Dennett’s Dangerous Idea: Church as Theatre

Editor’s noteDaniel C. Dennett is an esteemed professorauthor and a co–founder of the Clergy Project.  Here he shares his innovative idea of how churches could embrace non-believing clergy, increase attendance and fatten the coffers.

By Daniel C. Dennett

In a recent OnFaith essay, “Pastors Who Don’t Believe:  Can Churches Support Them?”

I discussed the issue of non-believing clergy:

If you’ve ever been lured by your own basic goodness into a situation where you . . . must suffer unjustly, think how your predicament pales next to that of the preachers Linda LaScola and I describe in our 2010 pilot study of five Protestant pastors, “Preachers Who are Not Believers,” and our 2013 book, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, which reports on 35 participants from diverse religious backgrounds.

How many little white lies, how many whoppers, how much dissembling, how much systemic hypocrisy have they accumulated in their quest to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

I pointed out that we have no way of estimating whether, say, “only” 10% of clergy are caught in this trap, or whether the majority are.

Maybe there is a gentle path out of this institutionalized hypocrisy. We might well hope so, for there is no telling how many clergy are in this predicament today. Many we interviewed believe they are the tip of a gigantic iceberg of secret disbelievers. They have no safe way of checking their hunch. Not a few clergy have confided their secret to a close friend or colleague only to be exposed as frauds and drummed out of their positions.

We can get at least a lower-bound estimate of their numbers by noting that The Clergy Project, a confidential, mutual-help website for current and former non-believing clergy, started just three years ago and now has nearly 600 members — about a quarter of them still retaining their pulpit and clerical garb.

The solution I proposed was to build upon the concept of church as theatre:

We wonder if the time has come to start a public movement of support for revisionary — or we might say, visionary — churches that gently but firmly remove the presumptions that now trap some of their best leaders in lives of deceit.

Why might this be a welcome development? With falling membership rolls and rising costs, churches need effective leadership more than ever, but the attractions of the clerical life are not compelling these days. Churches in many denominations — and not just in mainstream liberal Protestantism — face not just declining populations of congregants but plummeting populations of able candidates for ordainment.

How might the transition to a more honest kind of church be propelled?

There seems to be a continuing and sincere yearning for community, and for moral teamwork, among people who are not now committed to any church. Many of these people miss the traditional ceremonies — the art and music, the processions and rituals — and the sheer opportunity for moments of solemnity in their hectic lives. Well, we already have a well-established set of traditions, needing no introduction, no training or reminders, that could serve here: the traditions of the theater.

Religious institutions already contain many elements of theatre – think of the re-enactment of the last supper and the presentation of the Torah.  Think of the beautiful and complex requiem masses and Bible-based oratorios.  Then imagine a theater that presents replicas of these ceremonies, complete with participation by the “congregation” (and passing the collection plate, and enlisting members in good works projects). This week it’s a Latin mass, and next week a Pentecostal prayer meeting complete with glossolalia and fiery preaching, and so forth.

Would you go to such a production on a Sunday morning, for spiritual refreshment minus the creed?


Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of several books, including “Caught in the Pulpit” (co-authored by Linda LaScola), “Breaking the Spell,” “Freedom Evolves” and “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”

Beautiful Secular Prayers – By Dennett and Dawkins
Tell Me about the God You Don't Believe In
Secular Sermon #1: You Don’t Have to Come Down to my Basement
Final Sermon: The Torment of Irrational Belief
About Linda LaScola

Linda LaScola is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (2013) and “Preachers who are not Believers” (2010). She is an independent qualitative research consultant who works out of Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and is a co-founder of the Clergy Project.

  • Michael Mock

    Well… I personally wouldn’t find that all that interesting; but then, I get my spiritual refreshment in other ways. That said, I kind of like the idea of it. It’s just not something that I’d be likely to attend myself.

  • John Lombard

    Daniel, first, thanks for your comments. Quick intro — I’m an ex-missionary to China (still in China, but no longer a missionary), born and raised in an evangelical church with a minister as a father, went to Bible college, etc.

    I thought about your proposal a fair bit before responding; and honestly, at least the way you’ve framed it, I just can’t see it working. I agree that there are aspects of the church experience that ex-Christians may miss — the sense of community, of familiar ceremonies, etc. And I think that there are some efforts with things such as Humanist fellowships that seek to meet those particular needs.

    But church as theater? Changing every week?

    Where’s the fellowship? The people who get derive meaning and comfort from a traditional Anglican service, full of pomp and ceremony, are very different from those who derive meaning from a Pentecostal service with fiery sermons and speaking in tongues. You would either get entirely different people coming to each service…or you’d get people coming for entertainment, but with no real attachment to the ‘theater’ being performed. With congregations changing every week, or filled with people who are there just to be entertained, what sense of community that is so much a part of the church experience would be lost altogether.

    Now, for myself, I’ve moved beyond the need for such fellowship, mimicking the Christian experience…but there was a time when I would have appreciated it, and certainly I can understand why some ex-Christians would value and prize it.

    But I’d suggest an entirely different direction from yours. Something I’ve been advocating rather vocally in the TCP forums, in fact. Set up ‘fellowships’ of people who are from similar backgrounds, and provide some of the familiar rituals and experiences that they value. But fundamentally change the nature of the sermon.

    Sermons, by their nature, are a leader simply telling others what they should believe, how they should act, etc. And I think there’s a tendency among ex-clergy to continue doing that…simply changing the message to “you should not believe in god”, but still attempting to ‘teach’ what is right, what is wrong, etc.

    I say we upend the whole paradigm of the sermon. Use it not to teach people what to think, but to teach them how to think for themselves. Whatever issue we are looking at — love, morality, etc. — present a variety of different perspectives (not just those that we personally agree with), and encourage discussion among the congregation on those different views. The “minister’s” role is not to teach, but to help them understand those different perspectives, and answer their questions, to aid their understanding. But leave it to them to reach a conclusion as to which of those perspectives they think is most reasonable, rational, etc.

    I call it the Church of Critical Thinking — the only church on the entire planet whose creed is: “You must find truth on your own. You’ll make lots of mistakes, may have to change your ideas and beliefs often, must question every leader, and need to be willing to listen to and understand what other people believe, and why.” The only church where membership is defined not by what you believe, but in a shared desire for all members to help each other on a mutual journey towards truth, with each person recognized as being at a different stage in that journey.

    And no…I don’t mean a literal “Church of Critical Thinking”…but more a new methodology, one that provides the comfort and familiarity of more traditional religious forms, but that abandons the paradigm of teaching people what to think, and instead focuses on teaching them how to think.

    (Please excuse this response which ended up being significantly longer than the OP that inspired it!)

    • Ubi Dubium

      I think you just described the Unitarian Universalists pretty well. I think Ethical Societies might fit your description too.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      One additional problem with “church as theater” is that Dr. Dennett is using the word “theater” with an emphasis on the shared social experience. I can enjoy a play as much as anyone, but to me, the word “theater” connotes “an elaborate charade.” In that respect, I’ve already had ‘church as theater’ and I don’t have much good to say about it.

      I’m not sure how much of my reaction is unique to my particular baggage. The very idea of sitting in a Sunday service makes me sympathetic with claustrophobes in elevators. Actually belonging to something called a “church?” Just shoot me now and get it over with.

    • Mary Johnson

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments, John. I agree with so much of what you say here. How lovely to contemplate a church whose “membership is defined not by what you believe, but in a shared desire for all members to help each other on a mutual journey towards truth, with each person recognized as being at a different stage in that journey.”

    • gretta vosper

      Exactly my concern about Sunday Assembly which, I hope, gains hold. But I am concerned with the lack of community building and am hoping that those who gather in the planted SA gatherings have amongst them those who know how to create and sustain community. Thanks, John!
      And, as Mary has noted below, your concept of a community in which membership is defined as the commitment to help one another on the journey towards truth, well, that’s what I’m privileged to lead. Here’s our VisionWorks document, revised once since we originally wrote it and being prepared for another revision over the next several weeks. If you’d like to be part of the process, we’re hoping to set up an online conversation for those who connect with us virtually. Let me know.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Sam Wells, Anglican scholar and former Dean of Duke Chapel,(now Vicar of St. Martins in the Fields in London) wrote a book on worship as theatre, and improvisation as “a practice through which actors seek to develop trust in themselves and one another in order that they may conduct unscripted dramas without fear.” Sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it? Building trust, overcoming fear, conducting relationships, and making choices–all without a script.
    I knew Sam when he was at Duke and even though he is
    more orthodox than I (a post-supernatural humanist) could ever be, his
    leadership had a profound impact on me and many others. Just thought
    I’d post this as a kind of “counterpoint” to the kinds of discussions on
    this blog and to enlarge the conversation.
    Wells establishes theatrical improvisation as a model for
    Christian ethics, a matter of “faithfully improvising on the Christian
    tradition.” He views the Bible not as a “script” but as a “training
    school” that shapes the habits and practices of the Christian community.
    Drawing on scriptural narratives and church history, Wells explains six
    practices that characterize both improvisation and Christian ethics.
    His model of improvisation reinforces the goal of Christian ethics–to
    teach Christians to “embody their faith in the practices of discipleship
    all the time.”
    He says, theatrical improvisation is an apt analogy for
    the Christian life and leadership, Both are about trust, faithfulness and imagination. Check out this link:
    May the unending conversation continue!

    • gretta vosper

      There was a piece called The Drama of the Holy which was incredibly rich. By T. R. Young and his Red Feather Institute. It is no longer available online, I don’t think, but if you do come across it, be sure to post it!

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Setting aside my allergy to Sunday services and churches, I do think human beings have a need for a sense of belonging and the experience of shared story-making. At their best, ceremonies and rituals are about telling that story. As a culture, though, the United States is losing its sense of shared identity. Traditional churches are fading and being replaced with brand new McMegaChurches, where the history gets rewritten every time there’s a church split. Many of us who’ve left religion altogether will resist anything that reminds us of being herded, and if we’re not careful, that could include healthy gatherings of people with common and constructive goals.

    • gretta vosper

      Too true, skeptimal. And if liberal congregations, many led by clergy who only believe metaphorically, could rinse their work clean of the archaic language and traditional symbols, they could provide for some of that need. One of our biggest challenges at West Hill, though, is that we look like church and too many people get hives when they think of attending church!

      • Maine_Skeptic

        Hives. Shortness of breath. Projectile vomiting. Other than that, it’s a lot of fun.

  • Mary Johnson

    I often find myself longing for the religious community I left behind when I abandoned belief in the supernatural–I long for a group of people with whom I can contemplate life and morality, people with whom I can wonder and rejoice and grieve, people who know me as I know them. But I can’t imagine myself frequenting “a theater that presents replicas of these ceremonies …This week it’s a Latin mass, and next week a Pentecostal prayer meeting complete with glossolalia and fiery preaching.” Over the years, I’ve been exposed to this sort of variety, and I think that continual sampling of this sort would be disorienting. It seems to me that most people find a style of ritual that works for them and then they stick to it. The danger then becomes getting too caught up in the mythology, and of developing an “us” versus “them” mentality. Various communities, rooted in different traditions and styles of ritual, but stripped of supernatural beliefs could be helpful, and there would be a certain sense of theater to this.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      Well said.

    • gretta vosper

      You’re right, Mary. There is a sense of theatre and the dramatic in what we do at West Hill, especially around the “high holy” days. We don’t do Christmas services anymore but we do recognize that that time of the year is very important to people. So we have a Longest Night service on the eve or night of the Winter Solstice and it is a dramatic and powerful service. We get way more people out to that than we did to Christmas Eve services. And Easter is a double service focused on our personal and communal dreams – what we pour our lives into, how that is often destroyed and how others, maybe long after us, pick up the fragments and build new dreams. These, too, are dramatic and powerful services and, while touching on the themes liberal Christianity has long drawn out of the gospel stories, they have a generic appeal and profound impact.

  • Rosie

    Church without god? Sounds UU to me. Not my cup o’ tea, but there are a lot of people who really like it.

    • gretta vosper

      UU doesn’t always mean church without god. It can, but the main cohesive feature is church without Jesus divine. That said, the largest UU church in Toronto has cruciform designs in their 20 year old windows.

      • larryw4csc

        If you’re ever near Charleston, SC, be sure to visit the UU Church located at 4 Archdale Street, one of the oldest religious institutions in America and recently restored as a National Historic Landmark. Gravestones in its graveyard predate America by a lot of years.
        They were my organ customer until the recent renovation rebuilt the pipe organ, which is beautiful (and more “theatre” as Prof Dennett implies.)

  • Malu Ribeiro

    With all due respect, I do respect Dr. Dennet and Ms. LaScola very much!! But I absolutely disagree with him!! To pretend or re-enact religious mass or rituas would be a total waste of resources. Priests and pastors are people who tend to be well-meaning, educated and in this case, certainly questioning individuals, we could use their knowledge and guidance just as much but for secular institutions. I also respect, though not always agree with Dr. Alain de Boton (philosopher) who expresses the notion that art and museums may serve as objects and places to find inspiration, meditation, solace, and pleasure. There’re secular spaces emerging such as School of Life branches, Atheist “temples”, etc. I aso respect and admire Dawkins, Krauss, Harris, but it is true that in their debates and lectures they don’t dwell much on our human need to find secular spiritualism, meditation or contemplation, community, and rituals as they provide processes for catharsis, etc. So we have to do something about this!! I’ll build an argument or at least, a suggestion. I have a had a plan (a dream) for a long time now, and I’ll share it because it doesn’t matter so much if I have anything to do with it as long as good things come to people. This project would be a Secular Temple, where we would be surrounded by art, possibly live music sometimes, poetry readings. A place with flames to honor those who fought for Humanism, Secularism, and Human Rights, candles, and art objects as containers/bowls where we could drop our passions (flower petals, small stones) and our pain (chopped credit cards, for example 😀 ). A place for contemplation and meditation, but also for community and rituals based on love and nature. We could gather former pastors/priests, and scientists, philosophers and come up with a Code of Ethics, base ourselves on past scientists and philosophers, and present and create a guideline. I understand that ethics and morals are arbitrary according to culture and societies, but we could draft a flexible document that could contain universal and unalienable rights for all, it could/should accept improvement and amendments, but it seems that many people need to have something to rely on, and if it’s brief and universal, it might fulfill some of their needs. Former priests could act as counselors, mentors for these people, and feel useful and part of a community, which is probably one of the things that drew them into the practice. I hope some one will read my proposal, I’m an unknown artist and writer, but I have the visualization of this beautiful place of peace and tolerance, where much secular spiritualism can be enjoyed and divulged in a solo and community setting! 😀

    • Linda_LaScola

      Hello Malu and thanks for joining the discussion. First off — a correction – I’m an not a doctor of any kind. I’m “Ms LaScola” or better yet “Linda.”

      Secondly — Your idea for a secular temple sounds a lot like de Boton’s, though I must admit I haven’t read his book. I do recall that in response to his idea, a lot of people pointed out that a lot of public structures outside of churches already fit the bill — libraries, theaters and concert halls, museums and nature itself. Why build anything more? I’m curious what your response to this would be. Hope you’ll come back and let us know.

      • Malu Ribeiro

        Oh! thank you for reading and replying! 😀

        Dear Linda,

        Absolutely, libraries, museums, etc do much of the role of supplying what I called secular spirituality, (I say “I call”, simply because I find atheists and agnostics struggling with defining “our” type of spirituality, not sure if people put those two words together. When we feel ecstasy, awe or a transcendent emotion, religious people tend to attribute a mystical or super-natural source for it, but actually it could be something that unites us all. Secular and religious spirituality speak of the same emotions, but are interpreted in different ways or believed to have separate sources).

        Spirituality and morality seem to be fundamental elements of our psyche, when people fear to step into doubt or out of their faith, it seems that even more than mortality, the LOSS of spiritual connection and a perceived moral instability appear to be at the CORE of their FEARS. If we can supply spirituality and reassure a (seemingly) moral ground to rely upon, religious people would be more willing to open their minds and hearts. – I say seemingly because I know all of these things are perceptions and psychological, there’s absolutely nothing that can provide us with certainty or control over our destiny. Hence God. – You may say, but “we’re not talking about religious people”. I say we are because these former pastors/priests, and most atheists are former religious people (I was brought up an atheist, I descend from a long line of agnostics and atheists, but not most people). To actually create a seemingly more formal version of atheism we could provide both former religious and in doubt-religious people a “bridge”, a support system for the enormous voyage between believing and finally not believing.

        I’d like to emphasize that most of this “movement” is forgetting that people deeply yearn for connections, transcendence, advice. Creationists are basically creating a new religion and temples and museums of their own, and WE are offering what most don’t identify with the core needs above!! (it’s peculiar, they support their points with mistaken interpretations of science (museum), and we’re are searching for spiritual connection!(temple, community)).

        It took me a journey to find myself, many middle-age people find themselves “here” because of self doubt, oh! how could I have used guidance, support to believe in myself, to believe I had something to offer to improve anyone’s experience of being alive? The voyage of the atheist through life is a very lonely one, or was till not too long ago. And I find many atheists misguided. I do see what critics sometimes point out, I see some levels of fervent behavior similar to religious idolatry in atheists, I see bigotry, potential for harm because we’re not better than anyone as a group. I do see that scriptures can misguide and oppress, but I can see that it’s not only religious dogma that may cause that.

        De Boton’s ideas are great, I’d say keep doing it! but it misconstrues two things that in my humble opinion, need to be understood. In a museum or library, our experience is isolated, we can at most share it with a friend or family member by our side. We can’t all look at each other and say with our eyes: “we’re all feeling this, are we not?”, we can’t hold hands, we can’t let tears come to our eyes without embarrassment, we can’t speak without disturbing others etc. Another problem with Alain’s premise is that he places a lot of judgement value on art, (paraphrasing) “what is good art?”, “minimal design doesn’t nurture”, “art is for solace, pleasure, meditation or enlightenment” , but it is not only for that. First of all, art doesn’t have to be pretty, or to be good or not good if it’s unpleasant. Art needs to be able to speak of our “ugliness”, our despair. Art is also to remove the “ground beneath our feet”, it is a spiritual experience, but it’s much more complex than we may suppose; unfortunately I can’t delve here into this as much as needed. (I’d love to meet with him, but might lack the credentials, I’ve an MFA, later was a public school teacher, and now I’m a full-time art maker and writer. I’m “building” myself and a blog). 😀

        So what do we do for those who need to hold hands or hug trees? for those who need some guidance to tone down their anger towards religion or the world? what do we do for those who need community and to have some code of ethics? what do we provide for them? As I said, these former religious leaders might have in them the assets to provide this nurturing that we all need. Lastly, a secular temple where we can meditate, honor our Humanists, read thoughts on walls, cry, hold hands, pour our sorrows and share our joys could be a haven for us all. The solidity of the building materials may serve as a symbol for the “solidity” of our secular moral stability (courthouses are not fuzzy!). A laic temple or pantheon (or a Domus) provides a space outside REALITY, reality which atheists face on a brutal relentless basis… well… let us have this multi-faceted place to breath, forgive and forget, and merge with feelings larger than ourselves (even if they may be explicable entirely by science). 😀 (I’m basically combining many things that exist)

        Sorry, long!! but I’ve put a lot of thought into this, I’m deeply attached to believing we need to provide for and nurture, not just to lecture 😀 Thank you!! Malu

        • Linda_LaScola

          Thanks, Malu — my short reply is: Tune in for the Liberal clergy series in which humanist communities will be addressed.

          Also – I get what you say about museums, etc. not being primarily a communal experience – good point.

        • larryw4csc

          How can any atheist, who doesn’t believe in superstitions and the “supernatural”, be “spiritual”, a combination of the words “spirit”, or supernatural delusions and “ritual”, with men that think they’re better than the rest in funny dresses and pointy hats to show their superior position in the herd?

          There is no “spirit” in my atheist world and I repel from any kind of “ritual” to something that never existed…..Harry Potter a possible exception.

          • Malu Ribeiro

            “Spirit” means “breath” from the Latin. We breath air, air is matter. There’s nothing surreal or super-natural about it.(ancients believed it was something super-natural, but it doesn’t make it so).
            Secondly, as I explained “When we feel ecstasy, awe or a transcendent emotion,…” we all feel that in different situations and context. I call it secular spirituality, when you feel moved by a book, you feel taken by a place that makes you have the impression of transcending your regular day-life, when you listen to music or think; all that is part of your secular spirituality. You don’t have to call it that way, or to have it if you don’t want to, it’s fine by me.
            I’m an artist, so I live permanently in my spiritual world (or as often as I can), and when I get into a temple or church, I believe nothing of the stories, scriptures, for me it’s not a house of god/s, but I do feel everything the artists and designers wanted me to feel. The spacious meditative space, the lights filtering through the colored windows, I feel bigger than myself or connected to humanity (all explainable by science, but I like it, it reminds me of continuing to improve myself and to be happy with my life which are spiritual desired progress). You don’t wan to call it that, find a better word! Ciao!
            “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” Carl Sagan

    • gretta vosper

      Hi Malu! Thanks for your beautiful ideas and images. We’ve been creating what you describe out of our traditional congregation – West Hill United in Toronto, Canada, – for just over a decade now and while what we do still looks a lot like church, we do not use biblical stories unless they are completely devoid of the original elements and we’re only looking at the underlying themes, we do not use the word “god”, and we do not privilege Jesus, barely mentioning him at all. It still looks like church because it was church people who did the work of transitioning the congregation but we see many, many people who are interested in what we do but not the format. Getting out of the Sunday morning rut is an important next step and our limited resources are the only things that prevent us from making significant strides at this time. We’re ready, but we’re a small congregation taking the lead in a global movement.
      Our work is grounded in the scientific research that shows how important regular involvement in intentional community is in the establishment of well-being. These are three of those things: 1) Acknowledging a common “higher authority” (in our case a recognition of our interconnectedness and the values that guide us); 2) participating in acts that are recognizable as being group norms (could be anything; right now it’s still the actions related to church services – stand up,sit down, pass the plate (just joking; there are other elements but these three are SOOOO church!); 3) and being personally greeted by those who recognize you and, in so doing, affirm your worth. These are all elements that lead to and build well-being. We do it for the individual well-being but also for the immense impact that confident, happy individuals have on the neighborhoods and communities in which they live. Changed individuals change communities and changed communities change the world.
      I’d love to see some of your creative work. Do you have a website?

      • Malu Ribeiro

        I admire what you’re doing and I’m aware and happy that there’re all these different cases and movements toward secularized traditions. I do see some of the problems of staying so close to “Church” traditions.

        If you have time, it’s very long but I responded below to Ms. LaScola and explained myself a little better. I think that we need all these leaders of the secular movement to come together to some extent, I think we need a bit of unity, a bit of a plan, organize the core standards and code of ethics, a definition for spirituality, a brainstorm of secularized rituals we could share with all, to help these smaller entities to have ideas and some guidelines. 😀 No, I don’t mean dogma, but something tells me that a bit of unity right now would be good, we don’t have to impose anything on anyone, just give it a more specific face, character, an infusion by really smart secular people and come up with some basic understanding of what we’re all about, and what we’re not about. It seems we need to be able to answer as a group some of the concerns and accusations we face in order to move truly into another era. Now I’m not so eloquent 😀

        I’m building a website for myself and partner, need to photograph more work:

        • Malu Ribeiro

          I’m also trying to launch my little blog tonight or tomorrow, it’ll have a link in the site 😀 (on art, art history, existentialism and religion, morals, life, motherhood…)

      • larryw4csc

        Candles, sacrificial altar to imaginary god, Rainbow candelabra and flag, pulpit to stare DOWN at people from “above”, it all reeks of a Christian Church….or the gay “Community Church” of Jesus believers down the street from home. Nice altar, though. Big and strong and more than a match for any virgin sacrifices or Wiccans I know.

  • John Moriarty

    A thousand times NO; the greatest thing about identifying as an ex-believing atheist is the sheer honesty of leaving all pretence firmly in the past. So definitely no. I’d rather an austere honest desert than a snake-infested jungle.

    • Linda_LaScola

      John — just curious — how about an ethical society or some other kind of humanist community? Does anything like that appeal to you?

      • John Moriarty

        I think its important to allow an ex-believer time to re-orient his/her values, given that the ground beneath their feet has collapsed. I acknowledged my moral compass was spinning wildly when I spun out of that fog (pilot metaphor) I did indeed regain composure and stability. It’s in our nature apparently, to be both selfish and altruistic. So eventually, yes.

        • Linda_LaScola


  • suchandsuch

    This is an interesting and bizarre proposition. In Dennett’s lectures he speculates on the future of religion – such as Mecca being transformed into “Disney’s Magic Kingdom of Allah.” What he’s proposing here seems to be that we treat these religions as if they’re already dead. They’re not dead. It would be like holding Civil War re-enactments during the actual Civil War.

  • larryw4csc

    I was a closeted atheist and electronic organ/keyboard/PA technician in the heart of the bible belt for 37 years. Some of my job, for which I simply added the extra time to the bills, was to absorb the proselytization that was poured over me, at times, until I completed my work and escaped. If any of you think any church is not ALREADY theatre, simply pull the plug on the big organ just as the processional ends and hide the plug. Church virtually stops without the grand music.

    • Linda_LaScola

      good work — in charging your clients. And good insight – about church already being theatre.

  • geraldine

    It’s a great idea — kinda the same fate as the ancient greek religions, which turned to myth (didn’t they?) Much of Church of England religion is *already* institutional theatre as far as I can tell. However I do think that there are vital insights into the human mind still to be gleaned from religion. Insights that go beyond the widespread notion that the only legitimate things that religions provide is comfort and community.

  • shoegazi

    I believe that one way of respecting people is telling them what you truly think. These people’s positions preclude that possibility. Morally speaking, they keep two sets of books―one public and one private. There is no way to do this without diminishing those to whom you show the public book. Faithless preachers may justify this practice with appeals to “democratic values” and the like, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are disrespecting their public.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Update: For further commentary on this idea and interesting new thoughts, please see by James Croft. He calls it “Dennett’s Strange Idea.”

  • brmckay

    What? Like a fake shaman organizing re-enactments of dreams?

    Best regain the Mystery first. What we need is real Shamans not puppeteers.

    • brmckay

      This highlights the problem of organized religion.

      It is a ponderous mimicry of what is most Rare and Beautiful and right in front of our noses.

  • Stephen “Steve” Sponsler

    You are “concerned” about the lack of ‘community’ building when in the process of trying to tear it down and then have the nerve to talk about a journey to truth and for what reason would that be? What truth? You already discredited the Truth by your own admission..this is nothing but double minded back stabbing. sociopathy from cover to cover in practically everything you write.

    • gretta vosper

      Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Winston S. Churchill