Not so long ago I drew attention to Ninian Smart’s concept of the seven dimensions of religion, seeking to show how different aspects of religion differ in importance between different religions, and by implication, just how misguided it can sometimes be to speak of religion exclusively or even primarily in terms of doctrine, creed or even belief.
I thought I should revisit this today in light of John Gray’s article, Religion Cannot Be So Easily Dismissed By Illiterate Atheism. Commenting on De Botton’s new book, Religion For Atheists, Gray said this:
De Botton has done us a service by showing why atheists should be friendly to religion. Where he could have dug deeper is the tangled relations between religion and belief. If you ask people in modern western societies whether they are religious, they tend to answer by telling you what they believe (or don’t believe). When you examine religion as a universal human phenomenon, however, its connections with belief are far more tenuous.
The fixation on belief is most prominent in western Christianity, where it results mainly from the distorting influence of Greek philosophy. Continuing this obsession, modern atheists have created an evangelical cult of unbelief.
In other words, the New Atheists are far more captive to Western Christianity and Western Christian (mis)understandings of religion than they realise. In this respect they are much like Satanists, particularly of the adolescent variety, who’s own self identity is heavily tied to that which they reject. I say this in contrast to, say, NeoPagans, who’s self identity is far more differentiated and independent. Only in forgiving Western Christians can Atheists be truly free to move on.