Secular Sunday Guest Column: Religion without God by John Waters

We are pleased to announce that the respected Irish writer John Waters will be contributing an occasional column for Secular Sunday. In this introductory column about Religion without God, Mr Waters explains how he has reverted to the intellectual atheism of his teenage years, while still retaining the religion of his adulthood, after studying the philosophical works of Alain de Botton.

My metaphysical pilgrimage has been a long and circuitous one, and the infamous cultural crossroads, at which I once watched the allegorical jiving that brought the esteemed Sean Doherty back to the faith of his fathers, has now been transformed into a theological roundabout on which I have not changed philosophical direction but have simply returned full circle to the intellectual atheism of my teens while not abandoning the profundity of the practice of my religion without the need for God. It is a capricious paradox, certainly, but such is the nature of always seeking yet never quite attaining subjective objectivity.

My first notion of my relationship with God was based on the idea of a child with a toy in which I was God’s doll, or, more correctly, one of God’s millions of dolls. He played with me when it suited Him. Sometimes He favoured me, and sometimes He was cruel or careless or arbitrary. Sometimes I felt like I’d been forgotten; occasionally that I was, like the Velveteen Rabbit or the teddy bear I had inherited from my older sister, a favourite toy. And yet, I simultaneously had the idea that God loomed large over me, watching my every move in His clockwork doll’s house. I don’t know where this idea came from, but I’m pretty sure it pre-existed the catechism we studied so exhaustively for Confirmation.

I have since journeyed from my outright rejection as a teenager of this deity of the doll’s house whose archaic walls, though patrolled by fire-breathing parish priests, soon crumbled before the godless guitar solos of Rory Gallagher and the hermaphroditic subversion of Marc Bolan, through my adult reconciliation with the sacredness of surrendering to the transcendent, into my perhaps inevitable embrace of a unique Irish yet universal Catholicism that is both personal and impersonal as well as interpersonal and transpersonal, to the current paradoxical atheism of my revelation that I do not need God to be religious.

It is to the philosopher Alain de Botton that I must give thanks for inspiring my most recent inner transformation. Shunning the shrill militance of Dawkins et al, this prophet of reality sagely proposes that atheists should look to religion for insights into how to build a sense of community, make relationships last, get more out of art, and much more. He is of course correct, and the reverse is simultaneously indisputable: so too can we believers retain the robustness of our religion without having to believe the intellectually unbelievable, courtesy of a metaphorical transubstantiation of our spiritual essence into a literal communion with reality that only a fool could doubt.


Secular Sunday


  1. Avatar
    Gerry Grimes April 01, 2012

    John Waters is an á la carte contrarian at best and I regret this site has given him another forum for his ‘born again’ rants.

  2. Avatar
    Feardorcha April 01, 2012

    You had me going up to ‘subjective objectivity’.
    Happy April 1st to the real author.

  3. Avatar
    Dez April 01, 2012

    I think this is a brave move on AI’s part. It opens up debate I suppose but undoubtedly this will split opinions with the members. Can we now expect to see opinion pieces in the Irish Catholic or whatever paper they have?

    I’m not sure about this….


  4. Avatar
    Kenneth Houston April 01, 2012

    Is this serious…? ‘The shrill militancy of Dawkins’. That old chestnut again. Sorry, but I can’t help think that we atheists have had a fairly raw deal from the likes of John Waters and some other crypto-conservatives in Irish media. I gladly welcome people of all faiths and none into a direct and mature debate with those of us who want a secular society and secular politics, but this is one Damascus moment too many, surely. I admire his stance on father’s rights. But please…gimme a break. Some of his recent columns on the wider subject of religion and politics left me a bit peeved. I hope he’s got a thick skin.

  5. Avatar
    Kenneth Houston April 01, 2012

    Ah, forgot…thanks, Feadorcha…night shift meant I forgot about the date…it is April fool, of course…

  6. Avatar
    Gerry Grimes April 01, 2012

    ….ooops….forgot the date….changing my name to fearglas…blush.

  7. Avatar
    Ciaran MacAoidh April 01, 2012

    I’m dyin’ to know if Dez is just joining in or if this got him. Either way, this post is damn near perfect.

  8. Avatar
    Dez April 01, 2012

    Sorry was waiting for the indignant posts to come in but I guess you cant fool all of the people all of the time. Must try harder next time. 🙂

  9. Avatar
    Paul Lanigan April 01, 2012

    You almost had me until I check the date.

    Good one……..

  10. Avatar
    GT April 01, 2012

    Got suspicious when he described Sean Doherty as “esteemed”…but I admit I was caught.

    This was very convincingly written in “Waters Wishy Washy Way”

    Well done 🙂

  11. Avatar
    Alan Tuffery April 01, 2012

    The dateline is a relief.

  12. Avatar
    Maureen Meleady April 01, 2012

    Luckliy I got to this late in the day so had time to read the comments before making a fool of myself!

  13. Avatar
    Hans Vandenbos April 02, 2012

    If the invitation to John Waters to write columns for Secular Sunday is intended as an April fool, then it is a very sick joke. If, however, it is the serious intent of Atheist Ireland to herald the inclusion of ‘false prophets’ like Mr. Waters and Mr. de Botton to its ranks, I shall resign my membership forthwith and let it stew in its own ‘religious’ juice. Hans Vandenbos

  14. Avatar
    Honor April 02, 2012

    I second the comment made by Hans. How is it possible that anyone stupid enough to refer to ‘the shrill militance of Dawkins et al’ is allowed to post anything on the Atheist Ireland website, even as a April fool! Respected writer? Respected by whom, may I ask? If it is the team at Atheist Ireland, then they need their heads examined and the organisation is doomed to become a knitting club of so-called do-gooders and they can do without my membership as well.

  15. Avatar
    Secular Sunday April 02, 2012

    Hans and Honor,

    To clarify, the above article is an April Fool’s joke, and John Waters is not really the author of the piece. It is intended as a pastiche of his florid writing style. Rest assured, John Waters has not become an atheist and is no more respected than he’s ever been.

  16. Avatar
    David O'Driscoll April 02, 2012

    Ha ha! *Cringe*

  17. Avatar
    Seamus McKenna April 02, 2012

    Whew. It got me for a while. You’d never know what JW would come out with. Not a great fan of April fools jokes but this was a good one.

  18. Avatar
    Honor April 02, 2012

    Just like Seamus, I’m not a great fan of April Fool’s jokes either, but also I don’t think this is a good one. If Atheist Ireland wants to be taken seriously by Irish society at large, it has a reputation of impartialityand ethics to uphold, which is undermined by making ‘jokes’ about anyone, be they in ‘the enemy camp’ or not. Furthermore, a well-known national journalist like John Waters, if he ‘gets wind’ of this ‘joke’ (which he probably will) will do everything he can to discredit our cause. Not very clever and not very funny either!

  19. Avatar
    Joe Dunne April 04, 2012

    I think the booze has rotted his brain!

  20. Avatar
    Feardorcha April 07, 2012

    The real John Waters is speaking at the forthcoming Catholic Euhcaristic Congress rally. His talk is entitled ‘How I found my religion’ . As the title alone contains a major contradiction, the speech is sure to be full of laughs.
    He is listed in the cathecetics section along with Breda O’Brien and other great thinkers.

  21. Avatar
    Dave Treleaven April 12, 2012

    On the farm this bit of chatter from Mr. Waters would be considered not only allowing the fox (insert sprituality here) to gaurd the henhouse ….but Athiest Ireland seem content to let him run about in the henhose itself !!

    Come on fess up….it is an April fools bit of fun is it not…..

  22. Avatar
    Helen O Shea April 12, 2012

    of course it is see – Secular Sunday post 6 comments up