How good will inspired me to write my first book, and why the Sunday Assembly fills a hole in modern society.
What if religions are neither all true nor all nonsense, Alain de Botton pondered, like Schrödinger’s cat which is both dead and alive? Non-believers may contest whether religion has a place to play to modern life, but the recent establishment of the ‘Sunday Assembly’ by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans suggests there may be a way for atheism and theism to co-exist, Schrödinger’s church, if you like.
Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on good will; people aren’t required to believe in order to know the difference between wrong and right. “Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death,” Albert Einstein reminds us, morality is built from sympathy, education, and social ties.
Take belief from religion, however, and you are left looking at thousands of years of advice which give us practical insights on art, community, love, friendship, work, life and death. Religion has left a permanent mark on society, that much is undisputable, and by picking and choosing the best bits we are left with some fascinating ideas on a range of topics that could be of use to all of us, irrespective of whether we do or don’t believe.
Do we need an atheist church?
Alom Shaha highlighted in a recent New Humanist article that the difficulty with religious teachings is that they explain how to make sense of the world through the prism of their particular faith. Ask a religious leader, therefore, about the role of women, homosexuals, sex and a bunch of other things in society, and they will struggle to give an answer that avoids being contradicted somewhere else within their own confines – there will never be a Bible part 2 or a revised edition of the Qur’an to account for societal advances.
But removing the church is like tearing away the central nervous system of a community. It is now, and always has been, an outward looking organisation that serves others and provides help to those most in need. The teachings may no longer be in vogue, but its function has never been disputed.
So do we need a godless congregation to provide a similar role? Meeting on the first Sunday of every month the atheist church replaces sermons with talks, carols with pop songs and generally celebrates the wonders of life with “anyone who wants to live better, help often and wonder more”. It has been criticised for reinforcing the ‘atheism-is-just-as-much-of-a-religion’ argument, but marrying the positive principles of religion without its quid pro quo terms certainly has an appeal.
The Good Will Manifesto
My disillusionment with religion was born by the very notion that you had to be good to people because of something. Even as a child I never understood why kindness had to be defined, for me, it was like wiping my nose after I sneezed – you just knew to do it.
Indeed, it is the same common sense philosophy that has defined me as a pacifist, a liberal and a humanist. In the Good Will Manifesto I documented years of poetry and photomontage to project principles I am sure will one day govern our society. Ideals of good will, such as the ones creeping into existence at the atheist church that live in each other as a community, rather than in an idolised deity can, in my opinion, only be good for the advancement of humankind.
The Good Will Manifesto is an artistic expression of global enlightenment, available to view in its entirety here: http://www.blurb.com/b/3194135-the-good-will-manifesto