Why Bother with Religion? This seemed an odd question for the Fellowship’s June meeting. Miles Howarth encouraged us to think widely about what we gain from our religion. What aspects of religion did we individually choose not to bother with – in his case the supernatural. He quoted Albert Einstein who, in a recently discovered letter, rejected the idea of a personal God, and also the “crusading spirit of the professional atheist”. Einstein preferred “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and our own being.” Miles referred to the fact that in our discussions we had discussed how there seems to be something unique within life, and within the human spirit: a great potential which, despite our many and obvious weaknesses was of the highest importance. Despite traditional religion’s serious flaws some elements have lasting worth. The Fellowship’s Affirmations, for example, are a very useful statement of values. For Miles the motivation to bother comes from wanting to retain what he sees as valid and worthwhile in religion – saving the baby whilst throwing out the bathwater.
In practice this means developing dialogue both within ourselves and with others. What we call worship needs to help with both forms of dialogue. Worship serves several purposes:
- It gives us an opportunity to focus on purpose and meaning in life, in order to help one to retain a personal sense of balance, perspective and priorities.
- It celebrates values, such as are set out on the Unitarian website, and this Fellowship’s Affirmations.
- It is an experience of supportive togetherness, an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by others in a way which does not rely on chance encounters.
- It allows us a taste of the arts to support these processes.
Support was voiced by some of us for Miles’ rejection of the supernatural. In our discussion it became clear that in one way or another the reasons we found that kept us bothering with religion related to the shared sense of community that we gained. As was pointed out, philosophy is a matter for the head and does not provide the same sense of a shared and supportive community that religion can. For some of us the benefits of belonging to a particular religious community had in the past been undermined when we realised that expressing our personal views would cause alienation. As Unitarians the ‘fit’ between our beliefs and those of others does not have to be exact. With thanks to Unitarian sources for some of these ideas.