"The core of most religions is not doctrinal"


An article in the Guardian about the divide in Britain between people of faith and militant atheists contains the following quote:

John Gray, professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, whose book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia will be published later this year, detects parallels between dogmatic believers and dogmatic unbelievers such as Hitchens and Dawkins. "It is not just in the rigidity of their unbelief that atheists mimic dogmatic believers. It is in their fixation on belief itself."

Gray argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: "The core of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and (sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western Christianity."

Dogmatic atheists and fundamentalists really are two sides of the same coin. Those who vociferously criticize religion usually end up attacking straw men and thus utterly miss the point. Religion is poetry for the human soul. Doctrines are just tools for parsing out that poetry. But one thing about art is that it can never be reduced down to attempts to explain it. Art, like religion, ultimately speaks for itself.