Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

The Varieties of Religious Experience

Sunday, May 24th, 2015 | Books

The Varieties of Religious Experience is a 1907 book by psychologist William James. I first came across James in Richard Wiseman’s book Rip It Up in which Wiseman talked about James’ beliefs in behaviourism, a subject which much evidence is now converging on.

James was also interested in religion as well and gave a series of lectures in 1901/1902, which formed this book. He focuses on direct experiences – that is to say the people who not only talked to god, but god talks back to them.

It was tough going. I didn’t find the language a problem but the subject matter is heavy and following the points made was at time difficult, even though each case was well illustrated by anecdotes.

It was interesting that he briefly mentioned the rise of atheist churches in the form of the flourishing Ethical Societies that were on the rise at the time. From Comte’s Religion of Humanist to the Sunday Assemblies currently sweeping the world, it’s interesting to see how the wheel turns.


Between the Bridge and the River

Saturday, February 21st, 2015 | Books

Between the Bridge and the River is a novel by Craig Ferguson. Ferguson is an American, but was born in Scotland, and hosts “The Late Late Show” which as you might guess, comes on after “The Late Show”.

The plot is complicated. It follows lots of different characters winding in and out of each other lives. Religious themes are explored extensively throughout the story, generally in quite a satirical light.

Ferguson does that thing that Douglas Adams someones did in taking a meaningless extra from the back of a scene and going into extraordinary detail about their life. If anything, he takes it to a new extreme.

His writing blends a number of different styles. The sex scenes for example are very blunt and matter-of-fact to the point where they could be at home in an Irvine Welsh novel. Whereas at other times we move in and out of the surreal that James Joyce would be proud.

It is a book that I think you really have to commit to to avoid getting half way through and thinking “what is this nonsense?” It all comes together at the end though and forms some kind of coherent story.

Between the Bridge and the River

The Norden

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Video

The Norden is a documentary series where they take someone from the United States to visit Finland, Norway and Sweden and compare the way they do things. With predictable results.



Guns are a terrible idea; go Norway.


I think the paster here does really well. He is down with the Heavy Metal Mass, and it feels like with the room 666 they are just teasing him. Plus the Bible does hate gays. I do not agree with that, but it is in there.

Huffington Post survey on religion

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 | Humanism, Religion & Politics

Huffington Post recently commission Survation to conduct a survey on religion in Britain. The results were quite promising for the humanist community. Here are the highlights:

  • 60% of people described themselves as non-religious
  • Over half believe that religion does more harm than good
  • 13% of people said atheists were likely to be more moral, compared with 8% who said atheists were likely to be less moral

Read more in the Huffington Post article and the BHA press release.

Breaking the Spell

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Books

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is a 2006 book by Daniel Dennett.

In the book he argues that we need to break the spell of using scientific enquiry to consider religion. He has no problem with religion in itself, but wants it to be given the same treatment as any other discourse – that of evidence rational scientific enquiry.

He writes in his somewhat slow and lumbering style that can take a while to get going but certainly puts forward some thought-provoking ideas. It has not been my favourite recent read but did nor did I get overly bored either.

I was really enjoyed some of the little, almost throw-away sentences, that made some quite profound points. The rotting caracas of an elephant for example. It smells horrible. But it does not objectively smell horrible. It smells horrible to us as humans, but to a vulture the smell is a pleasant one.


The Purpose Driven Church

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Books

Rick Warren is probably a bad man. He doesn’t like gay marriage. It doesn’t support gay rights. He doesn’t like the idea of two men having anal sex with each other, even though he has never tried it. But my god (pun intended) does he know how to run a church.

The Purpose Driven Church talks about grow to run a church, which a specific reference to how we started Saddleback Church in California – that now has 20,000 a week attending. It is a gold mine of information. A lot of the strategies he discusses are things I found very effective in running Atheist Society, and there is so much more besides that.

There is a lot of stuff about Jesus in there, as you would expect, but still a useful book for anyone running a Humanist group, Sunday Assembly, etc.


British Social Attitudes Survey

Thursday, June 19th, 2014 | Humanism, Religion & Politics

People often refer to Britain as a Christian country. You can make this argument, but as the BHA points out, not if you look at the stats. They are quite clear. Most people in Britain have no religion.

social attitudes survey

How to be a Bad Christian

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 | Books

A friend recommended that I read “How to be a Bad Christian: … And a Better Human Being” by David Tomlinson. So I did. His message seems to be that organised religion is not really relevant or useful, it is all about loving Jesus. Meanwhile, he works as a vicar.

He started a church in a pub, called Holy Joe’s, that is pretty cool.

Overall, I did not find it the most interesting read however. I do not think the book was really aimed at me. I think it was aimed at Christians who do not go to church and generally feel guilty that they do not practice actively enough. For them, it would probably be quite an enjoyable read.


Small Gods

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Books

The fifteenth book in the Discworld series is Small Gods. It tells the tale of Brutha, the simple minded novice with a perfect memory, who finds out that his all powerful god is in fact, a tortoise.

It presents an entertaining, though fairly straight forward criticism of religious organisations and structures that have long ago forgotten what they are actually about (and what they were actually about was a. wrong and b. now irrelevant anyway). Plus, there is a tortoise, so what more could you want?


Religion for Atheists

Monday, July 15th, 2013 | Books

Quite a few people have suggested Alain de Botton’s book “Religion for Atheists” to me, and I also read Jack’s review with interests a few months ago. Given the brevity of the book, I decided it was certainly worth a quick read to see what it was all about.

The book begins by saying suggesting that the least interesting question we can ask of any religion is whether it is true. This has been a point of some criticism from reviews but I wonder if many have actually missed the central point of the assertion.

What Botton actually means, and perhaps a better way to phrase it would have been, “given we know religion is completely untrue – there clearly isn’t a god and we all know it – what interesting discussions can we have about it?”

From this perspective, his comment makes make more sense and also perhaps explains why he paints religion in such a positive light. It isn’t that he is wearing rose tint glasses, but merely starts from a point where we acknowledge religion is both untrue and destructive, but there are some good features that have allowed it to flourish. Of course I don’t know if this is the case, Botton does not state it, so perhaps he is guilty of the rose tint after all.

The book consists of a series of chapters looking at various aspects of religions and how they could be implemented in a secular way. Laying out restaurants to encourage discussion with strangers, creating mile stones and celebrations, and delivering academic lectures with the passion of evangelical preachers are just some of the suggestions that spring forth.

I read them with mixed reactions, some I like, some not so much. A stronger focus on interesting delivery of academic content for example would certainly have improved my university days. I often struggled to stay awake in lectures and remembered nothing, in which cases a smaller amount of repetitive information would have actually increased learning.

Milestones also play an important part in our lives – this is clear from the half a million people that attended a Humanist ceremony this year. As Jack points out, the historical tradition and grandeur of gradation helps to provide such an occasion in the secular world already though.

In summary, I think Botton is generally on the right track, but then I would, holding the same position. Religion has endured throughout our history, and even onto the days when we know it is patently false, because it provides for our “spiritual” (for lack of a better term) needs. Extracting these into a secular context is essential to removing superstition from our society. Whether Botton’s suggestions are the way to do it remains unclear though.