The problem of religion.

Jyoti’s ever marvellous and provocative blog has a huge rant on it about the place of religion in politics. His contention is that religion is irrational and bad things are done in the name of God, and has no place being used to define political life…

The weird thing is that, as a believer, I at least partly agree. Not that all spiritual belief is irrational (clearly, that would be a weird thought for someone who aligns them self with the christian faith), but that the use of one’s faith to solely define one’s view of the world can end up in a very totalitarian view of the world.

This paragraph of Jyoti’s is interesting –

I’m an atheist. More than that, I’m a radical, materialist, proselytising atheist. That means that not only am I opposed to Christianity as an irrational pile of poop, I’m also against Hinduism, Buddhism, paganism, Judaism, Scientology, spiritualism, astrology and, of course, Islam. (I’m obviously not anti-religious people. Some of my best friends are believers, honest guv! Love the believer, abhor the belief, I say.)

Now, the last sentence is clearly an irony, but the strength of opinion expressed in the first half is very close to what I hear from devout thinking people of faith. It’s clearly not raving madness, but it is dogmatic to a slightly scary level.

One of the wonders of post-modernity is that we are now wrestling with the definitions of truth can something be ‘factual’ by untrue, or vice versa? Can two seemingly contradictory accounts of The Way Things Are both be true. We’re now able to wrestle with the concept of abstracting truth from its linguistic strictures, from it’s cultural contexts and examine things for what they point to as much as what they state. We can embrace the concepts of ‘finite’ and ‘infinite’ truth, with infinite truth being essentially unknowable but anything that points to or describes in any way the infinite truth is ‘finite’ truth.

The deconstructionists told us that all language is a metaphor, that words resonate with other words, and within the context of the semantic buildings in which we bring them to life – so the word ‘dad’, on the surface means ‘the guy who impregnated your mother to cause you to be born’ but is on a deeper level going to mean so many different things to different people based on their experiences of father-figures.

However, we still have the tools of history, or literary criticism, of science and biology that can act as boundaries and sign-posts for our discussions, as bridges between our experience and the posited notions of the various religious traditions. So, when Jyoti says,

I don’t believe the stories about Jesus, Thor, Isis, Satan, Apollo, Vishnu, Allah, Buddha, Spiderman or The Great Pumpkin. They’re all lovely stories, and I appreciate the wit and wisdom of the writers but are they true? No. They’re mostly stories written by men to help shape their societies and keep the majority of ordinary people, especially women, oppressed. Apart from Spiderman, of course, that’s very egalitarian.

there’s some pulling apart that needs to take place – which of those stories collapse under scrutiny, and how? What is being brought to bear to cause them to collapse, and is what’s driving that motivation itself substantial

Would you want to live in a country under Scientological Law? Or Odin’s Law? Does either proposition sound like a reasonable way to frame a civilised country’s legal and social system? No? So why does it make sense to run a country according to Christian or Muslim myths? They’re no less ridiculous, random and invented.

Let’s me spell this out: the problem isn’t with fundamentalist Islam or right-wing US Christians or huge churches run by ex-Hitler Youth members.

It’s with religion itself

Enshrining irrationality at the heart of our societies, validating myths and letting them define our human rights is an act of supreme idiocy. We all have the right to live, to love and pursue our dreams and no-one should be able to deprive us of those rights by waving a crumbling sheaf of lies in our faces.

He then goes on to present two stories of people be tortured and killed in the name of religion, and comments –

That news story is from June 2005. That’s what happens when people believe 2000-year-old superstitions to be literal truth.

Look at the Muslim terrorist attacks on Britain and America. Look at the God-steered response by Bush. That’s what happens when old men hear their God’s whispering in their ears.

If religion had its way, we’d all still be cowering in caves, blinking fearfully at the ghosts and goblins in the darkness.

We need to step forward into the light of reason, to embrace the hard truths of our mortality and unimportance rather than the comforting bedtime stories about gods and everlasting life.

That means we must oppose the irrational whoever promotes it and whatever colour their skin happens to be.

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