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.