Roger Scruton and the kindly atheists

Source: the Guardian

In recent weeks, atheists and agnostics who are friendly towards religion have been filling the column inches. Editors, and perhaps readers, are weary of the so-called militant secularism evangelised by you know who. So kindly non-believers have been commissioned. But there is something paradoxical about their appreciation of “God”.

I noticed it a while back when I read Mary Warnock’s Dishonest to God. She is an atheist who has spent too much time at cathedral evensong. Her moral and aesthetic imagination would collapse without religious culture: “It seems to me that there is no possible argument for holding that religion is outdated, or that it can be wholly replaced in society by science or any other imaginative exercise.” This atheist wants belief in “God” to persist, though it can’t by her own logic.

The same conundrum is generously explored in Richard Holloway’s autobiographical, Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt. It reads like a confession, the former bishop of Edinburgh writing in searingly honest terms about his limitations, failures and regrets. He was never a saint, or cut out to be one, though he knew some in the Gorbals of Glasgow and possibly at Kelham, his now closed theological college. Holloway passionately laments the cruelty of the institution in which he served for so long. He rehearses the troubling arguments on the problem of evil, the unlikelihood of an afterlife and so on.

And yet, his heart is still tugged by the possibility of the transcendent. When he now walks the Pentland hills, which he has known since his youth, he perhaps detects a divine whisper yet. We must keep religion’s poetry, he concludes, because it consoles and humanises. We must purge religion of its prose, the dogmatic formulations that do so much damage.

Malvern Hills, Herefordshire

Why might one find consolation in a walk through the hills? Photograph: Alamy

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Categories: Atheism, Religion

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