Umberto Eco, the author and academic, has written a piece in today's Sunday Telegraph entitled God isn't big enough for some people. Eco bemoans the current trend for replacing Christian belief with belief in anything and everything:
"G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: "When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything." Whoever said it - he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity."
Eco seems particularly bothered by the cult that has grown up around Dan Brown's The Da Vinci code. This must be especially troublesome for Eco whose academic field is semiotics (the study of things that can be taken as signs) and who writes historical novels. I imagine Eco is frustrated by a readership that cannot tell fact from fiction and an author who plays on this for commercial gain.
Eco, an atheist himself, does seem to value religious traditions:
"I was raised as a Catholic, and although I have abandoned the Church, this December, as usual, I will be putting together a Christmas crib for my grandson. We'll construct it together - as my father did with me when I was a boy. I have profound respect for the Christian traditions - which, as rituals for coping with death, still make more sense than their purely commercial alternatives."
I could be misinterpreting him, but Eco seems to suggest that religion is better that the alternatives and is therefore appropriate for the masses although the enlightened have no need for it.
It does concern me that the alternative to religion seems to be ghosts and horoscopes, but that doesn't strike me as a reason to hold on to religion. Although annoying, these other beliefs don't have such a negative impact on society.
Eco concludes that: "The religious celebration of Christmas is at least a clear and coherent absurdity. The commercial celebration is not even that." I disagree, I don't find the Christian Christmas at all coherent. Although commercial Christmas may be incoherent and absurd, at least it's not claiming to be anything else.