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  • One of the most common ways of dividing the world

  • is into those who believe

  • and those who don't --

  • into the religious and the atheists.

  • And for the last decade or so,

  • it's been quite clear

  • what being an atheist means.

  • There have been some very vocal atheists

  • who've pointed out,

  • not just that religion is wrong,

  • but that it's ridiculous.

  • These people, many of whom have lived in North Oxford,

  • have argued --

  • they've argued that believing in God

  • is akin to believing in fairies

  • and essentially that the whole thing

  • is a childish game.

  • Now I think it's too easy.

  • I think it's too easy

  • to dismiss the whole of religion that way.

  • And it's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

  • And what I'd like to inaugurate today

  • is a new way of being an atheist --

  • if you like, a new version of atheism

  • we could call Atheism 2.0.

  • Now what is Atheism 2.0?

  • Well it starts from a very basic premise:

  • of course, there's no God.

  • Of course, there are no deities or supernatural spirits

  • or angels, etc.

  • Now let's move on; that's not the end of the story,

  • that's the very, very beginning.

  • I'm interested in the kind of constituency

  • that thinks something along these lines:

  • that thinks, "I can't believe in any of this stuff.

  • I can't believe in the doctrines.

  • I don't think these doctrines are right.

  • But," a very important but, "I love Christmas carols.

  • I really like the art of Mantegna.

  • I really like looking at old churches.

  • I really like turning the pages of the Old Testament."

  • Whatever it may be,

  • you know the kind of thing I'm talking about --

  • people who are attracted to the ritualistic side,

  • the moralistic, communal side of religion,

  • but can't bear the doctrine.

  • Until now, these people have faced a rather unpleasant choice.

  • It's almost as though either you accept the doctrine

  • and then you can have all the nice stuff,

  • or you reject the doctrine and

  • you're living in some kind of spiritual wasteland

  • under the guidance of CNN and Walmart.

  • So that's a sort of tough choice.

  • I don't think we have to make that choice.

  • I think there is an alternative.

  • I think there are ways --

  • and I'm being both very respectful and completely impious --

  • of stealing from religions.

  • If you don't believe in a religion,

  • there's nothing wrong with picking and mixing,

  • with taking out the best sides of religion.

  • And for me, atheism 2.0

  • is about both, as I say,

  • a respectful and an impious way

  • of going through religions and saying, "What here could we use?"

  • The secular world is full of holes.

  • We have secularized badly, I would argue.

  • And a thorough study of religion

  • could give us all sorts of insights

  • into areas of life that are not going too well.

  • And I'd like to run through a few of these today.

  • I'd like to kick off by looking at education.

  • Now education is a field

  • the secular world really believes in.

  • When we think about how we're going to make the world a better place,

  • we think education; that's where we put a lot of money.

  • Education is going to give us, not only commercial skills, industrial skills,

  • it's also going to make us better people.

  • You know the kind of thing a commencement address is, and graduation ceremonies,

  • those lyrical claims

  • that education, the process of education -- particularly higher education --

  • will make us into nobler and better human beings.

  • That's a lovely idea.

  • Interesting where it came from.

  • In the early 19th century,

  • church attendance in Western Europe

  • started sliding down very, very sharply, and people panicked.

  • They asked themselves the following question.

  • They said, where are people going to find the morality,

  • where are they going to find guidance,

  • and where are they going to find sources of consolation?

  • And influential voices came up with one answer.

  • They said culture.

  • It's to culture that we should look

  • for guidance, for consolation, for morality.

  • Let's look to the plays of Shakespeare,

  • the dialogues of Plato, the novels of Jane Austen.

  • In there, we'll find a lot of the truths

  • that we might previously have found in the Gospel of Saint John.

  • Now I think that's a very beautiful idea and a very true idea.

  • They wanted to replace scripture with culture.

  • And that's a very plausible idea.

  • It's also an idea that we have forgotten.

  • If you went to a top university --

  • let's say you went to Harvard or Oxford or Cambridge --

  • and you said, "I've come here

  • because I'm in search of morality, guidance and consolation;

  • I want to know how to live,"

  • they would show you the way to the insane asylum.

  • This is simply not what our grandest and best institutes of higher learning

  • are in the business of.

  • Why? They don't think we need it.

  • They don't think we are in an urgent need of assistance.

  • They see us as adults, rational adults.

  • What we need is information.

  • We need data, we don't need help.

  • Now religions start from a very different place indeed.

  • All religions, all major religions,

  • at various points call us children.

  • And like children,

  • they believe that we are in severe need of assistance.

  • We're only just holding it together.

  • Perhaps this is just me, maybe you.

  • But anyway, we're only just holding it together.

  • And we need help. Of course, we need help.

  • And so we need guidance and we need didactic learning.

  • You know, in the 18th century in the U.K.,

  • the greatest preacher, greatest religious preacher, was a man called John Wesley,

  • who went up and down this country delivering sermons,

  • advising people how they could live.

  • He delivered sermons on the duties of parents to their children

  • and children to their parents,

  • the duties of the rich to the poor and the poor to the rich.

  • He was trying to tell people how they should live

  • through the medium of sermons,

  • the classic medium of delivery of religions.

  • Now we've given up with the idea of sermons.

  • If you said to a modern liberal individualist,

  • "Hey, how about a sermon?"

  • they'd go, "No, no. I don't need one of those.

  • I'm an independent, individual person."

  • What's the difference between a sermon

  • and our modern, secular mode of delivery, the lecture?

  • Well a sermon wants to change your life

  • and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information.

  • And I think we need to get back to that sermon tradition.

  • The tradition of sermonizing is hugely valuable,

  • because we are in need of guidance,

  • morality and consolation --

  • and religions know that.

  • Another point about education:

  • we tend to believe in the modern secular world

  • that if you tell someone something once, they'll remember it.

  • Sit them in a classroom, tell them about Plato

  • at the age of 20, send them out for a career in management consultancy for 40 years,

  • and that lesson will stick with them.

  • Religions go, "Nonsense.

  • You need to keep repeating the lesson 10 times a day.

  • So get on your knees and repeat it."

  • That's what all religions tell us:

  • "Get on you knees and repeat it 10 or 20 or 15 times a day."

  • Otherwise our minds are like sieves.

  • So religions are cultures of repetition.

  • They circle the great truths again and again and again.

  • We associate repetition with boredom.

  • "Give us the new," we're always saying.

  • "The new is better than the old."

  • If I said to you, "Okay, we're not going to have new TED.

  • We're just going to run through all the old ones

  • and watch them five times because they're so true.

  • We're going to watch Elizabeth Gilbert five times

  • because what she says is so clever," you'd feel cheated.

  • Not so if you're adopting a religious mindset.

  • The other things that religions do

  • is to arrange time.

  • All the major religions give us calendars.

  • What is a calendar?

  • A calendar is a way of making sure that across the year

  • you will bump into certain very important ideas.

  • In the Catholic chronology, Catholic calendar,

  • at the end of March you will think about St. Jerome

  • and his qualities of humility and goodness

  • and his generosity to the poor.

  • You won't do that by accident; you will do that because you are guided to do that.

  • Now we don't think that way.

  • In the secular world we think, "If an idea is important, I'll bump into it.

  • I'll just come across it."

  • Nonsense, says the religious world view.

  • Religious view says we need calendars, we need to structure time,

  • we need to synchronize encounters.

  • This comes across also

  • in the way in which religions set up rituals

  • around important feelings.

  • Take the Moon. It's really important to look at the Moon.

  • You know, when you look at the Moon,

  • you think, "I'm really small. What are my problems?"

  • It sets things into perspective, etc., etc.

  • We should all look at the Moon a bit more often. We don't.

  • Why don't we? Well there's nothing to tell us, "Look at the Moon."

  • But if you're a Zen Buddhist in the middle of September,

  • you will be ordered out of your home, made to stand on a canonical platform

  • and made to celebrate the festival of Tsukimi,

  • where you will be given poems to read

  • in honor of the Moon and the passage of time

  • and the frailty of life that it should remind us of.

  • You'll be handed rice cakes.

  • And the Moon and the reflection on the Moon

  • will have a secure place in your heart.

  • That's very good.

  • The other thing that religions are really aware of

  • is: speak well --

  • I'm not doing a very good job of this here --

  • but oratory, oratory is absolutely key to religions.

  • In the secular world, you can come through the university system and be a lousy speaker

  • and still have a great career.

  • But the religious world doesn't think that way.

  • What you're saying needs to be backed up

  • by a really convincing way of saying it.

  • So if you go to an African-American Pentecostalist church

  • in the American South

  • and you listen to how they talk,

  • my goodness, they talk well.

  • After every convincing point, people will go, "Amen, amen, amen."

  • At the end of a really rousing paragraph, they'll all stand up,

  • and they'll go, "Thank you Jesus, thank you Christ, thank you Savior."

  • If we were doing it like they do it --

  • let's not do it, but if we were to do it --

  • I would tell you something like, "Culture should replace scripture."

  • And you would go, "Amen, amen, amen."

  • And at the end of my talk, you would all stand up

  • and you would go, "Thank you Plato, thank you Shakespeare, thank you Jane Austen."

  • And we'd know that we had a real rhythm going.

  • All right, all right. We're getting there. We're getting there.

  • (Applause)

  • The other thing that religions know is we're not just brains,

  • we are also bodies.

  • And when they teach us a lesson,

  • they do it via the body.

  • So for example,

  • take the Jewish idea of forgiveness.

  • Jews are very interested in forgiveness

  • and how we should start anew and start afresh.

  • They don't just deliver us sermons on this.

  • They don't just give us books or words about this.

  • They