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Is Britain a Christian country? And who cares?

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I have not had time to write about my thoughts concerning David Cameron’s recent comments that Britain is a Christian nation. If you know me, you know I disagree. My colleague David re-blogged a very interesting post by Tom Rees (first published on Epiphenom)… and I shall now do him the same privilege.

It is called Who thinks Britain should be a Christian country? and contains the brilliant conclusion that:

by emphasising the importance of Christianity for British identity, Cameron is appealing to the racists, rather than the religious, in his constituency

I have also read another (American) article today on the growing constituency of those who just don’t care about religion, God, “spirituality” or whatever.  Originally published in USA Today, you can access it here on the Huffington Post website. Although I am clearly interested in the social dimensions of religion/nonreligion, and plan to devote my life to studying these, I also couldn’t give a damn about the truth of anyone’s claims… I just don’t see how it is relevant to my life. The arguments of New Atheists or the advocates of various faith positions or spiritualities ultimately have a very hard time penetrating this wall of indifference… and generally the harder people try, the less likely the wall is going to disappear.

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Article on ‘New Atheism’ published in the International Journal for the Study of New Religions

With four days to go until thesis submission, I just thought I’d let you know that I have finally had my journal article published! If you’d like any more information, please just get in touch. Here are the details:

Full citation: Cotter, Christopher R., 2011. “Consciousness Raising: The critique, agenda, and inherent precariousness of contemporary Anglophone atheism.” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 2 (1): 77-103.

From the editors preface:

The fourth article, Christopher R. Cotter’s “Consciousness Raising: The
Critique, Agenda, and Inherent Precariousness of Contemporary Anglophone
Atheism,” deals with a completely different area, contemporary atheism
(sometimes called the “new atheism”). The author discusses what agenda
is promoted in opposition to the criticized “religion.” Not only religion, but
also atheism, is changing over time and in specific contexts, and thus different
kinds of agendas are pursued. The author pinpoints certain characteristics
of contemporary atheism, bearing interesting resemblances to the New Age
movement.

And the abstract:

Atheism, as a subject in its own right, has received comparatively little scholarly attention in the past. This study begins by unpacking the term ‘atheism’, specifying an appropriate timescale and limiting the scope of the investigation to the work of four key authors. Their critiques of religion are considered and common themes under the appellation ‘dangerous religion’ are discerned. The author then pursues a closer reading of the texts, discerning what agenda is promoted in opposition to the heavily criticised ‘religion’, and discussing contemporary atheism in relation to Enlightenment values. Finally, the author examines why contemporary atheism fails to state its agenda more explicitly. The main players are shown to be individuals, with different foci that cannot be encapsulated by labels such as ‘Enlightenment’. Indications emerge of a ‘consciousness raising’ agenda, resulting from various factors that make contemporary unbelief a particularly organisationally ‘precarious’ phenomenon – a precariousness enhanced by an implicit ambivalent attitude to certain aspects of Christianity, and a correlation with Enlightenment, Romantic and New Age concerns.

The Slipperiness of Spirituality

This quotation sums up some of the difficulties with the term ‘spirituality’… one of my most hated terms:

“It is not always easy to say what ‘spiritual’ means; the label is used to flatter anything from earnest introspection to beauty treatments, martial arts to support groups, complementary medicine to palm reading. Moreover the descriptions of spirituality given by respondents seem to have little to do with the supernatural or even the sacred; it appears to be a code word for good feelings, the emotional rather than the material. Not even a quarter of those from a sample in Kendal, England defined their core beliefs about spirituality in terms that were either vaguely esoteric (‘being in touch with subtle energies’) or religious (‘obeying God’s will’). The rest said that it was love, being a decent and caring person, or something similarly terrestrial (Heelas and Woodhead 2005). A proportion even described it as ‘living life to the full’, on which basis some pop stars might qualify as spiritual masters.”

From Voas, David. 2010. Quantitative Methods. In Religion and Youth, ed. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 202-207. Surrey: Ashgate, p. 206.