We recently returned from the annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury. The iconic music festival has a remarkable history. What began 40 years ago with one pound tickets, free milk, and a few thousand people, has now grown to a tented city of 180,000 people, high profile performances and a media spotlight bringing an audience of tens of millions. What has remained, however, is the sense of idealism, activism, counter culture and ‘outside the box’ approach. It’s a refreshing contrast to an otherwise conformist world, and I did indeed have several interesting conversations in my short weekend stay there.
At approximately 2.00am on Sunday morning a fairy entered our tent. Well, he was actually an East Anglian insurance broker and father-of-three who was in costume for the weekend! We sat down and spontaneously began exchanging reflections on life, the universe and everything. He appreciated our spiritual contribution, charitable disposition and jolly approach, but confessed he wasn’t a ‘believer.’ He identified himself as humanist, suggesting that people could live happy and meaningful lives through open communication, strong morals, and healthy criticism, without any need for metaphysical or spiritual belief. He found no grounds to believe in God or religion. But, he said, “I believe man – in man’s creative power, in man’s innate goodness, in man’s endeavour to better the world through discovery, discussion, honest hard work and love.” Passionately gesticulating he ended in a crescendo: “for me, humanity is divine, and divinity is redundant!” I appreciated his heartfelt presentation, but, as you can imagine, I wasn’t quite convinced.
For many, the horrors of the world, the war, injustice, crime and suffering through centuries, can only signal the supreme triumph of atheism. After all, who could believe in God in the face of such horrifying acts of violence and brutality? Many more, however, would argue that it is humanity devoid of genuine spirituality and metaphysical worth that creates such problems. Indeed, humanity has been responsible for moral, social and political catastrophes. Sometimes it was humanity that was supposedly inspired by God, and sometimes it was humanity that was entirely and utterly atheistic. The common denominator, however, in the problem: humanity not divinity. We are innately good, but that goodness is only activated through genuine spirituality. We are good, only when we know who we really are. True goodness rests upon a profound and broad understanding of ourselves, the universe, and its ultimate purpose. History repeatedly shows that the net result of atheism and superficial religious belief, is that we inevitably sink into immorality and selfishness. Attempts to foster goodness and purity on the material platform are neither universal nor sustainable.