Highlights from the week online

An atheist’s warning about secularisation

Religion is not about to die, said Jonathan Sacks in Standpoint magazine. “But the secular West is in real trouble.” Without religion, society falls apart. Rabbi Sacks quoted the atheist historian Will Durant: “What happens at a certain point in history is that the intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and, after some hesitation, the moral code allied with it. Literature and philosophy become anti-clerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason and falls to a paralysing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea.

“Conduct deprived of its religious support deteriorates into epicurean chaos and life itself shorn of consoling faith becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end, a society and its religion tend to fall together like body and soul in a harmonious death.”

The battle over a cathedral restoration

The New York Times reported on a contested restoration of Chartres Cathedral that removed centuries of grime from its interior ­­– and turned its famous Black Madonna white. Benjamin Ramm described it as the “most substantial renovation since Chartres was rebuilt between 1194 and 1225”. Its intention, he wrote, was to recreate what the cathedral would have originally looked like ­– a “radiant vision, as close to heaven on earth as a pilgrim might come”. But visitors are sharply divided over the result. Architecture critic Martin Filler called it a “scandalous desecration”.

Its defenders say the accretion of grime hid “decaying whitewash” and layers of paint. Its shiny new look may seem garish, Ramm wrote, “but they were aspects of the medieval cathedral”. Modern visitors “do not have medieval eyes, and we cannot see the world as pilgrims of that era did,” he wrote.

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