The religion of humanity, for extra credit

It’s another exam day in CoPhi. The most interesting question is for extra credit:

What do you think of English Deist John Toland‘s version of pantheism, defined as “belief in no other eternal being but the universe,” and involving a “civic religion with meetings, community rituals, and a secularist liturgy”? Would YOU ever join such a “community of doubters”? Why or why not?

The question barks up the same tree we’ve been discussing all semester in A&P. I’ve finished Alain de Botton’s controversial¬†Religion for Atheists, which proposes something very similar to Toland’s civic religion and draws directly on Auguste Comte‘s “religion of humanity.” But

Comte’s greatest conceptual error was to label his scheme a religion. Those who have given up on faith rarely feel indulgent towards this emotive word, nor are most adult independent-minded atheists much attracted to the idea of joining a cult.

They don’t want priests or temples. It’s ironic for de Botton to be pointing that out, his critics are sure he’s every bit as insensitive to such secular sensibilities as he says Comte was. And yet, he insists, secular society needs its own institutions to “take the place of religions.” But they say religion’s place needs simply to be eliminated.

And so the debate continues, and the sensibilities of this humanistic pluralist remain conflicted. For extra credit: resolve your professor’s ambivalence on this matter.


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