Saturday, August 16, 2008

Weekend Guest Blog: God & the Tories

By Laurence Boyce

Last year at the Conservative Party conference, a little reported altercation took place between John Gummer and the British Humanist Association (BHA). According to one report, Gummer was heard to say to his companion, “Do you know, there is nothing I hate more than these humanists?” He then launched into a tirade directed at the BHA stand, claiming that they had “no right” to be there, and that “the Conservative Party is and always has been a Christian party.” With that, he stormed off without further ado.

This bizarre and unprovoked attack led Hanne Stinson of the BHA to file a letter of complaint (pdf) to Conservative Chairman, Caroline Spelman. What response, if any, was received I know not. To be fair to Gummer, as one must be, he claims that nothing of the sort occurred. According to The Independent, Gummer maintains that the whole story has been blown out of proportion, describing the incident as being merely a “polite conversation.”

Polite conversation or blazing row? – I guess we shall never know. But I can’t help feeling that, broadly speaking, Gummer is right. Of the three major political parties, the Conservatives do appear to be the most religious and in particular the most Christian party. The flip side of the coin is that humanists and secularists also seem to be a bit left-wing. I hang out with my local humanist group where there is more than a whiff of left-wingery in the air, although there are also a couple of exceptions who might protest at the generalisation.

But logically, why should Conservatism be linked to Christianity, or humanism to the left? Humanism is the belief that there is no God, no afterlife, and therefore that we ought to make the best of the “one life we have” – namely, this one. Doesn’t that make all politics essentially a humanistic enterprise? Since when did Parliament pass a measure to take effect in the next life? Surely we are all humanists now? One might easily conclude that whatever religious biases persist in politics are merely historical vestiges.

Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing about the political landscape. The Conservative Party has finally got around to setting up its own humanist group – The Conservative Humanist Association. “There is a great tradition of free thought in the Conservative Party,” declares Chairman, Jeff Peel. “Many leading Conservative thinkers have not required religious belief or superstition to define their lives or their political views: Hayek, Popper, Friedman and, indeed, Adam Smith.”

The group has the backing of former London Mayoral candidate, Andrew Boff, and for its inaugural conference meeting, they have secured a prize speaker – none other than the ayatollah of atheism himself, Professor Richard Dawkins – who, to the best of my knowledge, has never voted Conservative in his life. It should be a fascinating encounter. But whatever you do, please don’t tell Gummer!

Laurence Boyce is a Liberal Democrat and humanist/secularist/atheist/whatever

113 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seen anything of Donal Blaney lately?

Anonymous said...

Just a reminder:

August 31, 2007 4:46 PM , Laurence Boyce said...
"Anyway, all I really want to say is that if Boris Johnson becomes Mayor of London, I shall kiss Donal Blaney's arse."

kepler said...

Dawkin's really is a thicko isn't he?

His main trick is that he makes other thicko's who couldn't get anywhere with Hawking's books, feel really clever by managing to finish one of his.

Anonymous said...

"This bizarre and unprovoked attack led Hanne Stinson of the BHA to file a letter of complaint (pdf) to Conservative Chairman, Caroline Spelman. What response, if any, was received I know not."

No reply from Caroline Spelman? She probably asked her nanny to deal with it.

rob's uncle said...

As a Liberal Democrat, I can agree that the party is mainly anticlerical [e.g. against faith schools] but not 100 %: here in Twickenham we have a couple of evangelicals and some Catholics.

The missing variable is nonconformity: many Lib Dems are from families that were nonconformist and they have moved further towards secular humanism than have those from the CofE backgrounds, who are content to remain nominally christian while embracing a humanist world view. The young adult children of the latter are overwhelmingly humanist, but, again, not 100 %.

dougal said...

I really don't think anyone should be making sweeping comments about the links between people's political and religious opinions.

I'm very interested in the history and development of world faiths, for the same reason that I'm interested in history and politics - what makes individuals and groups behave in the way that they do.

But I've never had any religious faith, and I've voted Tory since Edward Heath was deposed. Our local Association contains Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and agnostics - the Party belongs to all of us.

Laurence Boyce said...

Thanks for that reminder Donal. Dawkins is a thicko? I don’t think so. Faith schools really is the key political battle ground. I’d love to see Lib Dems making a clear stand on the issue, but I’m not holding my breath.

trevorsden said...

"Of the three major political parties, the Conservatives do appear to be the most religious and in particular the most Christian party. "

Hmm..

Blair has just converted to a Catholic with great fanfare and made a point of sending nhis children to a Catholic school

brown nis famously a 'son of the manse' and forever going on aboutn his moral compass.

So all in all I take this with a pinch of salt.

kepler said...

Laurence.

You've obviously finished one of his books then.

strapworld said...

trevorsden...the trouble is that moral compass has lost its needle!

Iain, Why is Sky and the Beeb not reporting Cameron's visit to Georgia? Has Brown sent on a D Notice?

Laurence Boyce said...

“I really don’t think anyone should be making sweeping comments about the links between people’s political and religious opinions.”

The trouble is Dougal, those links exist, however illogical it may be. Just look at the abolition of blasphemy this year. No fewer than 51 Conservatives made a bid to retain blasphemy law, including surprisingly that great champion of our liberties, David Davis! See also a recent BBC discussion.

“But I’ve never had any religious faith, and I’ve voted Tory since Edward Heath was deposed.”

Sounds like this new group is for you!

Laurence Boyce said...

“Blair has just converted to a Catholic with great fanfare and made a point of sending his children to a Catholic school.”

Blair was a Conservative really!

“You’ve obviously finished one of his books then.”

Dawkins? I’ve read all his books like a good little atheist should!

Richard Dale said...

In fact religion has far more in common with left-wing ideology than right-wing. Religion is centrist, believing that all authority and creation comes from one central being. Capitalism relies on the interaction of individual independent elements, like the natural world.

James said...

Well, this thread will get a lot of comments.

My experience is that while there are many atheist Conservatives, there are practically no anti-clerical ones. Most Conservative athiests think religion is a good idea in general and pragmatically don't go out of their way to attack it.

Humanists, at least the sort who band together, tend to be anti-clerical which is why there is so little sympathy for the BHA in the Tory Party.

So the dividing line is not between those who do and do not believe in God (I'd bet my eye teeth that Cameron doesn't really), but between the busybody Dawkinistas and the pragmatic non-theist Tories.

Best wishes

James

http://jameshannam.com

kepler said...

Laurence.

Oh dear.

Laurence Boyce said...

. . . though in fact my main recommendation would be Sam Harris.

Laurence Boyce said...

There is much in what you say James. Simon Heffer springs to mind. He is an atheist who thinks we ought to remain a Christian country. I think Cameron does believe in God though.

Ron Todd said...

Idealy religion should be kept out of politics. To me Blair and Brown are both typical religious types. Both think they know better than the rest of us and what ever they do is justified.

Bush I suspect his religious conversion was not so much as any true 'seeing the light' but a realisation that if people did not think that he was strongly religious they would not vote for him. Clinton was another fake the more trouble he was in the more prayer meetings he had with rich and famous preachers.

I am not sure if a truly religious politician is better or worse than one faking it. In general I want politicians to be honest but then I also want them to be intelligent.

Faith and schools. Did any two words ever look so ill fitted to be next to each other.

Education should include teaching children to think for themselves and to ba able to make a reasonable assesment of which of different options are most likely to be true.

Relegion is about accepting the word unquestioned of some body claiming to speak on behalf of some all powerful sky god.

James said...

There are several others I could mention, Laurence, but I'm not sure that they've 'come out'. Actually Iain Dale has. He's a non-believer who would probably not see eye to eye with AC Grayling on much. Matthew Parris is the rare example of a Tory Dawkinista.

I'd say the question of whether God exists is rather boring. But the question of whether or not religion is a good thing is much more interesting. And answerable in the affirmative.

Best wishes

James

http://jameshannam.com

Laurence Boyce said...

Yes, Matthew Parris is probably the best example. The new group wants to get him signed up double quick! Iain is interesting. Says he is not religious but then is deeply conservative on issues like abortion and stem-cell research. I have to say that I don’t fully understand that.

The abstract question as to whether God exists is very boring. But the practical question as to whether the central claims of the major world religions are true is everything. Religion, in my view, cannot be a good thing if its claims are false. It is then at best a massive time waster, and at worst a source of division and conflict the world over.

It really matters whether the claims of religion are true, but it’s not just “is there a God?” because an abstract God can be grafted onto any philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Is the fundamentalist Dawkins really a prime candidate for something allegedly commited to freedom?

James said...

Lawrence,

I think it is a mistake to say that a false believe can't be a good think. The history of science (my trade) is full of examples of wrong theories that were useful. Maxwell's Equations were based on the aether, Boyle thought there were springs between molecules, Preistley discovered Oxygen looking for phylogiston.

The thing about religion is it is hard to continue to enjoy its benefits if no one believes in it. But its truth is not dependent on how much good it has done mankind over the millenia.

As for Iain, his stance on abortion and stem cells just demonstrates that it is wrong to claim religous people are only against these things because the bishops have told them to be. It is quite possible to object for non-religious reasons.

Best wishes

James

http://jameshannam.com

Laurence Boyce said...

“I am not sure if a truly religious politician is better or worse than one faking it.”

The question is, of course, how on earth are we supposed to tell them apart?! But I’m surprised Ron that you think Bush and Clinton are fakes. Call me naive, but when a politician says they believe in God, I tend to believe them.

“In general I want politicians to be honest but then I also want them to be intelligent.”

Good luck with that!

“Faith and schools. Did any two words ever look so ill fitted to be next to each other.”

Yes, totally agree. Faith is the very antithesis of the spirit of free inquiry which we should be instilling into our kids.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Is the fundamentalist Dawkins really a prime candidate for something allegedly committed to freedom?”

He’s not that bad. There’s a lot of pejorative language slung in his direction. In this vein, I saw some useful definitions the other day:

Militant Christian: bombs abortion clinics
Militant Muslim: flies planes into buildings
Militant atheist: writes strongly worded articles

G. Charmley said...

I would point out to the Conservative Humanist chap that the men he mentions were classical liberals, rather than Conservatives, per se. Indeed, Hayek, if memory serves, wrote an essay denying his conservatism.

Anonymous said...

People who see Christianity as a vehicle for Conservatism are okay, although I always thought it suited socialism more with Jesus fulfilling most of the criteria to be a hippy.

However, people who see the party as a vehicle for their conservative interpretation of Christianity, old testament etc. like Paisley, Widdecombe, Leigh and Gummer are not fitting to the new party. We have no place now for scriptural moral crusades. While conference should not shun the Humanists, it is pointless for the party to adopt an official position of the love, existence, absense or harmfulness of the concept of "God".

Anonymous said...

Come now Laurence, to cite religion as the real cause behind terrorist attacks would be as logical as to blame atheism for Stalin's purges. It smacks of naivety.

strapworld said...

When this country was a God Abiding Country.

When Sunday was a day of rest and shops closed. The local Picture Palace would start in the evening.

When one stood, out of respect and in silence whilst the National Anthem was played at the end of the performance.

When one had Sunday Best clothes! and attended church, at least once, or twice if, like me you sang in a choir!,

When School Days always started with a Sung Assembly with all the school in attendance. When one sat still and quietly in lessons.

When examinations were taken on the day and what ever you did in the school year previous had no bearing on the result of that examination.

When School reports meant something!

When we were taught the history of our wonderful country.

When Geography was not about rock formation but countries and places!

When we tended the school allotment.

When going to football matches did not cost a mortgage.

When school dinners/ a bottle of milk were free. When school games were very competitive and pupils were divided into 'houses'

When money was scarce. When fruit and vegetables at the greengrocers came in seasons! When one bought 'broken biscuits' from the grocers!

When a visit to the ironmongers was an adventure!

When Wagon Wheels and Mars Bars were enormous!

When we had 'Journey into Space' and Al Read and Workers Playtime on the radio and hardly anyone had a television.

When politicians like Mr Atlee, Mr Churchill and Mr Gaitskill were honourable people and were respected for it!

When a Party Political Broadcast was a politician standing on a cart and talking through a megaphone!

When National Service taught young men and women self discipline and pride in ones regiment and country.

When supermarkets where local markets that were 'super'!

When summer holidays lasted forever. When we went out with our friends for hours and hours and our parents did not worry or have cause to worry.

And that was living in Oldham!

But were we not a more tolerant nation? Did we not listen and care more?

Have we progressed?

Arkangel said...

FAO strapworld....
Gee whiz, That's taken me back a bit. Things I'd forgotten about too.
When I was in the Scouts, our patrol used to go for weekend camps without any supervision and without having to do a Health and Safety Assessment.

AfricanMum said...

Edward Leigh did say conservatism was about faith, flag, fatherland and family.
Generally conservative parties do follow this pattern and with religion do identify with the country's dominant religion. (Though I think conservatives in America have very little to do with Jesus).
But the problem with the Tory party here is that since Thatcher, conservatism here is all about money. It's all about who hates the state's provision of services. This is why the Tory party here can't survive long term.
A lot of people would vote against Labour next election rather than vote for Tories because you sense that on issues troubling British people - family breakdown, crime, youth disaffection, and erosion of British values - Tories would be no different from Labour. They hold the same liberal values on marriage, divorce, civil partnerships and community values. A lot of the less well off can't identify with monetary policies, and would only be won over by a Tory party that vigorously defends Britain's Christian heritage and offers a hard-line social message. I was shocked to hear about Andrew Boff and the humanist association and realised this is why Hitchens, et al. call the Tories the useless party. As they don't stand for anything apart from telling us they'll manage our tax money better.
I suspect in the short term, Tories would snatch a few seats here and there from Labour and Lib Dems in England (thanks to tactical votes from people like me) but would gradually dissipate, leaving a proper Conservative party in its place.

Anonymous said...

Of course the Tory Party never used to just be a Christian party as Mr. Gummer suggests, but rather an Anglican party - no Catholics (which would lead Gummer in the lurch) and no busybody Evangelicals either.

Anonymous said...

Jesus mate, as you said to Tom Harris, belief in God or otherwise, is not political. I'm well to the right of you my son and I have no time for any of this religious stuff.

Pyers said...

Ignoring the rather dubious discussion below as to whether Dawkins is a thicko (you don't become an Oxford professor with an average IQ!) I welcome this development. With apologies for the inappropriate phraseolgy, the Conservative party is a broad church and atheists, agnostics, humanists or whoever should and must be welcomed. I am an intellectual atheist but also a passionate conservative - the two are most certainly not incompatible - but , rather like Dawkins who has admitted to a soft spot for the CofE, I am perfectly happy to accept the gentle non-militant religeousness of most people in the UK.

The day when one can say that the CofE is the Conservative Party at prayer is long gone.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Edward Leigh did say conservatism was about faith, flag, fatherland and family.”

It does sound like the sort of thing he would say!

“Since Thatcher, conservatism here is all about money. It’s all about who hates the state’s provision of services.”

Thatcher was deeply religious. I’ll try to dig up some quotes next week.

“I was shocked to hear about Andrew Boff and the humanist association.”

Boff is gay too. You’d better go and lie down for a bit!

Vladimir Putin said...

Boycie- weren't you in Only Fools and Horses ?

Laurence Boyce said...

That’s me! Aren’t you some Russian geezer?

Laurence Boyce said...

“Come now Laurence, to cite religion as the real cause behind terrorist attacks would be as logical as to blame atheism for Stalin's purges.”

Well not all terrorist attacks, I’m sure. But if you mean those terrorist attacks where the bombers are seen to patiently articulate their theology on homemade videos, justifying their actions by recourse to sacred texts? Do I blame religion for those attacks?

Yes. Yes I do.

Ron Todd said...

Strapworld.

Yes somethings were better in the past. And in the past the country was more religious. Go back a bit further to when we were even more religious. When we were burning and torturing for religion.

When the great sin was heresy anything that went against the pope. Where a whole continent except for the most powerful lived in constant fear of an accusation. When any free thought the one thing more that anything else that makes us human could get us burned on the stake. Whole nations in fear of being condemed for being human. That is religion when it is not restrained by secular power.


If we have progressed it is rarely because of anything that religion has done.

We are more free and have more wealth than before. It is inevitable that some people will use that freedom in ways the majority disaprove of.

Is that worse that a society where religious leader burn anybody that dares think for themselves.

religion ebbs and flows in power if times are good when religion is strong it is more likely to be despite than because off religion.

Laurence Boyce said...

“People who see Christianity as a vehicle for Conservatism are okay, although I always thought it suited socialism more with Jesus fulfilling most of the criteria to be a hippy.”

I’m not so sure. Don’t you think, for example, there is more than a touch of “creative destruction” about the parable of the sower? Many are called but few are chosen. Christianity is about winners and losers. Heaven and hell. I think, to be honest, that Christianity is profoundly conservative in character. Gummer is spot on.

AfricanMum said...

Not all Africans are homophobes as the Nigerian anglican bishops would have you believe. The gay bit is nothing to do with anything. True Christian churches welcome anyone and that argument is really a C of E issue. Many gay people go to evangelical churhes actually where they feel very welcome. Judge not so you'll not be judged, etc. Fact is, the Tory party is now an uneasy coalition because of the poll lead. No one wishes to rock the boat till Nu Lab is dead. And more people in Britain would identify with Edward Leigh than Andrew Boff. Boff should realise that Britain's history and culture is Christian and if you knock it, you create a vacuum that would be filled by a different culture that many people aren't ready to live with here. One that would be quite intolerant actually, more so than Christianity.
Until last election I always loyally voted Labour but have a lot of time for the likes of Edward Leigh, Ann Widdecombe and Liam Fox. They speak more for Mr & Mrs Average in this country than a lot of your 'modernisers'.

Anonymous said...

"But if you mean those terrorist attacks where the bombers are seen to patiently articulate their theology on homemade videos, justifying their actions by recourse to sacred texts? Do I blame religion for those attacks?"

Oh please. Religion just acts as a convenient form of self-justification for these tyrants. Without religion undoubtable some riled Arab would use other forms of his cultural heritage to justify suicide bombinging the infidel Westerners.

Religion does not condone or provide a man with fundamentalism, as our pal Dawkins shows, nor does it put a gun in his hand. It can merely be skewed into the set purpose of the terrorist at hand.

Nonetheless, playing historical what-if is terribly meaningless.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Many gay people go to evangelical churches actually where they feel very welcome.”

Well that’s true. Ted Haggard springs to mind straight away.

Sandy Jamieson said...

Imagine if the Daughter burger-feeding Europhile creep Gummer had been reported as saying, "Do you know, there is nothing I hate more than these moslems?"

Unless there is an unwritten rule that Humanists are fair game, that would have been fun!

Laurence Boyce said...

“Religion just acts as a convenient form of self-justification for these tyrants.”

Would you really call the 7/7 bombers “tyrants”? They just looked like kids to me. Kids who had been fed lies since their earliest recollection and, crucially, actually believed it all. Watch this and weep.

AfricanMum said...

I believe Ted Haggard was some American pastor who visited prostitutes and used drugs. He would've been like other US evangelicals who condemn everyone so his position would've been untenable. Surely you're not suggesting ordinary gay people are like him. They're usually normal people just minding their own business like the rest of us. I see from your profile you're a lapsed Catholic. The ones I've met tend to really have a downer on all religion.
But it doesn't detract from the point that a party calling itself conservative should loyally uphold the heritage of the country it seeks to govern. Mrs Thatcher wasn't that religious. She said she was Methodist to justify her work ethic and her attitude to money. And she started to undermine the authority of the C of E in this country by ridiculing it's clerics.

trevorsden said...

"that great champion of our liberties, David Davis"

"is it not a 'liberty' to prevent people from trashing your religion?

Don't we have 'responsibilities' to the sensitivities of our neighbours.

I cannot say I am particularly religious - and I think its quite OK to criticise, or perhaps more precisely pose a critique of a religion, - not leat criticise what people do in the name of religion.

Laurence Boyce said...

“I think it is a mistake to say that a false believe can't be a good think. The history of science (my trade) is full of examples of wrong theories that were useful. Maxwell's Equations were based on the aether, Boyle thought there were springs between molecules, Preistley discovered Oxygen looking for phylogiston.”

But surely the point is that these things were corrected when the new understanding came on line. A similar thing seems to have happened with the doctrine of original sin. Ironically, this has received a partial vindication through the modern sciences of human nature. We principally inherit the genes required to survive and reproduce, not to be nice. (Unfortunately we have suffered in between from a rather left-wing “blank slate” view of the world which is at odds with both traditional Christianity and science.) Trouble is though, that under the new understanding, blame has now shifted from Adam to God himself. This poses a huge problem for religion which I don’t really see anyone addressing.

“The thing about religion is it is hard to continue to enjoy its benefits if no one believes in it.”

It’s more than hard. It’s impossible. The religious believer forms plugs in to a sprawling and diverse community which spreads all around the globe, as well as forwards and backwards in time. But if there is no truth to religion, then this implies to me that the benefits felt in one part of the network must be paid for elsewhere. They cannot come for free, unless they really are a free gift from God.

“As for Iain, his stance on abortion and stem cells just demonstrates that it is wrong to claim religious people are only against these things because the bishops have told them to be. It is quite possible to object for non-religious reasons.”

Indeed, but I don’t quite understand those reasons. I can just about understand opposition to abortion. Like everyone else, I want to see as few abortions as possible and for them to be as early as possible. But when it comes to embryos, then I’m completely baffled. To me, it’s just a no-brainer. I wrote about the embryo debate earlier this year.

BCS said...

None of Popper, Hayek, Friedman and Adam Smith were Conservative thinkers. All were liberal. But then so the Conservative Party has been since Thatcher I suppose.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Is it not a liberty to prevent people from trashing your religion?”

No, it’s an oppression, and one from which religions have profited enormously down the centuries. If open criticism had been tolerated ab initio, then I scarcely think we would still be having this debate today.

The fact remains that David Davis and 50 other Conservative MPs would apparently be happy to place Jerry Springer the Opera and the like at risk of prosecution. I find that quite incredible.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Surely you’re not suggesting ordinary gay people are like him. They’re usually normal people just minding their own business like the rest of us.”

Of course they are, but I’m going to have to take your word for it that gays find a particularly comfortable home in evangelical churches. It seems a touch unlikely to me.

“I see from your profile you're a lapsed Catholic. The ones I've met tend to really have a downer on all religion.”

Believe me, it’s not without reason!

“But it doesn’t detract from the point that a party calling itself conservative should loyally uphold the heritage of the country it seeks to govern.”

But things change over time. As someone has already pointed out, that conservative heritage was once strictly Anglican, now freely encompassing Catholicism and Judaism. But now, radical Islam has brought everything sharply into focus. It is quite clear that there are a number of conservatives who think that “Christian good, Muslim bad” is going to be the mantra to lead us out of the abyss. Somehow I don’t think that is going to fly. I think that the modern Conservative Party could benefit enormously by taking a sharp secular turn. That is perhaps where this new group comes in.

Anonymous said...

is this the same Hayek that wrote 'why I am not a christian' and the Popper who was basically a liberal democrat and the Smith who was reviled by the Tory party of his day due to his beliefs in free trade and equality of development for all citizens...

kepler said...

Laurence.

How much further forward scientifically speaking, do you think Dawkin's has taken us from Darwin himself?

Laurence Boyce said...

The guys who really took things forward were Crick and Watson. Dawkins made one original and important contribution in the theory of the Extended Phenotype. His Selfish Gene theory was not itself original, but Dawkins easily gets the credit for explaining it better than anyone has ever done either before or since.

kepler said...

Yes, I think you've pretty much described his true status.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Is this the same Hayek that wrote Why I am not a Christian?”

Not that I am aware of. I think that was Bertrand Russell.

Anonymous said...

If I were asked in the street for an instant summary of what 'religion' I most associated with each main political party I would say:

Tory = Church of England

Labour = Catholic

LibDem = Methodist

Green = Evangelical Christian

Laurence Boyce said...

and UKIP = the Raelians

Hiraeth said...

Hayek wrote 'Why I am not a Conservative,' an essay that is reprinted in at least one edition of his 'Constitution of Liberty'. Anonymous is confusing this with the rather priggish work by the late Bertrand Russel, which was identical except for the thing he was not.

strapworld said...

ron todd says.

Dear Ron,

'fraid I wasn't about then. So I must bow to your age and knowledge.

I forgot to mention that Water was pure and we did not have to pay for it!

God Bless to everyone , even you dear Ron Todd.

Let us all hope the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury agree to a civil partnership, they are meant for each other

Glyn H said...

Gummer has the same effect on me as Yeo! God and politics should not mix. Belief is a private matter and should remain that way. And is is quite possible to be pro Dawkins, pro abortion, pro John Redwood economics, anti the EU, pro John Bolton (1st class comment by him in DT today)and detest what Islam and the envoionmental/climate change lobby are trying to do to our country. (I did try a humanist meeting but the STENCH of lefty hypocracy was unbearable.)

Laurence Boyce said...

“Belief is a private matter and should remain that way.”

That is a sentiment I find I can no longer subscribe to, though it is still being repeated by many secularists (e.g. AC Grayling in today’s Times book section). Belief is not and has never been private. Rather belief is the necessary precursor to action, and is therefore indistinguishable from action from a philosophical standpoint.

I actually think the complete opposite. I think it’s time we all got our beliefs out on the table in plain view and had a great big argument about everything!

Anonymous said...

Do the Conservatives typify Christianity? No. There are many different factions of Christianity. Arguably the Conservatives have been the party of the traditional state and the monarchy and by extension the Church of England. I'm an atheist but I have little problem with the moderation generally shown by the Church of England (despite Rowan Williams being one of the worst Archbishops of Canterbury I've lived with. He is however an good pastor.) So long as the CoE retains its traditional ethos then I'm fine with that but I will strongly resist any move to tie the Conservative party like the GOP to radical evangelists, baptists or Catholicism. I would like to see any crossover between politics and religion to be limited to the smallest possible amount.

Auntie Flo' said...

Laurence Boyce said:

if you mean those terrorist attacks where the bombers are seen to patiently articulate their theology on homemade videos, justifying their actions by recourse to sacred texts? Do I blame religion for those attacks?

Yes. Yes I do.


That's as good as labelling all muslims as terrorists, which is unbelievably dumb, Laurence.

The twisted ideology behind terrorist attacks isn't even human, let alone a religious one. It's simply pathological and as insane as the people who use it as an excuse to vent their murderous impulses.

To blame such insanity on religion is akin to blaming christianity for the delusions of a psychopath who thinks he's Jesus.

Laurence Boyce said...

No, I am not saying that all Muslims are terrorists which would indeed be exceedingly dumb. But the trouble is, Auntie Flo, that I have actually read the Koran; and I am not prepared to take to the clear injunctions to kill and subjugate infidels to mean the opposite of what they say, notwithstanding the fact that there are other verses which appear to mitigate against this.

It’s exactly the same with gays in the Christian church. The conservatives have actually got scripture on their side. The “liberals” who still maintain a strong attachment to scripture, nevertheless “interpret” it to mean the complete opposite of what everyone can plainly see it says. This approach is both intellectually and theologically bankrupt, in my view.

The only reliable antidote is simply to cease all respect towards sacred texts and instead declare them for what they are: the ancient and disordered thinking of ignorant men. Sorted.

Anonymous said...

Auntie Flo,

Re your comment on an earlier thread:

"Go back to nulab spin school, anon, all this bunking off is shrinking your pea sized brain."

Are you taking over the role of the late and unlamented Verity in delivering gratuitous insults in response to perfectly reasonable comments from other people. Or would you care to withdraw that comment?

Ron Todd said...

The bible was written by two types of people. Those that wanted to promote themselves as religious/political leaders and those that heard voices in their head.

Of course it is unclear and inconsistent.

The pro and anti gay factions will both find what they want in the bible. And both will ignore the bits that are imposable to obey in the modern world.



And the pope ex hitler youth ex leader of the inquesition would not be a good match for the arch bish. Given his love for islam he would be better matched with a mullah.

Nick said...

Speaking as an atheist (even an anti-theist), I feel strongly that religion has absolutely no place in politics and certainly not in schools or other educational establishments, where indoctrination of young malleable minds is a form of child abuse. This crude dogma is a big lie, which seriously threatens civilisation, by ruling the entire planet to live by it's rules, morals, and fairy tales. I don't think that most atheists go far enough in opposing the persistent creeping advance of this nonsense. To engage in debate with it confers on it a certain respectability which it does not deserve, and which legitimises it. Society has been generally over-tolerant of religion, allowing it to take too many liberties and have an inflated idea of its own self-importance - it's getting out of control. It bothers me greatly that many of our political masters believe in this garbage, as it raises serious questions about their ability to make decisions using logic and evidence. This is not a matter for polite debate; this is really serious. How could there be a debate anyway, when "faith" is non-negotiable, and where minds are closed to reason. It is a mental illness, not a cause. Mockery and ridicule is the order of the day, not the respect which it weirdly commands. Things are not however as bad as in the USA, where it is all-pervasive.

Ilja Nieuwland said...

@ron Todd: although I have little sympathy for the present pope it doesn't do to describe him as a 'Hitler Youth Leader' when clearly he wasn't. All German boys were drafted into the Hitler Youth age 14, and the Ratzingers' general opposition to nazism is well-known, particularly after a nephew with Down syndrome got eugenicised by the nazis in 1941.

---
Being a scientist, and to some degree still an adherent of empiricism, I really can't see much alternative to being an agnostic. Religion, NOMA, and hard-boiled atheism all seem to fall short of criteria of objectivity.

Anonymous said...

Someone remind me of what this is all about.

Ron Todd said...

I did non describe pope Benny as a Hitler youth leader.

'ex hitler youth ex leader of the inquisition' was how I described him.

Wouldn't somebody who could find a way of avoiding serving in the hitler youth even if he had to go against the cultural norms of his society or risk punishment along side those that his state considered to be unfit to inherit the earth, be a better choice for gods representative on earth.

It would be consistent for the sort of person that becomes boss of the inquisition )congregation of the doctrin of the faith)to be a willing recruit to the hitler youth.

After the war just about everybody in Genmany was suddenly anti natzi just as in France they were all suddenly resistance heroes.

Anonymous said...

It is a mental illness,


Well I suppose you can provide the proof for that statement. Your frothy-mouthed hatred is, however, entirely reasonable I suppose.

Ilja Nieuwland said...

@Ron Todd: please inform yourself a bit better before spreading claptrap. I have no love for the pope, but reproaching a thirteen-year old of not committing a criminal act (which refusing to subscribe to the Hitler Youth was in those days) with severe repercussions for him and his family is plainly bonkers - especially when done from the comfortable position of one who has never had to face such choices.

The Ratzingers' (particularly Joseph's father) opposition to the nazi regime is a matter of established record, and it was inspired not so much by political as by religious motives, and disgust over the treatment of the catholic church by the régime.

Whatever one thinks of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (and there is a great deal TO think) is another matter entirely.

Laurence Boyce said...

Terrific rant Nick. I totally agree. We’ve been tolerating religion for far too long when it is truly only deserving of mockery and contempt. Pat Condell has been a huge inspiration!

Ron Todd said...

If you say that the pope's father was against the nazi's because they were not sufficiently defferential to the church I will take your word for it. In repressive states where the rulers have a firm control of education the views of the father are not always the views of the son.

Which is not the point I was trying to make.

If we are to accept pope benny as god's infalable representative on earth can we not expect to hold him to higher standards than us mere mortals.

We should expect better than going with the flow of an evil regime, even as a child.

Should he not have been wrestling snakes in his crib healing the sick or speaking out against the concentration camps.

Anonymous said...

"Terrific rant Nick. I totally agree. We’ve been tolerating religion for far too long when it is truly only deserving of mockery and contempt."

Well I thought to call something a "rant" is itself to mock it?

However, if you only ever mock something, everyone will conclude that you yourself have no sound argument for your own position.

It isn't long since atheists in general were regarded as holders of a doctrine tending to social subversion, etc. Be content with the liberty you have!

justoneglass said...

Some observations:-

“Come now Laurence, to cite religion as the real cause behind terrorist attacks would be as logical as to blame atheism for Stalin's purges.”

Utter piffle. Religious terrorism is implicitly carried out in the name of religion. Evil acts such as those by Stalin who just happen to be atheists were hardly carried out in the name of atheism.

It is a mental illness

Well I suppose you can provide the proof for that statement. Your frothy-mouthed hatred is, however, entirely reasonable I suppose.


He/she doesn't have to. They are not the ones trying to propogate fairy tales. It is on such fantasists that the burden of proof lies.

Laurence Boyce said...

“However, if you only ever mock something, everyone will conclude that you yourself have no sound argument for your own position.”

Well yes, if you only ever mock something, that is true. But mockery can be deployed alongside reason to devastating effect. Remember Stalin to Mr Bean? And that is my point really. What goes for reasonable and routine discourse in the political arena, is somehow deemed off limits for religion. Why so?

Anonymous said...

It is a mental illness

Well I suppose you can provide the proof for that statement. Your frothy-mouthed hatred is, however, entirely reasonable I suppose.

He/she doesn't have to. They are not the ones trying to propogate fairy tales. It is on such fantasists that the burden of proof lies.



The least anyone can do is hold themselves to the values they supposedly value. If you value evidence then use it and avoid making statements without evidence.

And accusing people of being mentally ill really does not win debates. It is merely trying to propagate another unpleasant fairy tale.

Laurence Boyce said...

I think religion is a form of mental illness, which is not the same as saying that religious people are all mentally ill. It’s the beliefs themselves which are mental. If I say that Elvis is alive, you’ll think I’m mad. If I say that Jesus is alive, you’ll just think this guy is some sort of Christian. In fact psychiatrists are trained not to use religious belief as a sign of mental illness, but this just goes to show how deeply entrenched the double standard has become. It is a double standard which ought to trouble every religious believer, though it rarely seems to. That said, in the extreme cases where people allow religion to take over pretty much every aspect of their lives, then that really does constitute mental illness in my view.

Anonymous said...

"Utter piffle. Religious terrorism is implicitly carried out in the name of religion. Evil acts such as those by Stalin who just happen to be atheists were hardly carried out in the name of atheism."

Gibberish. To say that religious terrorism is purely done for the sake of religion, and not for any particular chagrin concerning American and British intervention in a certain Middle Eastern country would be astronomically naïve. If religion was not a factor, you really believe terrorists could not as easilly be wound into a frenzy by harkening to other forms of their culture?
It'd be as logical for me to lambast atheism for being the driving force behind Stalin; Lenin and Mao's tyrannical theist purges.

Honestly, the debate over God is entirely fatuous. The internet only accentuates this as everyone seemingly mutates into a smug fundamentalist, hammering his keyboard as the froth dribbles down his chin. Except me.

justoneglass said...

Come now, anon 5.59, it is simply rubbish to argue that Stalin et al did what they did in the name of atheism. Any more than they did it in the name of their brand of toothpaste or their favourite colour.

But it is quite clear that the 9/11 terrorists and many other nutters did what they did because they were told to in scripture (or at least they thought that scripture told them to). That much is a matter of public record.

http://www.faithfreedom.org/oped/skm60428p2.htm

You simply cannot compare the 2 scenarios. One does not follow from the other.

Back to the main thrust of ID's question though....

Religion should be a private matter to be practised in private. It should not have any place in politics or education, for if it does, it crosses a line which it ought not - beyond which it tries to ram itself down the throats of others who neither want nor need it, and attempts to impose morals dating from the stone age onto modern society. This is why "faith schools" or any other institute in which religion is used to indoctrinate the young should be outlawed. State funding and tax breaks for any religious institution should cease.

In fact the real solution would be to disqualify from holding any elected public office anyone who professes a religious belief, in the same way we disqualify people for lunacy etc. and to require all elected MPs to state to the house that they hold no religious beliefs (so if they were subsequently found to have told porkies they could be chucked out for misleading the house).

http://new.edp24.co.uk/Content/Election/RulesTrivia/asp/standing.asp

Only then might we get a truly secular Government, free from religious influence.

Anonymous said...

I think religion is a form of mental illness, which is not the same as saying that religious people are all mentally ill.



Sorry...if you have a mental illness, you are mentally ill. End of.

So: the peer reviewed research, please, that shows that religious people are mentally ill. As a good atheist you won't have made or supported that claim without really good evidence, because if there's one thing you can't stand it's people making claims without evidence (I assume). Your basic assumption, supported by evidence and being drawn - of course - rationally from it, not preceeding it, will be that any theist is mentally ill to a greater or lesser extent.

You'll need to show in the course of this evidence exactly how entire societies have been gripped by this illness over hundreds of years, with clear case studies, and how families with jobs, degrees, no criminal records, no troubled medical history at all, fall into this category.

But this won't be a problem.

Anonymous said...

In fact the real solution would be to disqualify from holding any elected public office anyone who professes a religious belief,


Oh lovely. Atheists come out in favour of regulating people's thoughts as well! This gets better. Keep it up.

You'd love the subsequent trials wouldn't you, where someone had lied because they really wanted to serve their community but were subsequently snapped going into a church...

Sean said...

Generally speaking, a Conservative is respectful of the traditions and beliefs of his own people. He finds much to value in the past, and much to admire in his ancestors. That is one reason why centre right parties tend to have large numbers of religious believers in their ranks, and why those of their members who aren't religious are generally supportive of Christianity.

Added to this, Conservatives tend to be socially conservative, and in terms of values, have much in common with religious believers, whether or not they are believers.

It's why, for most Conservatives, an anti-clerical Conservative Party would be a contradiction in terms, and why no more than a tiny minority within the party would wish to abolish faith schools, or ridicule religious believers.

And it helps to explain why those atheists or agnostics who hate religion can fit more comfortably into a left-wing party than a right-wing one.

Making the Conservatives an anti-clerical party would, I think, finish Conservatism as a viable political force in this country.

Laurence Boyce said...

“Making the Conservatives an anti-clerical party would, I think, finish Conservatism as a viable political force in this country.”

That’s why I’m backing this new group! :)

Laurence Boyce said...

. . . but seriously Sean, I think your explanation is about the size of it.

Anonymous said...

"But it is quite clear that the 9/11 terrorists and many other nutters did what they did because they were told to in scripture (or at least they thought that scripture told them to). That much is a matter of public record."

You're missing my point. Namely that without their self-justifying version of Islam, the 11 September terrorists would easily have found another reason to destroy the twin towers. Much in the same way Stalin would have found a reason to imprison the clergy had atheism not been integral to Communism.

Regardless, it's laughable to suggest that religion destroys every mans mind to the same extent as militant fundamentalists. Equally so would it be for me to suggest that atheism rots a mans mind to concoct this notion.

I'm also at a loss as to why people thus far have treated religion as a single entity. As if Father O'Leery from down the street is equally as "mentally ill" as a suicide bomber.

With regards to faith schools being "outlawed": absolute drivel. I attended a Catholic school in my youth where the dogmatic preachings (for every faith school is run by firebrand preachers, you know), actually drove more to agnosticism/atheism than convert.

"it tries to ram itself down the throats of others who neither want nor need it,"

Ho ho. This is intentionally ironic, right? The vitriolic attitude throughout this discussion board suggests little more than a complete lack of theological knowledge.

Laurence Boyce said...

Please don’t go all scientific on me anon @7:59. I said that I thought religion is a form of mental illness. It’s obviously a subjective statement, but one which I stand by nonetheless. It comes down to the fact that I view the claims of religion as a flight from reality or, as Dawkins would say, a delusion.

The point is that we all suffer from delusions. So in a sense we are all a bit mentally ill. Have you never deluded yourself that somebody fancied you when they didn’t at all? I know I have. Religion is a bit similar to this. It takes great comfort from seemingly positive results, but systematically ignores evidence to the contrary. The end result is that people end up believing in stuff which appears crazy from a more objective standpoint.

It generally isn’t a problem because religious folk tend to partition these beliefs in their head. It’s church on a Sunday, and then back to being a rational scientist for the rest of the week. But where people allow the religious thinking to take over their whole lives, then all I can say is that I have known people like that and mentally ill is really the only phrase to describe it. But that is rare.

Consider this. If I said that I thought Jesus walked on water, you would think that I was crazy because you know I’m an atheist. But if a Christian told you that Jesus walked on water, then presumably you would think they were perfectly sane. There’s something not quite right there. What has happened is that the religion has effectively legitimated insane thinking. It’s not something that religion should be at all proud of.

Windsor Tripehound said...

Sean said...
Generally speaking, a Conservative is respectful of the traditions and beliefs of his own people. He finds much to value in the past, and much to admire in his ancestors.


Good heavens; sense at last.

As I understand it, conservatism starts with a belief that there are such things as absolute standards, that you can tell right from wrong.

For that reason conservatives are more likely to have a religious faith than morally-relative socialists, or LibDems who don't seem to believe in anything in particular.

Laurence Boyce said...

“. . . or Lib Dems who don’t seem to believe in anything in particular.”

That’s not true. We believe in loads of things. It’s just that we don’t necessarily believe in the same things!

justoneglass said...

In fact the real solution would be to disqualify from holding any elected public office anyone who professes a religious belief

Oh lovely. Atheists come out in favour of regulating people's thoughts as well! This gets better. Keep it up.

No, we just don't want to be governed by lunatics suffering from grandiose delusional syndrome.

Edward said...

This thread is looking quite popular. I suppose the subject always inspires strong responses from both sides. But a lot of the attacks made on religion in this thread are flawed and unfair.

Many people make the claim that Christianity is rubbish because it can't be empirically proved in the same way that, say, the existence of oxygen can. But this is an invalid argument. Christianity doesn't pretend that all its claims are empirically (scientifically) provable or falsifiable. What some people on this thread are doing is making the philosophical assumption that anything that can't be empirically proved must be untrue. They then go on to deduce that, therefore, Christianity is untrue (or fairy tales, or nonsense, or whatever). The deduction is only true if the assumption is, and I've never heard anyone even remotely successfully make the case for the assumption.

Actually, it's an assumption which is flawed for a number of reasons, of which I can think of two off the top of my head. First, nobody sane actually lives or attempts to live by empiricism alone - I don't think any further argument is required on that point. Second, empiricism ultimately hits the same problem as rationalism: it becomes a circular argument. Where's the empirical justification for empiricism?

My point is that Christianity is being made to argue its case on unfair grounds. With the out-of-the-blue declaration that all that is unscientific is untrue, Christianity is declared to be impossible even before the argument has begun!

Of course, I could be arguing all this because I'm mentally ill - or exhibiting signs of a form of mental illness without actually being mentally ill - but that's an argument about on the level of my saying that anyone who disagrees with me is possessed by a devil.

justoneglass said...

Christianity doesn't pretend that all its claims are empirically (scientifically) provable or falsifiable.

Then it's a load of bollocks. Get evidence or get real. It's toxic, poisonous, and commands no respect. Religious people are delusional, and in seeking to impose their views on the rest of the world, are mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

"If I said that I thought Jesus walked on water, you would think that I was crazy because you know I’m an atheist. But if a Christian told you that Jesus walked on water, then presumably you would think they were perfectly sane."

What a modern-day atheist or Christian "thinks" is neither here nor there. What counts is what Jesus' contemporaries witnessed, whether they reported it accurately, and whether what they wrote has been transmitted accurately down to now.

Anonymous said...

“However, if you only ever mock something, everyone will conclude that you yourself have no sound argument for your own position.”

Well yes, if you only ever mock something, that is true.


Laurence, let me remind you of what you said, to which I responded:

"We’ve been tolerating religion for far too long when it is truly ONLY deserving of mockery and contempt." (my emphasis)

So by your own admission, everyone will conclude that you, Laurence, have no sound argument for your own position.

You've written a good deal more moderately than some of the animals on this thread; but even you haven't been entirely able to prevent the odd speck of foam leaking through ;)

justoneglass said...

You're missing my point. Namely that without their self-justifying version of Islam, the 11 September terrorists would easily have found another reason to destroy the twin towers. Much in the same way Stalin would have found a reason to imprison the clergy had atheism not been integral to Communism.

I somehow doubt it. I concede they certainly may have found other reasons to hate the west, but in the absence of a belief in an afterlife, and all those virgins, they might have been just that little bit less inclined to kill themselves.

Regardless, it's laughable to suggest that religion destroys every mans mind to the same extent as militant fundamentalists.

The problem here is that it can rot the minds of others. The terrorists who flew into the twin towers and undertook the London tube bombings may have come from family backgrounds which were not quite as extreme, but those "moderate" backgrounds still managed to poison their minds and put them in a position where they were exposed to fundamentalist influence.

Equally so would it be for me to suggest that atheism rots a mans mind

Well there we can agree.

Check out the amazing George Carlin on this subject:-

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

and this one is fun too:-

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=SyWEBbFwU1o

justoneglass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Careful, Iain, you might get Julie Burchill joining the Tories

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/14/religion.anglicanism

Laurence Boyce said...

“What counts is what Jesus’ contemporaries witnessed, whether they reported it accurately, and whether what they wrote has been transmitted accurately down to now.”

Well what do you think? Do you think the reports of Jesus walking on water are accurate? What about Jesus being born of virgin? It’s hard to see how that one could have been verified by anyone. The gospel stories are plainly myths. Anyone who believes them to be true, does so through faith not reason.

“So by your own admission, everyone will conclude that you, Laurence, have no sound argument for your own position.”

I’ve got plenty of sound arguments. See my 5,000 word essay on the topic. But mockery is OK too. After all, most of the arguments are as old as the hills and have never been adequately refuted.

Windsor Tripehound said...

Laurence Boyce said...
Anyone who believes them to be true, does so through faith not reason...


I think this is known as "stating the bleedin' obvious". I think St Paul got there about 2000 ago.

Anonymous said...

"Well what do you think? Do you think the reports of Jesus walking on water are accurate? What about Jesus being born of virgin? It’s hard to see how that one could have been verified by anyone. The gospel stories are plainly myths. Anyone who believes them to be true, does so through faith not reason."

Tacitus makes reference to a man named "Christus" who "suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus".

Honestly, to lambast the Bible for having illogical content would be to disregard Herodotus for hyperbole. To treat ancient texts as modern day history is utterly pointless.

Of course a large portion of the Gospels are myth, or more appropriately, allegorical. Jesus a virgin? Possibly an allusion to his purity or divinity? No let's pretend it's nonsense to make constructing this ludicrous straw man of an argument easier. Fully literal interpretations of the Bible were thrown out decades ago by most major organised religions.

And with regards to religion soiling our utopian society: is a man not responsible for his actions nowadays? If a man breaks a speed limit do you blame his fast car or the driver? And what do you even mean when you criticise "religion"? Is a Father O'Toole down the road as much a danger as the Islamic suicide bomber?

This form of internet atheism always struck me as fueled by supercilious hatred, not that of scientific logic.

Laurence Boyce said...

Thanks for your observations Edward.

“What some people on this thread are doing is making the philosophical assumption that anything that can’t be empirically proved must be untrue.”

Not really. Why should it be all or nothing? I believe lots of crazy stuff. I might even throw some crazy ideas around on a blog. But I’ll stop short of demanding respect, tax breaks, special schools, representation in parliament, and so on for my beliefs. This is the point. Before belief can be taken seriously, it must at least scale with the available evidence. Religion plainly fails that test, and yet it has acted throughout history as if it were indeed completely beyond question. Today, we are still living with the remnants of those attitudes. (In parts of the Muslim world, those attitudes never went away.) It is perfectly reasonable to say, as I do, that the claims of religion are false. It’s just shorthand for saying that the claims of religion would never stand up in court, which is ironic when you think how much protection religion is getting from the courts these days.

“First, nobody sane actually lives or attempts to live by empiricism alone.”

Yes they do, pretty much 99% of the time. The Archbishop of Canterbury gets up in the morning; the coffee machine is broken; does he blame evil spirits? Of course not. Are we all clinging on to the planet in case gravity suddenly runs out? No. We live in a material world and are therefore compelled to adopt the naturalistic worldview. But religion encourages an escape from naturalism by positing a form of dualism – between the natural and supernatural, between faith and reason, between body and spirit. Unfortunately it just doesn’t fly. Dualism breathed its last with Descartes. Everything has to connect up to everything else. There is only one domain of existence. I call it reality.

“Christianity is declared to be impossible even before the argument has begun!”

But Christianity could rectify this situation straight away by coming up with some first class miracles. Of course these are claimed all the time, at Lourdes etc., but you know as well as I do that it’s all bunk. Let’s shut down the NHS, and replace it with a Christian healing mission. If it works, then clearly I’ll be compelled to take another look.

“. . . that’s an argument about on the level of my saying that anyone who disagrees with me is possessed by a devil.”

Well it’s not just me. I seem to remember the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, labelling his (religious) detractors mentally ill for saying he would burn in Hell, etc. But then I’m not really doing that. Rather, I’m saying that religious people often believe stuff which taken in another context would be indicative of mental illness. It poses a problem for religion and one which I don’t see religion addressing. But I’ll bear what you say in mind. My parents told me I was possessed by the devil when I gave up on their stupid religion, so I know how hurtful that can be!

Laurence Boyce said...

Anon @ 2:14, you posit a perfectly reasonable way of interpreting the Bible, as allegory, not as a reliable historical account. But it was not on the back of such liberal thinking that the Christian religion survived until the present day. It was only as late as the 19th century, that we were compelled to admit that the Gospels were not the eye-witness accounts that most people had taken them to be up until then.

You say that, “fully literal interpretations of the Bible were thrown out decades ago by most major organised religions.” So why do Anglicans get into such a lather over homosexuality? Why are the texts not just dismissed as a product of their ignorant age? The answer is because religions are founded upon these sacred texts. Take them away, and everything falls down. In my view, liberal religion would never survive on its own. It only survives as a parasite of more literal (and indeed coherent) interpretations of scripture.

On your point about personal responsibility, Americans are very fond of saying that, “it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people.” In fact it is both people and guns that kill people. And religion kills people too.

Laurence Boyce said...

Now earlier on, I promised you some thoughts from Margaret Thatcher on religion. Some of you seem to think that Thatcher was not particularly religious. In fact she expressed deeply religious and personal feelings in an address to the Church of Scotland in 1988. Her speech was dissected in this book by Jonathan Raban. Here are her thoughts on the beliefs that ought to distinguish the Christian in social and political life:

First, that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil.

Second, that we were made in God’s own image and therefore we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgement in exercising that choice; and further, if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us.

And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ The Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil, chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, “No one took away the life of Jesus, He chose to lay it down.”


Raban comments on the passage as follows:

The Three Articles of Mrs Thatcher are remorselessly reductive. They boil down Christianity to provide a theological legitimation for the doctrine of the individual’s right to choose. The word choice is hammered into each Article, and by Article 3 the meaning of the Crucifixion itself turns out to be that Christ was exercising His right to choose.

That phrase! It has been used by Margaret Thatcher so often before, in contexts so far removed from the theological, that an unseemly bathos attaches itself to it here. Christ dying on the Cross joins those folk who have exercised their right to choose – to buy their own council houses, to send their children to private schools, to occupy “paybeds” in NHS-funded hospitals.

Sean said...

"I believe lots of crazy stuff. I might even throw some crazy ideas around on a blog. But I’ll stop short of demanding respect, tax breaks, special schools, representation in parliament, and so on for my beliefs".

Your political beliefs are very generously supported by the taxpayer (as are those of Conservative and Labour supporters).

Laurence Boyce said...

Well that’s true. But we don’t have Lib Dem schools yet! Though sometimes I think that somebody is going to have to set up a Marxist school or something before we wake up to how barmy faith schooling is. (By the way, I would just like to point out that Lib Dem beliefs are not at all crazy!)

Sean said...

The Lib Dems didn't invent public education in this country, whereas the Churches did, more or less.

Ending faith schools would be an expensive process for the State, as the legal ownership of Catholic schools remains vested in the Catholic church, and Anglicans would have a pretty strong case for the return of school buildings which were transferred to education authorities on the understanding they would remain denominational.

WRT tax breaks, it is only those activities of religious organisations which are charitable that attract tax relief, on the same basis as any other charitable institution.

Laurence Boyce said...

I know it’s going to be messy. Lib Dems are going to debate faith schools at Spring conference, or so I’ve been told.

Manj said...

Who has Dawkins professed to vote for in the past? LDs?

Laurence Boyce said...

In 2001, he said in an interview that he had “always voted either Labour or Liberal, or whatever Liberal happens to be called at any particular time.” Since then, I have a feeling that he has declared for the Lib Dems following the Iraq war.

Sean said...

"Who has Dawkins professed to vote for in the past? LDs?"

His political views are pretty left-wing. You may recall that he, and various Guardianistas, e-mailed the inhabitants of Ohio in 2004, urging them not to vote for George Bush.

Surprisingly, this didn't have the desired effect.

Nick said...

But that might simply be because he disapproved of religious nutters, and nothing to do with politics.

He was probably right.

Anonymous said...

I still don't get why the BHA have written to Spelman rather than Gummer, who was obviously speaking only for himself, not the party.