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  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:51am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 5:45am

The comfort of religion without God

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

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?

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This article is now closed to comments

anson
Dear American Loonies,
We've had these people in Hong Kong for years. They are called Social Workers and are generally underpaid. If we call them Chaplain can they get a reasonable salary?
chanchinglai
May I introduce a book called "The Book That Made Your World - by Vishal Mangalwadi". I am sure you would love it.
Dai Muff
Neither Taoism nor Zen Buddhism are predicated on a God, although at the more superstitious level people have made plenty of them up. Gautama Buddha neither believed in a creator God, nor regarded the issue of life after death as a meaningful one.
whymak
"Neither Taoism nor Zen Buddhism are predicated on a God." Precisely!
Perhaps one of the main reasons that Buddhists or Daoists have seldom practiced religious and sectarian violence on the level of the Abrahamic faith.
Eliminating the childish argument, "my dog is better than your dog (the palindrome of God)," might not have created an instant Utopia, but it's mighty tempting building a society from scratch with less superstition, including the Buddhist and Daoist varieties, and the self-righteous, self-referencing morals of Judeo-Christians.
dakotaoleary
My response to your op-ed: ****www.goddiscussion.com/106554/south-china post-columnist-believes-americans-are-lightweights-when-it-comes-to-religion-conveniently-forgetting-chinas-practice-of-censoring-every-religion-but-five-state-religions/
That's a great article coming from a country (Hong Kong) where 75% of the people don't practice any religion at all or consider it unimportant.
Dai Muff
"coming from a country (Hong Kong) where 75% of the people don't practice any religion at all or consider it unimportant." And very wise of them too. Just wish some of the Western countries would come to their senses in this regard also.
chaz_hen
Worshipping the tyGoons like "Superman LKS" in HK is not a religion?
islemount
Alex,
As usual, I continue to enjoy your columns.
I recently joined the HK Atheists page on Facebook and just last week something along the lines of your column today was suggested for Hong Kong; namely, a sort of community and a place to get non-religious counseling in times of need that believers get from their church communities, inspired by Harvard’s secular chaplaincy. The suggestion was that the group undertake setting up, or at least listing where to get secular help, so they are in place when someone needs it.
Following the Sandyhook massacre, I read an article that lamented the silence of the atheist community when so many of the public speeches were infused with religion and that the secular/non-believing community needs to do more to offer support to each other.
Anyway, just my two cents.
****www.facebook.com/groups/HKAtheists/594733360544156/?ref=notif&notif_t=group_activity
thung01
"decaf coffee, sugar-free coke, low-fat sausages" -- and don't forget smokeless cigarettes, "open marriages"... What next? "Total Recall"?
Dai Muff
"Total Recall"? Not a condition frequently found in politicians or CEs.

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