top of page
Quotes from Hugh Mackay's Beyond Belief

Hugh Mackay, Beyond Belief: How we find meaning, with or without religion. Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan, 2016. 280 pages.


What this book is about?

  • Pg 1 “If, like most Westerns, you think of yourself as basically Christian in your attitudes, values, ideals and way of life, but you can’t bring yourself to embrace all the beliefs and doctrines of the institutional church”

  • Pg 1 “Beyond Belief is a book about people’s quest for meaning in a society that has lost its appetite for conventional religion.”

  • Pg 2 “Why did I write the book? Over the past twenty-five years, our yearning for ‘something to believe in’ in has become increasingly obvious, as people look for ways to fill the gap left by the mass retreat from traditional religious faith and practice. Beyond Belief explores some of the ways we might satisfy that yearning.”


Stats in Australia

  • Pg 7, 61% of Australia tick Christian, 15% attend church once a month, 8% weekly. 22% no religion.

  • Pg 7-8, Australia 2.5 Buddhist, 2.2% Muslim, 1.3 Hinduism (the fastest growing, largely driven by immigration).

  • Pg 49 “Even in a determinedly secular society like Australia, all those non-churchgoing people who still choose to identify themselves as ‘Christian’ are presumably saying something about the values they still aspire to, the kind of cultural heritage they still respect, and possibly the kind of intuitions they still want to preserve.”


The Virgin Birth?

  • Pg 33 “virgin births are relatively common in mythology (there’s Persephone, Leda, and Isis as well as Mary, the Mother of Jesus)”

  • Pg 34, “If you’re going to argue that such things actually happened, you will run into a wall of scientific and other resistance. On the other hand, if you embrace such stories as seminal myths, rich with meaning and redolent with wisdom, the resistance crumbles; who’s going to argue with the underlying truth, the inner meaning, or a myth? It would be as absurd to deny the value to our culture of the Christian myths as it would be to try to defend them as historical fact.”


Mackay’s view on the Virgin Birth

  • Pg 33 “’Have you [yet] come to life as a human incarnation of compassion?” (brackets by Mackay) “anyone who is ‘spiritually reborn’ is a god

  • Pg 34, “By harnessing the power of myth, an unreasonable faith in the truth of the can be transformed into a more reasonable faith in the truth in the story.”


Why do people still go to church?

  • Nurturing faith (or a desire for faith)

  • A community to belong to

  • Pg 57, Access to pastoral care

  • Pg 57, A sense of duty: basically becomes a habit

  • Pg 58, ‘keeps me on the straight and narrow’: basically a sense of morality

  • Pg 59, peace and quiet: basically a retreat from the busyness to be still

  • Pg 60, the aesthetics: basically the building and poetry

  • Pg 62, engagement with ritual: basically the liturgy

  • Pg 62, interesting sermons: Mackay says most don’t like them, but some do

  • Pg 63, erotic stimulation

  • Pg 64, use it or lose it

  • Pg 65, “forced to go” [this section reveals that he doesn’t really talk about what/who is a real Christian]

  • Pg 65, ‘to qualify my kids for a church school’


Why do people stop going to church?

  • Pg 69, boring, irrelevant

  • Pg 71 alien: loopy, weird, ludicrous

  • Pg 75 ‘I could no longer go along with it’ [i.e. stop believing]

  • Pg 77, ‘I felt too exposed’

  • Pg 78, “too rigid, exclusive… or insulting” [i.e. wasn’t allowed to marry a divorcee, didn’t want to be baptized by immersion, YEC or out]

  • Pg 82, “The treatment of women”

  • Pg 83 ‘We’re too busy, and …”

  • Pg 85 “Loss of respect for the integrity of the institution”

  • Pg 86, “The all-or-nothing problem” [i.e. rigid doctrines like the virgin birth, miracles or out]

  • Pg 87, “If not a church, then perhaps a church school”


SBNR: Spiritual but not religious

  • Pg 98, “what do they – or any of us – mean by the word ‘spiritual’?

  • Pg 114, “become ‘religious’ in the sense of formalizing and even prescribing ways for people to practice the art of living simultaneously in the spiritual and physical realms.”


Mackay’s beliefs

  • Pg 127, “a ‘Christian agnostic’, meaning that I was neither a believer nor an unbeliever when it came to the existence of a supernatural God, but that my view of the world was sympathetic to Christianity and its values, making me ‘Christian’ rather than ‘a Christian’ (depending on what hoops you might ask me to jump through in order to qualify for that tag).


6 When we say “God’…

  • Pg 150, “To say that God is a product of the imagination is not to denigrate the idea, nor to suggest that God doesn’t exist. Even if God does not exist as an objective external being or entity, the subjective experience of God and the widespread evidence of faith in God indicate that we mean something when we say ‘God’.”


7 Proving the existence of which God?

  • Pg 181 "The reason you've never heard of the definitive proof of God's existence is that there isn't one. Centuries of scholarship and argument have led us nowhere, because there is no reasonable way to prove - or disprove - such a thing. This is a matter of faith, not logic.“

  • Pg 182, on the problem of pain and suffering atheists say that shows there is not God, and some believers say thats God's judgement.


On the resurrection

  • Pg 187, "The so-called post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are of that kind: disciples who were in grief and shock over his death by crucifixion were textbook cases of the kind of people most likely to 'see' the risen Christ."


On Prayer

  • Pg 187 The power of prayer. "When I was a child, I was told that God always answers prayer, it's just that the answer in sometimes 'no'. (Try telling that to drought-stricken farmers praying for rain.)"

  • Pg 188 "Meditative prayer of this kind is also associated with the 'emptying' of the mind, a discipline widely recommended by mystics of all faith traditions."


On Bible

  • Pg 202 “When it comes to the interpretation of the Bible, it’s all in the point of view.”

  • Pg 203 Mackay mentions the inconsistencies of “variations in the different Gospel accounts of a woman breaking an alabaster box of ointment over the feet of Jesus”


On Jesus

  • Pg 230 “The Gospel accounts protary Jesus as being bitterly oppose to dogmatic religious belief: his relentless attacks on the ‘scribes and Pharisees’ (legal experts) for their intransigence and their prescriptive interpretation of Jewish law suggests that he would have been uncomfortable among today’s fundamentalists.”

bottom of page