Editorial, Top Stories

Feast and Drink For Our Community’s Health

Earlier this year, for the first time in history, the government of Britain appointed a minister for loneliness. Although not a medical condition, loneliness is starting to be described in such language, with descriptors such as “epidemic” and “public health crisis” bracketing the term. Large-scale studies have found that around ten percent of adults in Western nations experience chronic loneliness.

In a letter published this year in The Lancet, two neurologists from the University of Chicago asked readers to “imagine a condition that makes a person irritable, depressed, and self-centred, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality.” They went on to explain that it is not a condition that only affects those with poor social skills, or those who are highly sheltered or introverted. Loneliness is not necessarily about being alone, either—we can feel isolated when surrounded by other people. Somewhat counter-intuitively, social skills training, social support and social contact have all been found to be ineffective as interventions for social disconnection.

*  *  *

Drawing on the work of Durkheim, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt theorises that religious practices are best understood not as the outcome of a set of propositional beliefs (i.e. that “God exists” or “there is an afterlife”) but as the means by which our species creates cohesive moral communities. From a Durkheimian perspective, the individual comes into “moral harmony” with those with whom he shares religious customs. This harmony then provides us with a “perpetual sustenance of our moral nature.”

Our species is unique in that our social structures are highly varied and complex. Sometimes we can see remnants of our primate ancestors in how we organise ourselves: a military platoon might resemble a roaming band of male chimpanzees, or a hippie commune might resemble a bonobo social group, yet although we have many similarities with the other great apes, our ability to live in very large communities, such as cities, is vastly different. No other primate can do so. Our ability to engage in large scale cooperation is a miracle of evolution. The only other species that are capable of such social structures are specialised “eusocial” insects, i.e. bees, ants, and wasps, and even then, most of the insects are related to each other.

So how did we become the only primate that can cooperate, build communities, and ultimately build cities? Where did this capacity come from? Haidt’s hypothesis, drawing on Durkheim, is that it comes from our ability to bind together into social groups which have a shared vision–a shared morality. Imagine early humans dancing around a fire after a successful hunt. Or German pagans sitting beneath a fir tree to celebrate the winter solstice. Circling around a sacred object, early humans formed the bonds of trust that allowed them to trust each other, putting their welfare in the hands of one another, allowing for the development of the specialisation and division of labour that comes later to be known as civilisation.

*  *  *

Long before the birth of Christ, pagans in Europe used trees in their festivals to mark the end of the first half of winter. The winter solstice marked a turning point. After the shortest day of the year had passed, it meant that the days would start to become progressively longer, and winter darkness would soon be replaced by light.

Right up until the 16th century, the first months of winter were a time of famine in northern Europe. Cattle were slaughtered so they didn’t have to be fed, and so fresh meat was available to be eaten. Wine that had been fermenting through the year became available. While the months were tough and cold, the people found ways to get through it: by coming together to feast and drink in the celebration of a rebirth. After the longest night, the sun would be coming up again. And it always did.

Similar to the mid-winter feasting of the German pagans, the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia involved a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, a public banquet and private gift-giving. The Roman poet Catullus described Saturnalia as “the best of days.”

Saturnalia (1783) by Antoine Callet

In the secular West, we decorate a tree and we give gifts to each other. We may not be aware of the pagan history of these customs, or how such pagan festivals were incorporated into the celebration of the Birth of Christ—the continuity in custom, however, does not diminish its importance. It shows just how important such customs are, regardless of the beliefs we hold around them.

The power of ritual to bind people together has some evidence behind it. In a psychological experiment, it has been demonstrated that groups of participants who walk, sing, or move their arms in synchrony with each other show increased liking, trust, cooperation, and self-sacrifice than groups performing the similar behaviors but not in synchrony. In his 2010 paper co-authored with Jesse Graham, Haidt tries to answer the mysterious question of why religious people are consistently found to be happier than the non-religious. Their hypothesis aligns with Durkheim’s:

[M]ost of the well-being benefits of religiosity appear to come from participation in a religious congregation. This view is consistent with Durkheim’s (1897/1951) finding of lower suicide rates in more integrated religious communities. If God is a maypole, then the health and happiness benefits of religion come from participating in the maypole dance, not from sitting alone at home thinking about the pole.

We too often equate religion with a set of propositions, with festivals and customs considered supplementary. The view that religion is about propositions generally stipulates that to be religious we must believe in the supernatural and suspend our belief in the laws of nature, evolution or the reality of a cold, indifferent universe. Religion is therefore rejected, often sensibly, on these grounds.

Yet more and more of us are coming to realise that this view is overly simplistic and one-dimensional. And while belief in organised religion, and participation in shared rituals is declining, loneliness is increasing.

What if we have both religion and loneliness wrong? What if, when it comes to religion, the rituals, symbolism and customary practice is, in fact, the main event, and what if the propositional beliefs associated with them are immaterial? And what if loneliness is not a symptom of a lack of health in an individual, but a symptom of a lack of health in a community?

When we come together at Christmas in small or large groups to share rituals with each other, and mark a turning point in the season, we celebrate human life and the human ability to cooperate. Without even being consciously aware, we reify the ability to move beyond the other great apes—through the creation of cohesive communities and ultimately civilisations. This year, on Christmas, remember that the religious rituals we partake in do not rely on an abstract belief in miracles—they are miracles themselves—and when we participate in them, what we are really worshiping is not the supernatural, but the miracle of trust itself.


Claire Lehmann is the Editor-in-Chief of Quillette


  1. Morgan Foster says

    I’ll drink to that. Merry Christmas, Ms. Lehmann.

  2. David D says

    Merry Christmas to you and yours Claire! Although I feel quite differently about some of what you say here I hope your holidays are full of joy and peace, and I appreciate your intent! Thanks so much for starting this site, its one of my favourites!

  3. Thank you Claire. That is very moving and thought provoking. In wondering with not a little concern what 2019 will bring, I only know that if it weren’t for Quillette (and JBP et al) it would seem a bit darker. Thanks again.

  4. Nathan says

    I left the Catholic faith and a great church community when I left home at 18. I have explored Materialism, Buddhism, and Stoicism; all have their merits as philosophy, as a means to understand the world and how to best live within it. With the exception of the second, there are no physical communities of practice and ritual, and the those of the second are difficult to find in much of the U.S.

    Having grown up with community, and abandoning it because I did not share in the Faith, I miss very much the rituals, the songs, the common values, and the camaraderie of my church. I’m not sure that’s enough to bring me back to Christianity. But I do feel the loss.

    What’s the alternative? Without God-fearing, it seems really difficult to get people together in the same way. Hobby groups, service groups, and political action groups don’t seem, to me, to meet the same needs and fulfill the same functions as church.

    • Andrew says

      Hi, Nathan.

      Like you, I’m a bit of a lapsed Christian. I still believe, but the some of the “organized” part of religion presses my buttons wrong. However, the faith community that means the most to me aren’t God-fearing. They are God-loving.
      I know it sounds corny. But I’ll tell you that this church was the first in which I heard that God loved me unconditionally. There was no judgement there. There was a large outreach to 12-steppers and the homeless, I’ve since moved 3000 miles away, but while I was there, I felt the work they were doing was really important; more so than any other church I’ve been to.

      I hope that you find the peace, love and fellowship you’re looking for this Christmas

      • Farris says


        You may be a bit of a lapsed Christian but you understand the message perfectly. It is man (sometimes myself included) that makes a mess of religion, not God. I pray you find that connection once again, not out of concern for your soul but so that you may re-live that prior happiness and fellowship.

    • Ray Andrews says


      “Without God-fearing, it seems really difficult to get people together in the same way.”

      Yes, and it demands and answer: why? Wolves and chimps feel no religious impulses. If all of this evolved then we are faced with a severe case of maladaptation since the human mind seems to have configured itself to function best while crippled with devotion to an entirely made up fiction which is not merely an illusion but a positive drain on resources in many ways. That this is sub-optimal is obvious and the standard reply is, as above, to repeat that this is actually adaptive since it helps us bond, which only begs the question: why? To be sure there are somewhat unsatisfying and labored materialistic explanations, but another explanation is that we seek God because he exists, we are uniquely made in his image, and we are incomplete without him. Chimps don’t have that problem.

  5. mikeazariah says

    Consistently a place I come to read and think. Thank you.

    Merry Christmas one and all

  6. I came to a similar realization a few years ago. While I can’t say I believe in everything the Bible says, it doesn’t really matter. I believe in the act of believing, and keeping the morals and traditions alive.

    • Why not try other religions, morals and traditions besides a Christian one?
      In a highly mobile, pluralistic world, a single tradition is unlikely when religion taints it.
      Perhaps festivals like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, etc. could be expanded as some may have religious currents, few celebrate them as religious and yet they are good fun.

      • Why should I?

        I’m not asking out of spite, but out of curiosity. I find Western Christian traditions and morals to be absolutely fulfilling as it is. If anything, I’d prefer to see even more of them, as we’ve done our best to create a secular society where I’m from (Sweden).

      • Ray Andrews says

        @david of Kirkland

        For the same reason that people don’t try dreaming in another language. We do not try religions the same way we try a different aftershave, they are somewhat more deeply embedded than that. I long ago came to understand that I’m a Jew/Christian in a way that is far more profound than choice. I could ‘try’ Hinduism and I might even like it, but I would remain a Christian almost whether wanted to or not.

        If people are looking for good fun they should head down to the amusement park and try the rides. Religions are not about good fun they are about good answers to hard questions.

  7. Kevin says

    Although I love Claire and Quillette and share good tidings with everybody, this article appears to be severely lacking in knowledge of established anthropological facts, as well as of the origins of religions and the reasons for their initial beginnings. Religions are quite different from spirituality. In fact, there are no comparisons, but religions were created for the sole purpose of reigning people in and controlling them.. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanakkuh. Kwanzaa…nah…funny.

    • xyz and such says

      “religions were created for the sole purpose of … controlling [people]”

      please, just because they are often used in that way doesn’t mean that they were ‘created’ for that purpose. That’s pure conspiracy theory.

    • Doug Deeper says

      Kevin, I heartily recommend you read “Religion Explained, the Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought” by the cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer. It perhaps my give you some insight into how our brains evolved and the importance religion and religious ritual have played in this evolution. The notion that it’s all about power is just a little too simplistic to be very helpful.

      Claire, a hearty Merry Christmas to you and my deepest gratitude for the remarkable platform you have created.

      • But religion codifies spiritual or moral thought, typically with punishment for infractions, praise for the faithful, distrust/hatred of alternatives, and typically a priesthood with power over the common person (and even royalty often enough).

        • Ray Andrews says

          @david of Kirkland

          Of course it does. It creates structure as required. One of the worst ideas the hippies came up with is the idea that you can have a cohesive society without any structure.

        • xyz and such says

          @david: so, clearly, you find the post modern and deconstructionists to be most informative to your worldview then. (ie: structures are inherently evil)

          Problem with PC culture, which stems from the deconstructionists, is this need to demonize any structure because of the inherent nature of any system or structure, particularly those administered by human beings, to change over time. So, instead of working to correct pathologies that will inevitably arise as a result of these changes, they deem the whole of the system to be tossed out.

          Religion isn’t ‘bad’ – it certainly can be misused and historically has when it becomes rigid, fundamentalist and dogmatic. I would suggest that the quality of ‘fundamentalism’ is inherently pathological, not religion. But keep in mind that one who is ‘against’ religion can also be a fundamentalist… to the same results. (as we can now see with what is happening on the ‘Left’ right now.)

          • Ray Andrews says

            @xyz and such

            Just so. The dogmatic atheist or the SJW zealot imagine themselves to be as far away as it is possible to be from the Christian fundamentalist, but in fact they share exactly the same sort of brittle, cruel mind. All are the slaves of their primitive memes and all can be counted on to have about the same attitude toward the unsaved.

      • cacambo says

        Doug Deeper: Boyer’s work is fascinating, but he sees religion as a cognitive by-product, which is not exactly an edifying view of religion as spiritual sustenance or community building. (In fact, he specifically argues against the idea that religion evolved to facilitate cooperation.)

        • Doug Deeper says

          cacambo, thanks for your thoughts. I read Boyer a long time ago. My thought was that someone like Kevin might find more depth in alternative views to his view that “religions were created for the sole purpose of reigning people in and controlling them.” I remember finding Boyer’s book a better explanation for the persistence of religion in human lives than anything I had/have ever read. I am also one who believes that the fashionable post modern, leftist ideology that is rapidly dominant in the West is, for some true believers, a variation of religion. It is this persistence of religion that makes it so fascinating and important. So to consider it to be another human power tactic suggests its elimination is more possible than other views, such as Boyer’s, would suggest.

    • Whatever you think of the metaphysics of religion, the modernist idea that the end of Christianity would usher in a new era of rationality and human self fulfillment seems a little naive at this point.

  8. Farris says

    I would only respectfully add that the religious are secure in the knowledge that there is something bigger than themselves and that they are loved. The gospel promotes introspection and self improvement. There exists power, peace and contentment in humility. Where else does one find the merciful, the meek and the peacemakers celebrated? The gospel provides light to those in darkness. Merry Christmas to all.

  9. ga gamba says

    I think this year was an excellent one for Quillette. Looking forward to an outstanding 2019. Happy Christmas to all.

  10. George says

    Fascinating ideas, plenty of food for thought.
    Thank you, for this and for Quillette.

  11. Saw file says

    Yes. It’s both complicated, and simple.

    Best Christmas wishes, to all my Quillette kin, and good tidings though the coming year…..

  12. Grant says

    I think there is a depth provided by religious communities beyond what service and interest clubs can provide, and we are yet to replace them. Merry Christmas to you Claire and the Quillete community.

  13. State and society conflate and confound VERY different aspects of the original tribal environment in which human nature evolved, long before the first states and civilisations emerged from it, with the modern “nation state” now deceitfully posing as our tribe or nation (intra- and inter-tribal environment) itself, while at the same time facilitating society’s SELF-exploitation (as an extra-tribal environment, on a par with the natural environment) to the personal advantage of its ruling elites and favoured (especially wealthy and academic/formerly priestly) clients, at the expense of society at large and its long-term survival, which is why we have failed to face up to the existential need for a Sustainability Revolution.

    In western “democracies” money & the state have rendered genuine community obsolete. We still have a deep emotional need for community, but no longer have any material need for it. All we need is a source of income, which the welfare state guarantees, for the moment, at least, until the system starts to break down due to its inherent non-sustainability on our finite, vulnerable and overpopulated planet.

    Academics fail to recognise the inherently self-exploitative, and thus self-destructive, nature of the state, because they themselves are amongst its privileged clients, with a massive personal and professional self-interest in rationalising and defending it and the status quo it maintains.

    Unless we (esp. academics) quickly recognise this fatal flaw built into the very foundations of our & all previous civilisations, western civilisation will not survive this present century.

    I elaborate on these ideas here: https://twitter.com/rogerahicks/status/1008227827945213952

  14. E. Olson says

    Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.

    Merry Christmas

  15. A. Nisula says

    This is now my favorite Quillette article.. Thank you! And Merry Christmas!

  16. Chris says

    Thank you for this. I have been thinking about these things lately, too.

  17. Aylwin says

    Merry Christmas. But let’s not forget the divisiveness of religion. It’s easy to talk about the supposed community of religion, but the wonder, delight, reflectiveness etc that comes with this festival are there without the religious trappings. In fact, the communal warmth of this time of year in the UK has almost entirely shaken free of the religiousity, leaving a festival in which everyone could feel they belong. The hunkering down, with family and friends, against the winter and to looking to a renewal can have as much meaning as you could wish for. The spirit of good will is real (and we can enjoy its antithesis, as exemplified in The Fairy Tail of New York). Hanging on to a patently wrong religious view of it is debasing.

    My childhood included a fair dollop of Christian culture, and the Christmas carol service was a highlight (I was in a very well organised choir, singing some of the lovely music that had come out of the religious history, and singing in a lovely piece of architecture). Do I miss this? I can be wistful about it, but I don’t want more of it. As a mid-life adult I’ve been in a choir singing some stunningly beautiful music (mostly, again, from the religious heritage – Mozart’s (‘great’) mass in C minor, Britten’s war requiem, Poulenc’s four quartets for a time of penitence) but the religious text is grating to someone who has become wiser. There are reasons why the pews are empty(ing) – anytime I find myself in a church service (weddings & funerals) the religious claims are eye-rollingly silly. There truly is a need for the solemnity and potential gravitas of that kind of occasion, but it is so not met by hanging on to patently absurd historical thinking.

    Loneliness, we all recognise, is a terrible thing. Folk often relate religion to community and to an implicit antidote to loneliness. But how so? The times when I’ve been desparately isolated in my life I have anxiously, gaspingly, scrabbled for some sort of connection, and churches have been some sort of supposed source of that connection. But their reality, for someone in those desperate straits, is that they are, frankly (and I don’t mean to say this provocatively – it just captures the truth) a cult of some supernatural mythology. I can relive in my imagination the feelings of those times, and I can feel the true value of something like the Samaritans (if you can ignore the name) or similar organisations motivated by pure care, versus the care that comes with baggage (I’m struggling to convey the feeling here). Those church services going on today in the UK will mostly be events for folk to sprinkle some more tradition onto their day, and they’ll shake hands with, and say Merry Christmas to, their neighbours. The services won’t, for the most part, be community for those in desperate need of it. My dream is that a wealthy, and architecturally endowed, organisation such as the Anglican church (in England) continues its centuries long retreat from the supernatural and towards the truth, and ultimately decide that it is no longer a religious organisation, but a humanist one. They’d have an accolyte in me. And I’d be happy to be a paid-up member of such an inclusive organisation that could actually provide community to those needing it.

    Merry Christmas (shame about the name).

    • Aylwin says

      P.S. Is be interested to read any comments from current and ex- Hindus, Muslims, etc, readers about this article. Does this make you feel less well inclined towards Quillette?

      Also, I don’t remember Quillette writing a similar article at Eid or Diwali.

      Christmas has become secular and should therefore be inclusive (non-Christians get lonely too). Let’s keep the secular in Christmas.

      • xyz and such says

        sorry, maybe christmas has become mainstream and watered down in many ways, but it is not a secular holiday. I come from a Jewish heritage and I have never felt that it was ‘my’ holiday, as much as I enjoy the parties and decorations friends and colleagues share. It seems many, like yourself, take for granted that ‘everyone’ celebrates christmas and you are wrong.

    • Ray Andrews says


      “continues its centuries long retreat from the supernatural and towards the truth,”

      I hope it will regain the wisdom that saccharine is not sugar and that all that glitters is not gold, and abandon it’s decades long retreat from the shallow, and groundless and restore itself to the path towards truth.

      • Niké says

        One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
        That all with one consent praise new-born gawds,
        Though they are made and moulded of things past,
        And give to dust that is a little gilt
        More laud than gilt o’er-dusted.

        William Shakespeare. Troilus and Cressida.

    • augustine says


      Ms. Lehmann’s message had got me thinking about whether community is a by-product of religion, or is it the other way round. People come together for many reasons, and one might ask the same about the purpose of a hunting party (obtain food or gain camaraderie?), a renaissance fair (economic or social endeavor?), etc. Do we contrive any occasion to get together with others mainly for the sake of connecting, for individual solace and group comfort? If true then how to discern these psycho-social phenomena from other material or metaphysical motives? The desire to separate one from the other seems unnecessary and destructive to me.

      Why on Christmas, of all days, have you presented a case for humanism satisfying communal needs while ascribing merely the same benefit to religion? You skip over any need for salvation, the very business of religion. In no uncertain terms you endorse man as being the center of his own universe (if not The Universe) and purpose. Therefore he can only surrender to other men greater than himself in knowledge and power, and not to anything transcendent. You may see religion as a prison of sorts, which it can be, but what would you have us build in its place exactly?

  18. Lydia says

    The only part missing is the acknowledgement that the left views government as a religion and are zealots for it’s expansion. Church is now voluntary. Govt, isn’t.

  19. Although I am a Christian (Congregationalist, but not UCC), I have been married to a Jew for many decades. We attend services at the nearby Reform temple and have many friends there who are Jews and also atheists. This is not a problem for them because, as Ms. Lehmann states, “…when it comes to religion, the rituals, symbolism and customary practice is, in fact, the main event, and…the propositional beliefs associated with them are immaterial.”

    Re: the pagan elements of Christmas: All religions continually draw earlier practices into their rituals and this reflects the valuable social and psychological needs which these rituals serve. The egg on the Passover seder plate is most definitely a holdover from an earlier pagan fertility ritual, no matter how many rabbis might deny that! Although it has fallen out of favor with some modern anthropologists, Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” has much valuable perspective on this topic.

    One of the origins of the current dangerous divisions in our U.S. citizenry is the abandonment of teaching the rituals of our civic “religion” in our public schools. As Lehmann points out, it is a common set of moral beliefs and ritual practices which allow large societies to maintain trust.

    Merry Christmas to all.

  20. Goldrider says

    Where to start with this? First of all, humans long ago diverged biologically from other “primates” by evolution of a relatively very large brain and the gut of a carnivore to sustain it. This happened during the great Ice Ages. Behavior, social and otherwise, follows necessity. Humans cooperated in groups first for hunting, much later for the beginnings of agriculture, eventually for trade up to where we are today. Getting your face fed or staying safe from wild beasts or enemy tribes was the basis for our human collectives and was not necessarily a choice.

    Until scientific inquiry supplied us with alternative explanations from the mid 19th century on, for most people the drivers of the physical and biological worlds were a deep mystery–ascribed to Fate, Destiny, and God. Because of living close to nature, indeed immersed in nature and close familiarity with birth and death of both animals and humans, the experience of Mystery or Immanence was part of life and everyday experience. We prayed, basically, to come up on the right side of the Forces that Be. Collectivization of this instinct and management of various sects was also frequently mandated by force. Again, not necessarily a choice.

    Suddenly, in the past 20 or so years, we have so MANY choices open to us that, spinning our wheels in confusion, we’ve conflated technology with the ability to “solve for” what used to be called The Human Condition. Feelings of “loneliness,” which the author correctly states can occur just as much at a crowded party as an isolated cabin, is a normal part of life–just like heat, cold, worry, anger, the common cold and sexual attraction. The mistake is to believe that happiness across populations, or any human trait for that matter, can be perfected–or even needs to be, possibly against the will of whomever is being targeted for their socially worrisome “imperfection.”

    I shudder to think it may soon become impossible to be left the fuck alone.

  21. Goldrider says

    And don’t get me started on the slippery slope, already being slid, of “medicalization” of personality traits “experts” deem “problematic.” Shudder. REALLY, shudder!

  22. Merry Christmas to you, Claire, and a great picture you chose, the Saturnalia, though, the opposite with what I was raised in my Christian youth. Loneliness is now also a policy item in the NL. And cohesion, yes, also very important now with us, Dutch, and giving way more and more, around me, btw, Durkheim had the idea, as an important driving social feature, from the Arab Ibn Chaldun (700 yrs before him)?Very nice platform you initiated with Quillette, and kept afloat, every day fresh discussions! really good, inspiring!

  23. Ray Andrews says

    Merry Christmas Claire, this is maybe not a good time for debate, really, but I’m a contentious fellow so:

    “Our ability to engage in large scale cooperation is a miracle of evolution.”

    Is it? It seems to me that our social structures have long since stopped evolving by random mutation and selection, but have rather been more or less intelligently designed. For example, when Constantine decided to standardize and unify the Christian church, he did it for rather carefully thought out and practical reasons. The Catholic church as we have it now, has not evolved, it was quite carefully designed. I’d say that the Hindu caste system was also very carefully designed to justify the Brahmin’s monopoly on power and to convince the lower castes that they were put there for good reasons and should expect no better. The Christians, shockingly, said that there is no special tribe, sex, race or group that has God’s favor, that all men are brothers, and that we should do good to those that persecute us. Not very survivalist.

  24. Robert Paulson says

    I’ll Amen to that! Thank you Claire and Merry Christmas to all. Looking forward of another year of Quillette.

  25. Cindy Satwell says

    Haidt also tells us about a ‘staircase’ of ‘self-transcendence’ exmplified by soldiers’ experiences in combat, among other things. And Hannah Arendt gives a pretty good account of the way the socially atomised ‘mass-man’ found meaning in Nazism or Bolshevism. Seems like our miraculous rituals can take many interesting forms…

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Cindy Satwell

      And the facts of history are that the non-religious forms tend to be worst. The Inquisition was not noted for its tolerant attitude toward Jews, but would it have committed the Holocaust?

  26. William Patrick McKenna says

    Thank you Claire for the excellent, thought provoking note. Merry Christmas.

  27. Circuses and Bread ?? says

    A great article Claire. Thanks and Merry Christmas!

    A priest years ago told me that we need ritual and ceremonies. I’m fortunate to be in a church where the ceremonies are traditional and elaborate. Perhaps the epidemic of loneliness is in part a failure of evangelization?

    • Fickle Pickle says

      A failure of evangelization _ I dont think so.

      There are now more Christians in the world than ever before. Both in total numbers and as a percentage of the total human population. There are now more Christian missionaries in the world than ever before. The world is saturated with Christian propaganda of all kinds in both paper and electronic forms. There are now more Christian schools, and universities too.
      The Catholic church alone runs the worlds largest privately owned propaganda machine which in one way or another reaches into almost every village on the planet.

      And yet the world is becoming more and more insane everyday. Indeed most of the leading edge vectors of this now universal insanity are right wing Christians, both Protestant and Christian.

  28. Katherine says

    Thank you for the article, Claire, some of which I don’t agree with (but isn’t that the point of Quillette? Thank you for setting that up too.)

    Aylwin, reading your comment I wondered for a moment if you were doing some extremely subtle Christian trolling. But assuming I’m over-suspicious and it’s all to be taken at face value…

    You describe the emptying pews of the Anglican church, linking that to that to the embarrassing religious content it still occasionally mentions and commended its ongoing march from supernaturalism towards the truth. Leaving aside the embedded assumption that you’ve discovered the ‘truth’, can you show an actual empirical link between plummeting attendance at Anglican (or any) churches and strong adherence of those churches to traditional doctrines? It shouldn’t be difficult to check that out.

    I went to a Christmas service yesterday (not Anglican) at a large venue where it was difficult to find a seat. Because I attend at other times I know that the congregation was increased by only about 10-15%. It is normally quite full with many young families. All those involved in leadership would endorse every word of the Apostles’ Creed as quite literally true and they talk about it shamelessly. They also had a network of people arranged to host potential visitors for Christmas Day, if anyone needed a place to go. The congregation is quite outward-looking with a very strong outreach into a local youth detention centre.

    I also know another group who provide breakfast for homeless people at a park. For some this involves getting up extremely early to spend several hours preparing high quality food for strangers. The team is led by an older man, a recovering alcoholic who will tell you that Jesus turned his life around. Their base is the well-attended local Baptist church, which also endorses with enthusiasm the foundational doctrines of Christianity.

    Of course that’s all just anecdotal.

    But back to the Anglicans and the plan to transform those beautiful emptying buildings. Are you thinking of a kind of network of Rotary clubs with stunning windows? I wish you well but wonder whether you’ll find a foundation of vague benevolence towards our fellows, all leading metaphysically pointless lives as we stumble towards our meaningless graves, to be enough to keep people even interested, let alone inspired enough to get out of bed early to serve unrelated others. Maybe that underlying question of ‘truth’ might need to be re-visited as well.

    The naming thing is tricky. The word ‘Christmas’ contains two religious references, not just one, so ‘shopmas’ or ‘spendupbigmas’ might not do… Maybe ‘Funfoodtastic’? What are you doing for Yearendgorge? Come on over for Eatyourselfsilly Eve…


    • Well said.

      Without Christ there is no meaning in Christmas and the rituals become pointless, perfunctory nonsense.

      “Born among miracles reported from two thousand years ago, Christmas cannot expect to impress that sturdy common sense which can withstand the plainest and most palpable evidence for miracles happening at this moment.” – G. K. Chesterton

      • Fickle Pickle says

        Never mind that the purported miracles did not occur, or put in another way there is no basis in Truth or Reality for such “events” to have occurred.

        And even if they did occur such naive ideas are a very flimsy basis on which to live as a mature adult human being in the 21st century, Especially as every proposition ever made about the nature of Truth & Reality in all times and places are now freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

        The proposing of religious myths and illusions has a traditional function in the domain of childhood – but the word of truly and responsibly adult life requires a mature truly civilized culture, founded in present-time Reality Itself.

        The “New” Testament and the Bible altogether is essentially a work of religious fiction in which many/most of the principal characters are fictional entities. So too with most/all of the “events” supposedly described there.
        Such works of religious fiction were common all over the ancient world. They were the principal means for communicating religious and spiritual teachings.
        Furthermore the kind of mind in which they were created is completely different to the mind that now informs the modern world.It was the mind of the very fluid dreaming state as distinct from the hard edged “realism” of the left-brained waking state mind of the modern era.
        As an example when people are now told to “get real” such admonitions are based on the largely unexamined presumption that the hard edged left-brained waking state is the “real world”.

  29. Irrational Actor says

    Merry Christmas everyone!

    If there is one thing Quillette has helped me realise, it is that there really are some people who need religion and some people who don’t.

    I happen to be one of those who don’t, and by that I mean I do not feel lonely without religion. I need only a few close friendships to avoid feelings of loneliness. I don’t feel meaningless without religion, and I am not attracted to ideologies such as communism or SJWism or anything of the sort. I am perfectly fine and happy without religion.

    But I now realise that this position cannot be adopted by many people, particularly in the USA, but to some degree everywhere in the world. I used to think that simply accepting scientific reality, and seeing that at least some of the claims made by religious texts could not possibly be true now that we have more information about the world, would lead people away from religion.

    But more and more I realise many people just ‘need’ religion. They can’t find meaning without it, and they are lonely without it as per the article. Maybe they need more than simply having some close friendships to avoid feeling lonely.

    And that describes people who are religious and know they need it. Perhaps those who follow dangerous ideologies like communism and SJW / identity politics etc are people who need religion but don’t realise they need it? Have they been so easily lead astray by what they are exposed to because they did not understand their own need for religion?

    Of course in some cases the opposite is true – people who are religious but don’t realise they actually don’t need it. I was one in my youth, until all the history and science I was reading drew me away from religion.

    This brings up a big question for me, that I hope some of you might give me your thoughts on. I would guess that the majority of Quillette posters are religious (Christian to be more precise) but there are enough non-religious posters to get views from both sides:

    Do you think it is possible to have a largely stable society where atheists accept that some people really do need religion, and religious people accept that non-ideological atheists really do not need religion?

  30. Fickle Pickle says

    Christianity has essentially been eclipsed by the now world-dominant ideology/paradigm of scientism which now patterns and controls every minute fraction of the human world.
    The Christian churches have held on to their now archaic fetishes for so long that they have lost their association with the Living God. they do not even know the Living God anymore. Most people who belong to conventional churches have no unqualified connection with the Living Reality. There is no true devotion in them, and, therefore not even the possibility of any profundity (either in their being or their doings). Their association with God is only words and essentially childish hopefulness. Therefore they do not represent an unambiguously positive force or presence in the world. They have nothing to offer that is Alive.
    The Christians cults, which should be a means for establishing people in a right relationship to the Living God other human beings, and the World Process too, have become frozen in their now archaic idolatries, fixed in their association with their historical peculiarities and limitations, and they do not represent a window to the Living God anymore. They represent a piece of mind frozen in the form of words and imagery and histories of all kinds

    • Stoic Realist says

      @fickle pickle

      I have to question your implication that scientism is alive and religion is not. Religious belief still dominates a large portion of the world and ‘science’ has been derailed from its quest for truth by a sociopolitical machine that detests facts that are not in the narrative. A machine that detests them to the point that it wipes out, ignores, or even classifies as lies things that are factually supportable.

      @irrational actor

      There should be a way to have the world that you speak of where the religious and the nonreligious agree to disagree. (In my youth this was called everyone being entitled to their own opinion or ‘to each their own’.) Unfortunately it seems that while there should be there probably isn’t. Instead many atheists are as proselytizing as any missionary ever was. For some atheism is a sufficient answer, but for many of them they aren’t happy unless they are grinding down (and deriding) the faithful. Which leaves me to suppose that for them the nature of their quasi rationalistic belief system is not fulfilling in and of itself. So they fill in the gap be finding someone to look down on that they might feel superior. Though they would dress that up in a more palatable robe of ‘correcting the ill informed’ even where the ill informed are happy where the atheists are not.

  31. Nate D. says

    Many moons ago, I wrote a research paper in college outlining the 5 interventions that proved the most prolific in dealing with depression. It was called “Positive Psychological Interventions and the Natural Benefits of Church Attendance”. (1) Life-review Therapy, (2) Forgiveness Therapy, (3) the Fordyce Happiness Program (meditation therapy), (4) Mindfulness Intervention, and (5) Rehearsal of Positive Statements Therapy, where statistically proven to yield more positive outcomes. My research then proposed how a similar variations of each of these interventions is practiced every Sunday in Christian churches across the globe through corporal worship, bible-study, prayer, and fellowship. Of all the papers I wrote in college, this is the one that impacted me the most.

    Thank you to the team behind Quillette. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and commenting here in 2018.

    Thank you to all the quality commenters who make the comments section as thought-provoking as the articles themselves. Quillette is proof that people from all walks of life can charitably debate difficult topics.

    May 2019 usher in great things for the Quillette team. Cheers, and Happy New Year.

  32. Of course loneliness should not be considered a sign of individual ill-health. And if one is alienated from mainstream culture (which is not at all unreasonable), or has experienced loneliness in a crowd, it is not at all counter-intuitive that prescribed “interventions” like social contact do not work. The public health authorities are as usual barking up the wrong tree and they’ll waste oodles of money, and spread masses of bovine excrement, in the process.

    • Lynne says

      My thought exactly. A parallel: opioid addiction has increased with ‘harm reduction”, methadone, suboxone, and myriad other cures. If anyone ever had such a bad track record their is no way anyone would ever consider their “advice”. Governments, on the other hand, get to disperse their bad advice over and over again, with ever more money being added to their coffers. How can that possibly be?!

  33. Pingback: Feast and Drink For Our Community’s Health | Erin O'Toole, MP for Durham

  34. Hi Claire,

    Thankyou for your thoughts. It’s great to see you and other writers tackling these issues.

    I wonder, though, if grouping ‘religion’ in one broad category does injustice to the particular religion’s themselves, by flattening out the differences between them.

    Yes, while many have rituals and community, the adherents are not driven merely by the rituals, but by the teachings that the rituals imbibe. Take for example many Christians (e.g. the Salvo’s, St Vincent De Paul society etc) who are driven to reach out and care for the poor and lonely around Christmas time…versus radical Muslims in the middle East driven to attack infidels. Both groups have community and rituals, but their actions are radically different. Doesn’t this suggest that beliefs matter (enormously)?

    Just a thought.

    Keep up the good work!

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