The entire grief industry of lighting candles and leaving trinkets at the site of bad events seems now to be obligatory. The first time I noticed this treacly nonsense was after the death of Princess Diana. It has now manifested in Berlin after the heinous terrorist attack that killed a dozen innocents.
I never made the connection, until reading this piece in City Journal by Theodore Dalyrmple, between such hollow gestures and the lack of religion. But it makes perfect sense.
Having been first catechised in the Roman Catholic faith, lighting a candle and saying a prayer in a church (typically but not always an Our Father and a Hail Mary) was exactly the right way of asking God to protect and bless the soul of the departed.
Absent a belief in the transcendent nature of our souls, then lighting a candle (or leaving a stuffed animal) may or may not be an echo of paganism. But even in these systems, I surmise there was faith that the gods were always watching, that there was an afterlife that rewarded the faithful. Odin knows if you’ve been bad or good…
For the most part, it would seem that, as Mr Dalyrmple notes, those lighting candles
were proud of their lack of religious belief. On the other hand, quite a few of them might say that they were not religious, but spiritual.
I would simplify this: those who lack religion of any sort, Christian or pagan, might think of themselves as “spiritual” but the key word is “faith.” Which is something those who make symbolic but empty gestures such as lighting candles appear to lack.