Thursday, May 17, 2007


Dawkins makes some fine arguments in the God Delusion, and for the most part I agree with them. I am of the same inclination, after all. But I think he points himself at a slightly incorrect target.

He says religion is uniquely responsible for many pointless deaths and prejudices across time. It is certainly true that religious belief IS indeed responsible. The prejudice against homosexuals, for example, stems almost completely from interpretation of sacred texts. Now it might be twisting the point of those books, regardless if there was not the belief in the absolute truth of them, there would not be the hatred. The burnings, for being a witch or a catholic (or a protestant at different times in history), in the UK, the inquisition... the list goes on.

However, I really do not think religious belief in of itself is the sole reason. Dawkin's hits on this when responding to the rather tiring claims that Hitler and Stalin were atheists. It is arguable that Hitler was an atheist, but Stalin most certainly was. But that is not the point, they did not kill people because of atheism, they killed people because of dogmatism. They were convinced that what they were doing was right, that the Jewish people were in the wrong, that communism was the natural order, and anyone trying to stop it deserved punishment.

And this is my point. There were certainly, and still are, harmful religious beliefs, but mainly because they tend to be dogmatic, rather than pragmatic. People MUST believe the same things, do the same things, or else they must be punished. This is usually a harmful way to look at things.

And this is where secular beliefs come in. The point of secular beliefs is not to espouse a particular brand of religious truth, but come from a grounding in basic morality to try and allow most people to live together without too much trouble. The Jew next to the atheist next to the communist next to the fascist next to the christian (and so on). People are NEVER going to agree on everything, so the best thing we can do is all try to live together.

The principle I would stand by is this- believe and do what you wish, as long as it does not directly harm others. This is not nuanced, and can become complicated when we define harm, but certain beliefs, like being homosexual, are clearly not in any way harmful (despite deeply weak arguments to the contrary), or being of a different faith. It DOES proscribe some religious beliefs- ones that female genital mutilation should be practiced, for example, is one.

Obviously secularism is more complex than this, but the basic principle is to attempt to tolerate others as best as possible. Whats more, this position is actually pro-religion, because while it gives no religion prime standing, it also gives no religion top prime standing, so they all get a chance to exist, rather than being oppressed. That's the problem with people wanting their religion to be directly involved in government... what if they lose out to another religion? Then they lose everything, rather than keeping most of what they have now.


At 10:44 am, Blogger Hilarious Catastrophes said...

This is heavy stuff. There is a very distinct difference between Faith and Religion. In fact I see them as poles apart. As a Christian, I've said before, somewhere, that while I have a faith and it is built into me intrinsically that there is a God, I am not a fan of religion. I HATE it when people see me wearing my cross and say 'are you religious?'. To me it's a very loose term, and just demonstrates ignorance on the part of the person asking. Religion and mans grasp on religious texts (and I mean MANs, not humankinds or womens)was informed by a number of cultural and societal norms... people were used to death of people of all ages, and so the prospect of 'meeting our maker' loomed much much closer than in peoples minds today. British history is pretty gory, and when surrounded by a society informed by the old testament of the bible, given the go-ahead by the monarch who ruled by divine right, and the atmosphere of fear imposed on the people, there were bound to be consequences for believing the 'Wrong' thing...and that is the result of Religion, and doesn't really have much to do with God. We've come a long way, and are now in the privelidged position to make up our own minds. And it is something I think people take for granted. It's in this atmosphere, not the one of 500 years ago, that faith gets the chance to breathe, grow and be alive. And it is alive. It's with me every day.


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