John Harris highlights the eroded sense of community many of us feel (How do faithless people like me make sense of this past year of Covid?, 28 March), but part of the solution is to reject the binary of faith/non-faith. Religions did hoover up all the meaning in life – explanations of why it works, and practices for how to do it – but they are not homogeneous. They stretch across a fascinating landscape from monotheistic to “god-in-nature”, and from “ultimate redemption” to living a good life here and now. In that conversation, there have always been non-religious voices, sceptical about the supernatural, using reason and science to understand “why”, and human culture for “how”.
There is a rich philosophy available to everyone who lacks narrative and vocabulary to make sense of life and death: humanism. This is the broad non-religious tradition, stretching back to Aristotle and beyond, which also owns the ideas of love, compassion, truth, justice and hope, which also has ceremonies and builds communities. The difference is that it recognises itself as an ever-evolving conversation, always open to question and with no gatekeepers, no single light or way.
Human rights and interfaith movements are leading the way in recognising equality between religious and non-religious worldviews and celebrating our shared values. Imagine the benefit to our mental health and society if we could end religious divides and belong together.
• Millions of people have a spiritual aspect to their lives that is not based on faith, but on experience. I have been one of them for over 30 years. There are organisations that welcome us, as well as faith-based people, to help us make sense of our experiences and explore the sacred in our lives. Organisations I have found helpful include GreenSpirit, the Spiritual Companions Trust and the Findhorn Foundation. I could never follow one of the established religions, as I find them too male-dominated, but do not want to throw out the spiritual baby with the no-longer-needed bathwater.
• John Harris argues convincingly for secular meeting places, and this echoes recent correspondence about the state of adult education . The weekly class which brings together disparate people with a common purpose – learning a language, studying literature, art or science – can play much the same role as a church service and often leads to lasting friendships.
It can be especially valuable for those cast adrift by retirement, who have suddenly lost so much that formed their lives. Progressive cuts and demands for perceived value have undermined what was once an important social asset.
• It would indeed be good, as John Harris argues, to have more public spaces for communal activities, but that does not get to the heart of the issue. Those who meet in synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and gurdwaras all believe they have some insight into a reality not of their making – one which makes sense of life and gives hope even in times of despair. Great though it is to come together on the basis of a shared interest in football, motherhood, the local community or chess, this can be no real substitute for what religious people believe religion has to offer.
Crossbench peer, House of Lords