Religion for Atheists Part 2 : a question for Alain de Botton

First, apologies for the huge delay in posting ‘part 2’. I am now on study leave so have time for pondering and writing instead of the doing and organising which seems to take up so much of my working life.

So back to the question for Alain de Botton. I asked started with an introduction. ‘I am a Christian, an Anglican priest and I work as a  university chaplain. Some of the most interesting conversations about religion and faith are with those students, both religious and atheist, who can step outside their own tribe and build good links with people  whose views are very different from their own. But this is not an easy thing to do and not many people can do it. So when you talk positively about the dialogue between religion and atheism what resources from your own tradition are you drawing upon which help you relate to those whose views are so very different to your own?’ Well that is how I remember it after all these months!

His reply was that he drew on 17th century ideas of people meeting as citizens. That after the European wars of religion that followed the Reformation people came to see that unity could not be based upon shared religious ideas. It was the differences in religion that had led to violence and division. So the idea of being able to meet as citizens and individuals provided a new way of connecting people.

He went on to say that he was inspired by the Christian idea of hospitality to the stranger – offered to meet the needs of the other person and not subject to being in ideological agreement with the stranger.

It was a neat reply – criticising the violence and division of post-Reformation Christianity and then highlighting a positive strand in the Christian tradition. But with just a little implicit hint, I sensed, that this idea of generous hospitality could be practised rather more often than is the case. On that we can both agree.

I think Diarmud McCulloch has a different view on the history however – that it was the response of Christians to the violence of the Civil War in England that led to great tolerance of religious diversity. More research needed on this.