Posted by: aboutalbion | August 23, 2012

DIY religion (4)

The next topic in Colin Morris’ list is optimism.  And the question for my case is: “Has a nation state (such as the UK) the optimism normally associated with traditional religious organisations?”

Morris has two contrasting themes on this topic.  He contrasts the optimistic outlook of some individuals with the pessimism of others.  He then contrasts the life-affirming outlook of some religions with the life-denying outlook of others.  My own view is that these contrasts are not correlated.

I think that there is a significant point for my case when Morris discusses sacrifice.

Morris cites the paradox of the philosopher Bertrand Russell.  In his writings, he was a pessimist who wrote that one should “build one’s life on a ‘foundation of unshakeable despair’.”. (p47)  Yet as a person, Russell “radiated hope rather than despair and infused it into others when he spoke and suffered for a more humane society.  Here was a man who at the age of ninety went to jail in a protest over nuclear weapons.  When asked by reporters why as a very old man he was protesting about a possible catastrophe he would not live to witness, Russell replied, ‘It is necessary to stand for things which will not come to pass until long after we are gone.’.” (p47)

And that surely is one of the keys to sacrifice.  Morris puts it another way when he says “even the martyr who seems to flout the life-impulse by embracing death does so on behalf of life, as a blazing declaration of its meaning and worth: he or she dies that someone may live.” (p48)

I find that both traditional religions and modern nation states wish to harness what Schopenhauer calls the ‘the will to life’.  “A zest for living wells up from within the profoundest depths of our being, and it is hard to believe that this raw energy was intended by nature to be suppressed or denied.” (p48)

At the corporate level, a modern nation state asks for (and receives) volunteers who put their lives on the line in the course of their professional duties (in the police and armed services) to maintain the security of the state.  I believe that this spirit of service (and possible sacrifice) occurs because of an optimism that a nation’s way of life is worth preserving for future generations.

So I find that a nation state (such as the UK) has in principle the optimism to be a religion.

[Morris, Colin (1992) Start Your Own Religion.  London: BBC Books.]


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