Meeting spiritual needs naturally

Pantheist Paul Harrison explains how we are all capable of fulfilling our own need for deeper meanin

Atheists are best known for slamming traditional religions – especially Western monotheisms. In a similar vein, Pantheists may be just as critical about the consequences of dogmatism, acceptance of scriptural authority, intolerance, or the focus on imaginary worlds and beings.

We, however, tend to be more open-minded about the human need for “spirituality” of some kind. By “spirituality” I don’t mean anything supernatural – I mean our deepest feelings about values and meanings. It’s not just accident, folly or conspiracy that over 80 per cent of humans follow one kind of religion or another. Religions meet profound human needs - especially the needs for community, mutual support, a sense of place in the broad scheme of things, and therapeutic ways of dealing with pain, grief, anxiety and death. In today’s globalized, uncertain and increasingly threatening world those needs are stronger than ever - and that’s why traditional religions and new supernatural religions are resurgent.

Unfortunately, most religions sell their benefits at the cost of abandoning reason, denying evidence and often limiting legitimate human freedoms. Pantheists believe that you can get (almost) all the benefits, with none of the costs. Community support, with its attendant health benefits, is the easiest – any close social organization will give you that, regardless of what it believes.

Pantheism can’t relieve stress and anxiety by offering help from magic or from gods – but a running stream, the rustling of leaves in a forest, or a clear view of the Milky Way can place all our personal problems in perspective and give us inner peace, even euphoria. Meditation is a wonderful stress reliever for any faith or none – and can be experienced more deeply if you feel that your body is one with your mind, rather than some inconvenient distraction. The mystical feeling of oneness with everything is easiest to sense when you know that your body is, as physical fact, a part of everything.

Grief and death are hardest to confront. Most humans dislike the idea of personal extinction and oblivion. Naturalistic Pantheism doesn’t offer the promise of eternal life or reincarnation - nor the fear of hell or lowly rebirth. But for ourselves and our loved ones Pantheists can look forward to a more realistic “afterlife” – we know that we will persist in the genes of our families, in the memories of those who are touched by us, in the effects of our actions and creations, and in the recycling of our elements in Nature.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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