In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (February 18,2012) entitled “Religion for Everyone” the British atheist Alain De Botton expressed his hopes for a future world without God, but he suggests keeping some things religions have done well in the past. One of them is the ability to create vital communities.
“One of the losses that modern society feels most keenly is the loss of a sense of community.” De Botton writes. Religions once supplied a sense of neighborliness. Now it’s “been replaced by ruthless anonymity, by the pursuit of contact with one another primarily for individualistic ends: for financial gain, social advancement or romantic love.”
We’re set on making money, getting ahead and plenty of sex, he says. We’re building more restaurants, more bars, more gated communities, but there seem to be fewer places where all of us can get together. “The contemporary world is not lacking in places where we can dine well in company, but what’s significant is that there are almost no venues that can help us to transform strangers into friends.”
Of all things, De Botton points to the Catholic Church and its liturgy of the Mass as his prime example of religion’s ability to create community:
“Consider Catholicism, which starts to create a sense of community with a setting. It marks off a piece of the earth, puts walls up around it and declares that within their confines there will reign values utterly unlike the ones that hold sway in the world beyond. A church gives us rare permission to lean over and say hello to a stranger without any danger of being thought predatory or insane.”
No one asks what you do or how much you earn when you come for Mass. The banker and the cleaner sit side by side. The Mass places you in a setting that focuses on human dignity and its blessings. It urges you to give up being judgmental of others and look on them with respect.
“Religion serves two central needs that secular society has not been able to meet with any particular skill: first, the need to live together in harmonious communities, despite our deeply-rooted selfish and violent impulses; second, the need to cope with the pain that arises from professional failure, troubled relationships, the death of loved ones and our own decay and demise.”
De Botton makes you think, doesn’t he? Modern society is losing a sense of community as we become more and more individualistic. An atheist, he recognizes in a religion like the Catholic church a powerful remedy to the ills of our times.
Why don’t we see these same blessings in our church? Though De Botton doesn’t see them so, they’re signs of God’s lively presence.