Sunday, 21 November 2010

More waffling in the name of religion

I read a debate in the Observer this morning.

Is religion a force for good... or would we be happier without God?

It's a fairly long and involved debate for a newspaper, which is what you'd generally expect from the Observer, a Sunday paper which digs a little more deeply than the dailies do.

Jon Cruddas (Labour MP) and Cristina Odone (Conservative commentator) take up the cudgels for Christianity, Samia Rahman (journalist) represents Islam, and Evan Harris (ex-Lib Dem MP and prominent atheist) and AC Grayling (philosopher) argue from the atheist perspective.

I thought it went fairly as expected. The Christians complained about religious discrimination, excised the awkward bits of their faith and accentuated the bits they like, and generally whined about a perceived lack of respect.

Harris and Grayling, on the other hand, pointed out that the only schools in Britain who are allowed to discriminate are religious schools, that religious apologists appropriate a morality that extends back to the time of the ancient Greeks, and project it onto their own special book.

Naturally, the "Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot was an atheist" argument got wheeled out, when Harris brought up the evils that have been done in the name of religion. How come no-one's picked up on this yet? Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and countless others have pointed out that none of those committed the atrocities they did in the name of atheism. Why do the religious continue to act as if it's their get-out clause from the Spanish Inquisition, and circumcision, and the Crusades?

Samia Rahman, the Muslim on the panel, did at least attempt to balance her views.

"I see religion and the practice of religion as often an extension of [an] individual's personality and their existing thoughts and beliefs and their characteristics. And so I see this oppositionality between belief and non-belief as almost a moot point. We have shared values. Religion offers many people a framework and a moral compass and they navigate through the framework and through the guidelines that their religion offers them and they come to their own conclusion and their own way of living.
 A point which often escapes religious apologists is that our morality is not passed down from a supposedly higher being - it's a product of gradual evolution over millions of years. You can see primitive versions of it in chimpanzee and gorilla societies today. Until these people realise that they're not the Special Ones they believe they are, we're never going to get anywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment