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Who Will Save Our Souls? - Thembisa Cochrane

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



It seems archaic not to separate church and state, but where has that separation taken us?

Let me introduce you to a few people:

The Atheist on a mission to save the poor people who have been sucked by force into false religious beliefs.

The African woman who found the courage to contradict her supervisor because she knew Jesus would protect her from vengeful witchcraft.

The Islamic teacher who works in France and is no longer allowed to wear her head scarf to school.

The Schoolboy who suddenly saw the light of God one weekend. His friends never mention it aloud; they treat it with the same quiet whispers as his best friend being gay.

The British man who entered his religion as “Jedi” into the national census because he heard if enough people did that they could force the government to make it official.

The Student who took a major in Religious Studies because it was considered easy and he needed good marks.

The Friends who posted their religion as “Pastafarian” and “It’s complicated” on facebook. Some of them put “Christian” – they were the ones trying to save the poor people who had been sucked by Satan into false beliefs.

The Thinker, who decided he was Buddhist because Buddhism wasn’t a religion.

Religion is important. It still moves and shakes our world and it cannot be ignored.

Should we fight it? Should we try to make it go away, turn it into something personal which is not asked about in polite conversation?

Religion is valuable. It can provide many things, amongst them:

  • Community
  • Awe
  • Comfort
  • Hope
  • Justice (and mercy)
  • Worth (and dignity)
  • Transcendence (you are not born what you become)
  • Healing (forgiveness heals the person who has given it as much as the person on whom it is bestowed)

Can a secular state provide those things? No. It would be worrying if it could.

Then should we ask the state to ensure everyone has the freedom to find their own preferred brand of religion on the supermarket shelf? That seems fair, but what if Scientology has the biggest marketing budget because it specifically serves those who pursue a kind of individual power that is often synonymous with financial wealth? Less fair.

If the state is not lending power to religion, then religion will draw power from mass appeal and money. In a secular state the finest minds are encouraged to study finance or medicine or law. Where does that leave the role of philosopher, spiritual counselor, moral guide, community leader?

Perhaps “religion” is too severe a word for the non-religious reader. Perhaps it is too close to the words “rigid” and “rule”. A state should not give power to either of those words. Perhaps we should rather speak about a “communal philosophy of the soul”.

Then what should the relationship be between the state and “the communal philosophy of the soul”? Something to be thought and talked about.