Good without god OR religion?

Robin Ince took part in an Intelligence Square debate yesterday, on the motion ““The world needs religion, just leave God out of it.” He and Peter Atkins were against, Selina O’Grady and Douglas Murray were for. He posted his opening statement and summing up.

Enough statistics, I want to speak of my personal experience, of the people who do good, care about their community, and want to build something better, but do it without religion.

(here I had a long list including…)

I think of the work of the human rights lawyer who spends his life campaigning for people across the world who he feels have been wrongly punished, including incredible work in Guantanamo Bay. He is a godless human trying to help many who have religious beliefs, sometimes it has been little more than their religious beliefs that have led to their incarceration. I think of the atheists I know who support these campaigns through word and deed, disagreeing with the victims’ religion, but not their rights to be treated as human beings.

I think about those I have met who work for Medecins Sans Frontiers, or charities for the abused, people I know who work for hideously low pay and hideously long hours caring for people with extreme disability, mental health nurse etc etc… Many have no religion, many do, and you would be hard-pressed to work out which ones do and which ones don’t if I introduced them to you. We are also told that the church holds a unique place in its ability for people of different classes and societies to gather, perhaps, just perhaps, that was true some centuries ago. In the 21st century this is no longer true. What of the people brought together by music, by theatre,  by art, by campaigning, by allotments…

I think of the odd sheds, halls and barns I have played across the UK where farm labourers, school receptionists, postmen, doctors and greengrocers have taken unused buildings and made them centres of their communities – sometimes screening Finding Nemo, sometimes housing myself reading from ludicrous giant killer crab novels accompanied by an accordionist, hey, that’s variety.

That’s what I want – more odd sheds, halls and barns. More Third Places. More places to congregate (and thus create purely secular congregations).

Robin’s side won the debate.




  1. fhocutt says

    This, yes. I agree completely. I’ve actually been starting up a community workshop in Seattle this year and after one of the meetings I realized that I am effectively trying to create a secular church–a place where the community is its own entity, and where we are there for each other as much as for the stated purpose of gathering.

  2. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Foshaug’s 1st law of relgion:

    Whatever cannot (yet) be explained without a God, cannot be explained with a God.

    Foshaug’s 2st law of relgion:

    Whatever cannot be morally justified without a God, cannot be morally justified with a God.

    I have yet to come across a single exception to these rules that didn’t ultimately rest on the premise that religion wins by default unless atheist can meet any arbitrary/moving goalpost set by believers. If charity is motivated by a genuine concern for the real life welfare of others, religion is simply irrelevant. If charity is motivated by a anything other than such concern (recruiting new converts, saving souls, pleasing God etc.), there is nothing inherently “moral” about it, even if it might have some beneficial side-effects.

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