Read more about Book Club and the book we’re reading.
According to the 2013 Blackrock City Census, 73% of Burning Man attendees say they belong to “No Religion.” Of the remaining Burners, 6% claim to be Jewish, 5% Catholic, 5% “other Christian,” 4% other, 3% Protestant (although isn’t that “other Christian?”), and 2% each for Buddhism, Pastafarianism (although can’t we just call that “Atheism with a shtick?”), and Paganism.
Yet by the same count only 22% of Burners self-identify as Atheists, 49% of Burners say they are “spiritual,” and about as many Burners say they practice prayer/meditation/contemplation as Burners who say they don’t.
So while a majority of Burners clearly aren’t religious, neither have a majority of them abandoned the things that one generally looks to religion to provide. We may not see religion as providing any answers about God, the spiritual aspect of reality, or a sense of connection to the world around us – but neither have we given up on those things. A compelling argument can be made that we are looking for religion by another name.
This is precisely the condition of the world that Terry Eagleton examines in his book “Culture and the Death of God.” This is not a book about whether God exists or religion is “correct” – it is a book asking the question: “what does a culture that for thousands of years put religion at the center of morality, political authority, and epistemology, do when it has secularized?”
We have to ask the question because we still don’t have an answer. As Eagleton notes in the preface: “(D)espite the fact that art, Reason, culture and so on all had a thriving life of their own, they were also called on from time to time to shoulder this ideological burden, one to which they invariably proved unequal. That none of these viceroys for God turned out to be very plausible is part of my story.”