I am an intensely secular individual. The last church service I attended that was not a funeral was a midnight mass more than 15 years ago. I believe in the separation of church and state as aggressively as the most ardent Dawkins fan. I even named my dog Hitchens, and not because he doesn’t think women are funny.
And yet I look around at my friends (and as I live in a bubble, most of them are somewhat like me) and see a great deal of unhappiness, aimlessness, and loneliness. Some people assuage this with their drug of choice, others with relationships, and some others with strings of ‘projects’ that they hope will somehow make them whole.
While I was raised agnostic (at best), I was enrolled in an Anglican high school, with all that that entailed. There was of course a church on campus, and weekly services that we were required to attend. The school tended toward High Church rituals, including communion for those who had been confirmed and blessings for those who had not.
Throughout my entire schooling I thought it was bullshit.
I thought the services were bullshit. I thought choir was bullshit. I thought the times we attended services in St Paul’s Cathedral were bullshit.
But here I am now, a middle-aged man, and I realise that there was something to all that bullshit. I go through life and I realise that maybe there was something important about connection to the sacred and some inner need that longs for ritual.
The secular life can be (and should be) entirely moral and ethical. I do not wish to draw my moral code from religious teachings. Yet nothing in the secular life replaces the beauty and silence of the cathedrals I now occasionally walk into during breaks in my workday. There are no rituals that do not somehow cost money. There is no connection to the sacred.
This, I believe, is what we lost.
This may seem like a strange connection to make, but the only secular people I know who seem to have that connection are surfers. The rituals, the regularity of attendance, and the reverence for the power of the sea (a great and powerful unknown)— they all seem to me to have parallels to church attendance.
Maybe surfers are onto something. Maybe they’ve captured the thing that some of us lost.