Religion and Spirituality – with Giles Fraser and Mark Vernon

I have read today in my free local paper about Giles Fraser having visited a Synagogue in my neighbourhood and about what he had done there and how uneasy he felt in that environment because of not knowing exactly how things are working, differently obviously to what is going on in his Church.

In his talk with Mark Vernon I had the impression that he was rather in the same disposition as he was in the Synagogue, at least in parts of the discussion.

They talked about whether you can be spiritual without being religious, a larger than life subject I would say which cannot be put in the frame in 60 minutes of talking but it is always captivating. The importance of the subject can be guessed by looking at the statistics mentioned by the moderator which tells us that the interest in spirituality in general is increasing these days against the expectations. They say that in UK in 1961 56% believed in God compared to 26% in 2000 while those believing in a spiritual force went from 22% to 44% of the population. What is more puzzling though is the fact that 41% believe in angels and 53% in afterlife which is double compare to those who believe in God. It seems that more and more people can accommodate a spiritual dimension into their inner life without recurring to institutional religion to provide them with the material.

A few short points from the discussion:


-a sense of liveness and vitality;here he mentions Andrew Samuels’ idea of craft spirituality– the spiritual sense of being while immersing into creating things; and then the social spirituality – the loss of the self into outer life, and the profane spirituality – the hedonistic answer to the need of being spiritual

– attention to the world; healthy and necessary but not enough; a participatory attention is required for the spiritual fulfilment. Participate to something do not just possess.

He goes on to the social justice which is in his view emphasized in Church in the detriment of the spirituality; social justice which is working on others becomes a sort of substitute for spirituality which is working on yourself. The Good Samaritan story, says Mark, is more about what he felt when he found the poor man rather than what he did; without the feeling social justice is poor.

Social justice is a fruit rather than the root is his strong message.

Giles Fraser starts by mentioning anecdotally that he is mates with Mark so he can afford to be straight and strong in his opposition of  Mark’s view on the subject, and he kept his word throughout the discussion.

He said about spirituality that it is a diffused word in which is all about you. He defines spirituality as being religion mugged by capitalism and finds the main villain in Descartes and his I think therefore I am issue.

Religion being about what is happening in my head is rather a modern idea; it was not as concentrated on the personal effort as the collective one, by participating in Church.

Speaking of the new wave of atheism: The God I believe in is not the same God they don’t believe in.

The strongest point of Giles’s talk was the stress on the value of Church as an institution as opposed to the “institution” of guru’s

Both Mark and Giles dismissed very quickly the New Atheism movement on the base of being founded on thin ground.

The difference in opinions between the two felt more strongly when talking about the role of Church as an institution in facilitating a healthy spiritual life. Mark mentioned the loss of the silence as a powerful tools for inner growth in Church, loss occurred especially once the Church became heavily involved in politics from where it borrowed the need of controlling of what people are thinking.

They agreed though on the importance of the feeling of belonging which  is the Church strong point.

All in all a very interesting talk well worth the time spent listening.



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