Religion Without God: Bible Without Jesus | Third Space
Loading...

Religion Without God: Bible Without Jesus

Thu 12 Dec 2019
that’s what’s on offer from secular organisation The School of Life
Alt

Can you have religion without God? How about a Bible without Jesus? Because that’s what’s on offer from secular organisation The School of Life, co-run by famed British philosopher Alain de Botton.

“A Replacement For Religion”, is a set of books that look like, well, that look like the Bible. The advertising says the series is full of wisdom and lessons for those who need something that does what religion does, but without the religious bit.

The School of Life website states:

A Replacement for Religion lays out how we might absorb the best lessons of religion, update them for our times and incorporate them into our daily lives: it tries to rescue some of what seems wise and useful from that which (for many of us) no longer seems quite true.

It’s funny, but there was a time when we were told we could have a completely religionless society. And that that would be a good thing. A glorious day would arrive when the last rusty bits of the old religions fell off our world for good. Or so we were told. We were also told that what we’d find underneath would be a bright, shiny new world that didn’t need the old divisive dogmas that religion brought. Can you remember being told that? Perhaps you’ve told it to others.

But what are we getting? We’re getting a world that is bright and shiny: Bright, shiny and cold. No one told us that “cold” bit - no one we listened to anyway. As religion has fallen away in our secular culture, it’s becoming clear to many people that the meagre secular replacement doesn’t hold a votive candle to it. Fewer and fewer people go to church, temple mosque or synagogue. More and more people are in therapy dealing with deep anxiety and loneliness.

By all accounts people need the community that religion brings. People have given up the rituals of religion, but find the ritual of reaching for their smartphones first thing in the morning a less than satisfying replacement. And the deep solemnity that religion can bring to life is being replaced by a shallow triteness, at the very time things in our world are becoming more complex.

So it’s no surprise that The School of Life is trying “to rescue some of what seems wise and useful”. That’s a noble aim from a noble group led by someone I admire in Alain de Botton.

Now there was a time not long ago, when New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins held sway, when none of this religious stuff seemed wise and useful, so we got busy junking it. It was just like that time I let my parents-in-law get rid of a stunning mid-century modern wooden sideboard, instead of taking it off their hands. My wife and I gaze wistfully at its equivalent in secondhand shops, and gulp at the four figure price tag. Why did we let it go?

Here’s why. We thought it was past its use-by-date. Just like lots of people thought religion was. And now they’re busy putting together books that try to replace some of the great cultural furniture that they’d put on the junk heap, because they realise how valuable it is. Well, The School of Life’s book ads have that wistful tone to it, just like my wife and I looking in the shop window at stuff we once could have had for free, but now have to pay an arm and a leg for. The website goes on:

Many of us find ourselves in the odd situation of not believing in religion, but nevertheless being interested in it, moved by it and sympathetic to some of its aims. We may enjoy religious art and architecture, music and community, and even some of the rituals - while being unable to believe in the divine. This book is about those feelings and what we might do about them.

A book of feelings. A book that wants to shape your emotions. Just like the divine love story of the Bible. Yet not the Bible. Not something that claims any belief in the divine. And that is, I think, where the problem lies. Because without the divine, you can’t have the love story.

If, as A Replacement for Religion claims, it is offering the best lessons that religion teaches us, then it’s missing the best lesson of all that religious book the Bible teaches us, namely that religion’s aim is not to teach us lessons, but to bring us to God, and specifically the God who is Jesus Christ.

A Replacement for Religion says it wants “to rescue some of what remains wise and useful”. The Bible, on the other hand, says that God has done the rescuing act for us in Jesus. The power of the Bible’s teachings is not that we can learn the lessons, but that we can’t and won’t. We’re stuck in a lifelong Mobius Strip, looping back in on ourselves, relating the same patterns and mistakes. We need rescuing, not the teachings of our religion.

Here’s what The School of Life’s advertising says about art:

We tend not to take ideas in properly unless they have first been presented to us in an emotionally appealing and seductive way. It is not enough for an idea to be true; if it to stick in our minds, it will have to be rendered sensuously tempting as well.

Without any irony, in an adverting pitch that includes an introductory chapter on “The death of God” the website highlights this photo below of the crucified Jesus and his grief-stricken family and friends.

If there is a God who has gone out of his way to be so sensuously tempting of us, that He would give his own Son for the sake of our lives, then nothing else comes close. Anything else is just a shadow of that emotionally appealing and seductive act.

Is there merit in these books? In this website? Of course there is. All wisdom is good wisdom. But why start there? Why go to the reflection of reality, when reality itself is available? Why start at what can only be a pale shadow, an imitation, a play on seduction that leaves you feeling less than fulfilled? Perhaps as Christmas approaches you’re looking around thinking “Is this all there is?” Perhaps you’re tempted to go buy a set of A Replacement for Religion books for a friend, a family member, or even for yourself.

Here’s my advice: Don’t start with a replacement for religion, start with actual religion. Start with the actual Bible. Start with the most emotionally seductive story of all, where a God who is all Wisdom and who wants to rescue us, sends his Son as a baby, who then becomes a man, who then becomes, as the Christmas Carol declares, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

For the truth is when true religion is lost, when we’re scratching around looking for something to replace it, we’ll go through any number of replacements, constantly searching, but never finding, constantly launching, but never arriving.

At the moment in your life, with all its busyness, emails, social media click-bait, fake news and Monday rush hour traffic, the actual Bible, actual religion might, as The School of Life suggests “no longer seem quite true”. But what if it is quite true? What if it is?

Comments

  • Alt
    Fri, 13/12/2019 - 8:34am reply

    By all accounts people need the community that religion brings''
    Not according to former believers and I'm going to take a flyer and suggest you probably don't mix with many Christian deconverts, do you Stephen?

    ''But what if it is (the bible) quite true? What if it is?''
    Archaeology, physics, science in general and history to name a few disciplines demonstrate that is simply isn't true.
    From the Human Genome Project refuting the tale of Adam and Eve to stories such as Jonah, Noah and even Moses and his Exodus the best we could attribute might be historical fiction or geopolitical foundation myth.

  • Alt
    Fri, 13/12/2019 - 10:52am reply

    Think it's a technical glitch Douglas. No reason for deleting them. Why there's a technical glitch I don't know, as I am completely tech unsavvy. But all the comments are sent on via email to us and no one has said anything about deleting them. I do mix with plenty of Christian de-converts Douglas, including my own twin brother who is now an atheist - a strong opponent of my beliefs - and a senior academic in Sydney. He sees that church brings community nonetheless. You can listen to an interview between he and me on the Centre for Public Christianity website.

  • Alt
    Fri, 13/12/2019 - 11:30am reply

    And I guess on another point, Douglas, the Christian faith has nothing to fear from push back and inquiry. If your first thought is that we're deleting your comments because we're afraid of something, well that either means we think too little of the Bible message, or too much of your opinion.

    • Alt
      Fri, 13/12/2019 - 6:23pm reply

      I must be honest, deleting comments did enter my mind, as David Robertson has a history of moderation and a conversation I was having with someone called Amy on his post of ''What is the bible ...'' post went --- to use a term you might recognise .... walkabout, and comments continue to do so.
      However, I am heartened that you at least aren't deleting comments, and I hope whatever the glitch is you are able to locate it and remedy it.

      Re push back.
      Push back is the name of the game is it not, Stephen,and such back and forth is the best way to establish the veracity of claims made by obliging individuals to ensure that any such claims are rigorously supported by evidence.

      And regarding you community theme.
      In my experience , community while the individual is a Christian (or member of any religion for that matter) does seem important, as much as a way of ensuring membership of said community as well as to some degree isolating the individual from non-religious influence.
      A good example would be the teaching methods of an organisation such as ACE ( Accelerated Christian Education) a Young Earth Creationist Christian sect that has been under investigation from time to time for its somewhat child abusive methods
      If you are not familiar with Jonny Scaramanga - a former YEC and part of ACE who campaigned for ACE schools to be closed in the UK. He took a PHD in the subject.He is worth looking up.

      In some sects, when an individual decides to leave and/or deconvert the practice of shunning is enforced to try to bring the individual back into the fold. And this shunning will include members of the persons family. YOu can imagine the effects on those brought up in a small community and especially the children.
      I have communicated with one chap,Nate Owen in the States, who (along with his family) went through this trauma for a number of years.

      So you see, it's not all tea and cucumber sandwiches on the village green with the local vicar.
      I do enjoy your posts, and hope we can have some more productive chats in the future.

      Regards

      Douglas

      • Alt
        Fri, 03/01/2020 - 8:13am reply

        Hi Douglas, I realise you are replying Stephan so hope you don’t mind me posting a thought or two in the thread.

        I think it is important not to mix up the actual teachings of the Bible/Jesus with an attempted (poor and damaging) out working of that teaching by some flawed humans - as in the examples you gave. I am not familiar with the specifics of the examples of the sects you gave - but even the use of the term sect suggests that their teaching is not well aligned with generally accepted theological teaching. The same thing can happen in the world of science or philosophy- a good idea or a scientific fact can be perverted out of all recognition. But this does not mean we throw out the science because someone has misused it. We point out the error and refocus on the actual science.

        So what does the Bible (and for Christians in particular - what does Christ) teach about community?

        I few things I would note are 1. Equality of all (captured in the idea of all being created in the “image of God”) 2. Universality - it is for all (regardless of race, status, gender etc) 3, Freedom from oppression 4. But is not a call to tea and cucumber - “take up your cross and follow me” - ultimately to be a follower of Christ (a Christian) is to live a life of community sacrifice.

        It is that concept of sacrificial living that is so tightly bound up with the death of Jesus on the cross. But that is only a life of freedom if Jesus also rose again - and that is the key ingredient that will get lost in a “religionless religion” of the School of Life. So Stephens question is a good one - what if it was true?

      • Alt
        Fri, 03/01/2020 - 8:13am reply

        Hi Douglas, I realise you are replying Stephan so hope you don’t mind me posting a thought or two in the thread.

        I think it is important not to mix up the actual teachings of the Bible/Jesus with an attempted (poor and damaging) out working of that teaching by some flawed humans - as in the examples you gave. I am not familiar with the specifics of the examples of the sects you gave - but even the use of the term sect suggests that their teaching is not well aligned with generally accepted theological teaching. The same thing can happen in the world of science or philosophy- a good idea or a scientific fact can be perverted out of all recognition. But this does not mean we throw out the science because someone has misused it. We point out the error and refocus on the actual science.

        So what does the Bible (and for Christians in particular - what does Christ) teach about community?

        I few things I would note are 1. Equality of all (captured in the idea of all being created in the “image of God”) 2. Universality - it is for all (regardless of race, status, gender etc) 3, Freedom from oppression 4. But is not a call to tea and cucumber - “take up your cross and follow me” - ultimately to be a follower of Christ (a Christian) is to live a life of community sacrifice.

        It is that concept of sacrificial living that is so tightly bound up with the death of Jesus on the cross. But that is only a life of freedom if Jesus also rose again - and that is the key ingredient that will get lost in a “religionless religion” of the School of Life. So Stephens question is a good one - what if it was true?

  • Alt
    Fri, 13/12/2019 - 8:26pm reply

    Listened to your Twinning podcast

  • Alt
    Fri, 13/12/2019 - 9:28pm reply

    Douglas, the whole paragraph you wrote below is simply not true. I have studied these areas for over 50 years and taught them for many and I suggest you do more study in these areas too.

    “But what if it is (the bible) quite true? What if it is?''
    Archaeology, physics, science in general and history to name a few disciplines demonstrate that is simply isn't true.
    “From the Human Genome Project refuting the tale of Adam and Eve to stories such as Jonah, Noah and even Moses and his Exodus the best we could attribute might be historical fiction or geopolitical foundation myth.”

    • Alt
      Fri, 13/12/2019 - 10:35pm reply

      Hi Neil.
      I am open to be persuaded.
      As you have studied (and taught) these areas for 50 years I take it you are qualified in the areas in question.
      This would suggest that,you're more clued up regarding the HGP than Francis Collins ( who happens to be a Christian, incidentally and headed the HGP) for example, yes?

      As for archaeology, I am interested in learning of your qualifications regarding the biblical tale of Captivity, Exodus and Conquest and how you arrive at the conclusion that ''what I (you ) wrote below is simply not true'', especially as my view is simply reflecting the generally accepted current archaeological consensus.
      As far as I am aware the only notable dissent comes from those individuals who are fundamentalist leaning Christians - such as James Hoffmeir and Kenneth Kitchen and a few others.
      But as I mentioned up top, I am open to be persuaded otherwise.
      So please, don't just do the old ''drive-by'' comment. Come back and let's discuss it, okay?
      Please present the evidence you have, Neil.
      With our hosts permission ....the floor is yours.

      Regards

      Douglas

  • Alt
    Sat, 14/12/2019 - 7:44pm reply

    HI Douglas. Thanks for your reply and I am glad that you sound like a fair and open-minded person. Apologies for my short response last night. I was tired and just about to go to sleep and probably should have waited for a more suitable time to respond. I am in the middle of a very busy time of the year for me and so can't really afford to enter into a long and prolonged discussion on all of the issues you have raised- at least until I fully retire at the end of the year..However I am happy to make a few comments and suggestions below.
    I confess that I do not have a PHD in Archaeology ( my doctorate is in the area of Religion and Biblical Studies), however I have been a long time reader of all the materials put out by the Biblical Archaeology Society, been on an extended archaeological study tour of the Middle east and spent time in Israel on three different occasions and personally know (or have know if they are now deceased) a number of achaeologists such as Seigfried Horn (deceased) David Down, Michael G. Hasel and Lawewnce Geraty as well as the written works of others and have are friends with and been taught by Old Testament and Hebrew Language professors such as Richard Davidson, Gerhard Phandl, Daniel I.Block and Arthur Ferch. All of the above names are PHD's and are not Fundamentalists. Other names I could mention are Susan Ackerman, president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and a professor in ancient religions at Dartmouth College, N.H.; William Dever, emeritus professor, and Beth Alpert Nakhai, professor, both of the University of Arizona; Andrew Vaughn, executive director, American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, Ma.; Østein LaBianca, professor of anthropology and Bob Bates, archaeology professor, both of Andrews University, Mich.; Larry Herr, professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada; Kent Bramlett, associate professor of archaeology, La Sierra University; Monique Vincent, publications manager at La Sierra’s archaeology center; Doug Clark, archaeologist, former religion professor and director of La Sierra’s archaeology center; and Larry Geraty, archaeologist, former religion professor and president emeritus of La Sierra University.
    Some books on the subject of archaeology and the reliability of the Bible books Susan Ackerman, president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and a professor in ancient religions at Dartmouth College, N.H.; William Dever, emeritus professor, and Beth Alpert Nakhai, professor, both of the University of Arizona; Andrew Vaughn, executive director, American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, Ma.; Østein LaBianca, professor of anthropology and Bob Bates, archaeology professor, both of Andrews University, Mich.; Larry Herr, professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada; Kent Bramlett, associate professor of archaeology, La Sierra University; Monique Vincent, publications manager at La Sierra’s archaeology center; Doug Clark, archaeologist, former religion professor and director of La Sierra’s archaeology center; and Larry Geraty, archaeologist, former religion professor and president emeritus of La Sierra University. I could recommend some books on archaeology and the Bible such as:
    Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959; The Bible as History (2nd Edition)
    Werner Keller
    Paperback|Aug 2015

    The Archaeology of the Bible
    James Hoffmeier
    Hardback|Jun 2015
    Unwrapping the Pharaohs (With Dvd)
    John Ashton, David Down
    Hardback|Oct 2006 (a good one on the dating of the Exodus); Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology; Archaeology and Bible History by Joseph Free and Howard F.Vos (1992) and Can We Still Believe the Bible by Bryan Ball (SIgns Publishing Company, 2011 edition).
    If you are interested in general evidence s for the Christian faith, there are 1,000's of good books but I would particularly point you to the many books by British philosopher and theologian Alister McGrath.
    As for Francis Collins, of course I don't claim to be "more clued up" than him on the HGP, but it does not disprove the possibility of an Adam or an Eve .Mind you, I am not a Fundamentalist and although I am fully aware of various approaches to the Genesis stories, I do at least take the Bible seriously -but not in a "every word dictated by God" fashion.
    May God lead us both into greater truth and understanding. Kind regards
    I don't want to go on and on but I still believe that dogmatic statement you made to which I objected, cannot be fully substantiated as you would suggest.

    • Alt
      Sun, 15/12/2019 - 11:26pm reply

      Hi Neil, that's a lot of names, but you haven't actually offered any evidence.

  • Alt
    Sat, 14/12/2019 - 7:44pm reply

    HI Douglas. Thanks for your reply and I am glad that you sound like a fair and open-minded person. Apologies for my short response last night. I was tired and just about to go to sleep and probably should have waited for a more suitable time to respond. I am in the middle of a very busy time of the year for me and so can't really afford to enter into a long and prolonged discussion on all of the issues you have raised- at least until I fully retire at the end of the year..However I am happy to make a few comments and suggestions below.
    I confess that I do not have a PHD in Archaeology ( my doctorate is in the area of Religion and Biblical Studies), however I have been a long time reader of all the materials put out by the Biblical Archaeology Society, been on an extended archaeological study tour of the Middle east and spent time in Israel on three different occasions and personally know (or have know if they are now deceased) a number of achaeologists such as Seigfried Horn (deceased) David Down, Michael G. Hasel and Lawewnce Geraty as well as the written works of others and have are friends with and been taught by Old Testament and Hebrew Language professors such as Richard Davidson, Gerhard Phandl, Daniel I.Block and Arthur Ferch. All of the above names are PHD's and are not Fundamentalists. Other names I could mention are Susan Ackerman, president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and a professor in ancient religions at Dartmouth College, N.H.; William Dever, emeritus professor, and Beth Alpert Nakhai, professor, both of the University of Arizona; Andrew Vaughn, executive director, American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, Ma.; Østein LaBianca, professor of anthropology and Bob Bates, archaeology professor, both of Andrews University, Mich.; Larry Herr, professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada; Kent Bramlett, associate professor of archaeology, La Sierra University; Monique Vincent, publications manager at La Sierra’s archaeology center; Doug Clark, archaeologist, former religion professor and director of La Sierra’s archaeology center; and Larry Geraty, archaeologist, former religion professor and president emeritus of La Sierra University.
    Some books on the subject of archaeology and the reliability of the Bible books Susan Ackerman, president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and a professor in ancient religions at Dartmouth College, N.H.; William Dever, emeritus professor, and Beth Alpert Nakhai, professor, both of the University of Arizona; Andrew Vaughn, executive director, American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, Ma.; Østein LaBianca, professor of anthropology and Bob Bates, archaeology professor, both of Andrews University, Mich.; Larry Herr, professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada; Kent Bramlett, associate professor of archaeology, La Sierra University; Monique Vincent, publications manager at La Sierra’s archaeology center; Doug Clark, archaeologist, former religion professor and director of La Sierra’s archaeology center; and Larry Geraty, archaeologist, former religion professor and president emeritus of La Sierra University. I could recommend some books on archaeology and the Bible such as:
    Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959; The Bible as History (2nd Edition)
    Werner Keller
    Paperback|Aug 2015

    The Archaeology of the Bible
    James Hoffmeier
    Hardback|Jun 2015
    Unwrapping the Pharaohs (With Dvd)
    John Ashton, David Down
    Hardback|Oct 2006 (a good one on the dating of the Exodus); Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology; Archaeology and Bible History by Joseph Free and Howard F.Vos (1992) and Can We Still Believe the Bible by Bryan Ball (SIgns Publishing Company, 2011 edition).
    If you are interested in general evidence s for the Christian faith, there are 1,000's of good books but I would particularly point you to the many books by British philosopher and theologian Alister McGrath.
    As for Francis Collins, of course I don't claim to be "more clued up" than him on the HGP, but it does not disprove the possibility of an Adam or an Eve .Mind you, I am not a Fundamentalist and although I am fully aware of various approaches to the Genesis stories, I do at least take the Bible seriously -but not in a "every word dictated by God" fashion.
    May God lead us both into greater truth and understanding. Kind regards
    I don't want to go on and on but I still believe that dogmatic statement you made to which I objected, cannot be fully substantiated as you would suggest.

  • Alt
    Mon, 16/12/2019 - 6:25am reply

    Hi John. I was basically trying to respond to Douglas about whether I had any knowledge about archaeology etc. As I mentioned, I do not have the time or inclination to get involved in a long and protracted online discussion on these issues. There are already many resources available to read or view which can give all the evidences needed.

  • Alt
    Mon, 16/12/2019 - 12:22pm reply

    Hi Douglas
    What level of evidence about anything would persuade you about anything? 100 per cent, absolute, locked in guaranteed across everything? That's a level of evidence no one requires about anything. My conviction is, as Jesus himself pointed out in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, is that even if someone came back from the dead, people would not believe. I don't think the problem you have with Christianity is its plausibility (though that could be part of it), but primarily its palatability. Unless you wanted something to be true we could end up doing exactly what we're doing here, long email comments sucking up a lot of time from people who are otherwise busy.

  • Alt
    Tue, 17/12/2019 - 9:40pm reply

    Hi,
    Really sorry for making such a trivial comment.
    I follow Stephen McAlpine's blog via e-mail.
    I really really appreciate Stephen's writing and always look forward to hearing what he has to say when an e-mail arrives in my inbox. I've therefore followed a link from one of his e-mails to read what I think will be an interesting article.
    However, the colour scheme of this page makes it almost impossible for me to read! Light grey on white ... small font ... maybe I'm getting old? I'm used to reading from websites and screens but even zoomed in to 200% I'm find it very difficult to read. I'm motivated enough to cut and past the text into another app in order to read it ... but would hate for others to be put off because of something simple ...
    Anyway ... that's just my 2p's worth ...
    Cheers
    Andy

Leave a Comment

Author