The Secular Value of Supporting Churches

A very interesting perspective by John Gray here on the proposal for the creation of atheist temples (discussed here).  What struck me about the piece was its recommendation to atheists to support existing churches and religious structures exactly for some of the reasons that Botton describes.  The point might be expanded to apply more generally to secular support for religious institutions — not a reason from autonomy or separation or one of the other usual liberal reasons, but one more merits-oriented, as it were.  From the conclusion of Gray’s piece:

[Auguste] Comte wanted his new religion to be based on science, so the temples of humanity pointed only as far as science could reach. That is why his new church failed. The very idea of a science-based religion is an absurdity. The value of religion is that it points beyond anything that can be known by the methods of science, showing us that a mystery would remain even if everything could be finally explained. The heart of religion isn’t belief, but something more like what Keats described as negative capability: “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.

Rather than trying to invent another religion surrogate, open-minded atheists should appreciate the genuine religions that exist already. London is full of sites – churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship – that are evocative of something beyond the human world. Better spend the money that is being raised for the new temple on religious buildings that are in disrepair than waste it on a monument to a defunct version of unbelief.

Education and Belief: Ontology

Educational philosophy raises four distinct but related questions:  What is education for? What is the nature of the child? What is the role of adults? Who decides which view is right?

The last post highlighted several prominent disputes about the purpose of education. Even if we agreed about the purpose of education (say, that it existed to transmit knowledge and to foster democratic citizenship), the second and third questions – how we think about the nature of the child and the role of adults – are also deeply contested and lead to quite different pedagogies. This is because they ask us to consider our basic assumptions about human nature. This is what the Greeks called an ontological question, since it concerns the essence or the nature of a thing.

Two broad conflicts have played out in American education: the first between the traditionalist and the progressive, the second between the religionist and the secularist. What are the ontological distinctions between them?

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