly slight and downright silly God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.) De Botton is quite brilliant on a number of points, giving the best, most inspirational account I've ever read on the value of mediation. He's also often laugh-out-loud funny, especially when dealing with the idiocies of an academic education.

But here's the thing. It's so obvious that the very concrete ideas about how to improve the quality of life  by taking key ideas from the major religions but leaving God behind won't work in the real world in any kind of institutional sense. Yet many of the followers of the various religions analysed have cheerfully improved the quality of their lives - often exponentially so - as a result of following their faiths. So it just seems so obvious: If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and especially don't fix it by taking away the thing that makes it work.

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