My Take

The comfort of religion without God

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 5:45am

Stanford University has a new chaplain for atheists and agnostics. This comes after Harvard University and the US military introduced - how shall I put it - non-religious religious services for non-believers who may still seek the comfort and benefits of real religion.

This is emerging as a new trend in the US, and I am sure sooner or later it will spread around and reach Hong Kong. Call it non-alcoholic drinks for the soul, religion without a belief in an almighty God.

Once upon a time, it was simple. You either believed or they burned you at the stake. That's what they did to Giordano Bruno - the Italian philosopher who believed in the infinities of worlds - in a place poetically called Campo de' Fiori, the field of flowers.

But the battle this martyr fought for free thought has been won, at least in the West. And some people just don't like the results. If you don't believe in God, it should logically follow that you can't follow any religion. If you are an agnostic, it means you can't decide, or think it's impossible to decide, whether God exists. So you shouldn't have a religion - or one religion is as good as another without any rational basis for preference.

Perhaps the certain prospect of eternal oblivion is highly discomforting. Or life and the world being products of random physical and biochemical processes with no higher purpose disturb you. You can be intellectually an atheist or an agnostic while still finding the implications of your beliefs too overwhelming and unsettling.

Marxism was once called a secular religion, but that's not quite right. True Marxists thought theirs was a social-economic science, not a religion. Whatever you say about them, many were tough cookies who spurned the false comfort of religion.

Those at the American universities and the Pentagon want the comfort and conveniences of religion without having to believe and commit. Maybe religion-free confessions offer solace without the high per-hour charges of psychiatrists; and public prayers provide a sense of community reminiscent of their religious childhood.

Well, decaf coffee, sugar-free coke, low-fat sausages … why not a God-free religion?