I’m an atheist, but not a militant one. Instead of scrapping religions, I believe we should instead recycle them. All that ecclesiastical art and architecture shouldn’t go to waste. Religious music is heavenly and a good requiem is to die for.
And what about Christmas? Even die-hard atheists love their Christmas trees and their mistletoe.
Religions are superb at two things – narrative and symbolism.
Why narrative? Because the primary purpose of religion is to explain. It explains how the world was created and why we are here. Not very well, admittedly, but nobody had any better ideas two thousand years ago. It also offers us Gods and heroes, served up in memorable, bite-sized stories and verses. These heroes usually go on a journey, facing difficult challenges and overcoming impossible odds, before ultimately triumphing over evil. They are inspirational and show us how to live better lives (just skip the parts about seizing infants and dashing them against rocks).
Religion also excels at symbolism. The Christmas tree; the holly; the mistletoe. We just don’t have enough symbolism in everyday life, so we cling to our religious symbols, even if we’ve stopped believing the narratives.
We have real life heroes, of course. Nelson Mandela has even been compared with Jesus. But the problem with real heroes, however wonderful they may be, is that they are human. Scrutinise them closely and you find character flaws and problematic behaviour. You may stop believing in your heroes if you worship them too much.
We need narrative in our lives and we crave symbolism. Real life can’t provide them. So if religion seems to be outmoded, let’s turn to an equally rich source – fiction. Here we have involving narrative, interesting characters, as many symbolism-laden metaphors as you can fit on a page, and a truly inspiring story that ticks all the right emotional boxes.
So, this Christmas, after a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, sit under the Christmas tree, whip out some pagan mince pies, and enjoy Harry Potter or the Hunger Games on TV. You’ll be getting all the narrative, inspiration and symbolism you need to recharge your soul, without any of the nasty Bronze Age thinking that accompanies traditional religion. And you’ll be presented with some heroes you can truly believe in.