The lost art of engaging without subscribing

Just because we believe religion is an inherently implausible theological insurance scam the masses have been brainwashed into believing, and that organized faiths are corporate rackets conducted by parasites who fleece the gullible, doesn’t mean there isn’t inherent value in the core idea.

Because the reality is, if we can’t have religion, there are still profound absences in life that we have to fill somewhere else. Universal human needs like belonging, community, ritual, empathy, making meaning, connecting to nature and the satisfaction of existential longing, these things don’t just magically disappear the moment we decide that there isn’t an invisible bearded man in the sky. 

The world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. 

DeBotton’s research on the dangers of aggressive atheism helped mature my thinking on this topic. His theory is that we don’t need a central structure. That we are beyond the age of gurus and inspirational leaders. And so, it’s up to all of us to look at religion and see what bits we can steal and place into the modern world. 

The choice, he writes, isn’t between religion and the secular world; the challenge is to learn from religions so we can fill the secular world with replacements for the things we long ago made up religion to provide. To balance the rejection of religious faith with a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts. 

Isn’t that liberating? Isn’t it a relief to know that there is a way to engage with religion without having to subscribe to its supernatural content? 

It’s the difference between reading a holy book literally, and reading it literately. 

One is subscribing, the other is merely engaging. 


When was the last time you laid aside your own views and values in order to enter another’s spiritual world without prejudice?


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Scott Ginsberg

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