Running to and from Religion

Do we love or hate religion? Listening to the voices in our culture, the answer seems to be, “both”.  But if you think that believers love religion and unbelievers hate it, you might be surprised to find the reverse is often true.
I recently heard a talk by atheist and philosopher Alain de Botton on what he calls “Atheism 2.0”. He says many atheists secretly like many parts of religion (like Christmas carols or cathedrals) but they miss out on them because they don’t believe in  God. To fill their void, he advocates stealing important aspects of religion while leaving the beliefs behind.
For example, he believes atheists should:
– Get Organized; poets and philosophers working alone on noble ideas get isolated and depressed, so they should band together and thus gain some power,  just like churches do.
– Organize Time: religions develop calendars in order to remind people of essential truths on a regular basis (think Easter about the resurrection, and Christmas about the Incarnation).  So he states that atheists should develop similar traditions to draw people’s attention to truths.
– Repetition: Religions develop daily routines (like prayer) which reconnect people to their beliefs. Atheists, he says, should not expect people to remember important ideas, they should repeat them.
– Offer “Sermons”;  de Botton says atheists pin their hopes for humanity on education, which too often lacks transforming power because it simply gives facts. He says they should be more like religious teachers who ask listeners for life change.
Now, de Botton does not suggest who should determine the essential ideas or establish these structures and traditions. But at the end of the talk he received a wildly enthusiastic applause from the appreciative audience.
It is ironic that some atheists are looking longingly at religion at the same time that many Christians are running hard from religion.
Jefferson Bethke created an internet video phenomenon with his Youtube video, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus”.  This spoken word piece, which expresses revulsion at religion, has been viewed over 19 million times. Not only does Jefferson hate religion, is convinced Jesus hates religion, too. Some of the same things the atheist longs for, the believer runs from.
Could it be that some atheists long for aspects of religion because they believe they will help fill the void in their hearts, while believers understand from personal experience that it won’t? It is not religion, but rather God himself, who will fill that emptiness.
We don’t need to hate religion, at its best it is a vehicle which helps us connect with God (Jesus was an observant Jew, after all). But if we don’t look beyond it, we will be bitterly disappointed.
de Botton declares he can be “spiritual” without any belief in a “spirit”.  Not without doing great violence to the meaning of the word or the reality to which it points, I’d say.
We don’t need to hate or love religion, we just need to know Jesus.