some of the best things about religions aren't religious

i think this is the last thought that has lingered with me from alain de botton’s interview on on being

in his book, religion for atheists, he describes his own pathway through and around religion. he grew up in an staunchly secular household and was therefore never really exposed to religious spaces. but over time, he began to notice that despite his secularity, he really enjoyed some parts of religious contexts. he gave examples like collective rituals and incredible architecture. this inspired him to dig, from a research standpoint, into the history of those things that he enjoyed.

what he discovered was the religions tend to absorb things from the culture in which they are situated. in fact, in his opinion, some of the best parts (ideas, practices, rituals) of religions were incorporated into religious practices from non-religious people.

this sort of blew my mind even though conceptually it’s not that strange of an idea. all groups are situated in a context. in a very natural way, being relevant is important and about survival. if part of your job is to make sure other people have access to the thing (religion) you think is so great, you’ll do what it takes to share it. and that means maybe adopting some of the practices of your local culture in order to get people in the door.

alain says he goes in detail on this in his book, but even without reading it i understand his thought that one of the reasons many people find solace in religion, in spite of their own acknowledged dislike of the religion itself, is that the things they like aren’t actually religious at their root. they have been framed as religious practices, but they’re really not.

i’m not quite sure of the implications of this, but it’s definitely a cool thing to know and think about.