20 September 2005

Religion, what is it good for?

Yes, I'm back after a 12 day hiatus, refreshed and more radical than ever, ready to hit you all for six. The truth is sometimes not what people want to hear, but that ain't a reason for shrinking from it. So here we go...

Timothy Garton Ash talks about six views of Islam in this Guardian article. He states as one of the views the following;

"The fundamental problem is not just Islam but religion itself, which is superstition, false consciousness, the abrogation of reason. In principle, Christianity or Judaism are little better, particularly in the versions embraced by the American right. The world would be a much better place if everyone understood the truths revealed by science, had confidence in human reason and embraced secular humanism. If we must have a framed image of a bearded old man on the wall, let it be a photograph of Charles Darwin. What we need is not just a secular state but a secular society."

This describes my views on religion perfectly. He goes on to say this about this view;

"This is a view held by many highly educated people in the post-Christian west, especially in western Europe, including some of my closest friends. If translated directly into a political prescription, it has the minor drawback of requiring that some 3 billion to 5 billion men and women abandon their fundamental beliefs. Nor has the track record of purely secular regimes over the last hundred years been altogether inspiring."

The first part of his criticism doesn't actually criticise the view, it just states that following it is too difficult. This would be akin to those who opposed the flat earth theory saying 'oh well too many people believe it, lets just give up'.

As for his second criticism- the track record of previous secular regimes, he is of course right that Nazism, Communism etc.. were disastrous. But all these regimes did was replace religion with another 'fixed ideology' that proved even worse. I am as much against this as against religion. There is no need for any ideology. We just need to follow scientific reasoning based on observational evidence which must be completely open to debate and change.

I've been criticised on here for being 'too cutting' in my remarks about religion and have even been called a 'bigot', for saying that religious views are absurd.

My views on this may be blunt, but religion is given a respect which no other absurd opinion would receive. Respect should be earned not (if you pardon the pun) be god given. Of course the reason religious people stifle criticism, is to preserve religion from the close scrutiny that is essential for good reasoning and proper scientific analysis of the facts.

The next question that no doubt people would ask is, without religion where does that leave our ethics. The answer to this is that it leaves our ethics in much better shape. To do something because of the 'fear of god' and a promise of 'eternal paradise' is not morally superior to doing something because 'it is the right thing to do', quite the reverse.

For example, it is much better to believe in environmental protection and equality of opportunity because it will benefit economic and social efficiency and wellbeing(including your own), than to believe it will bring a reward in the afterlife (of which there is no evidence).

My only belief is that cooperation is superior to individualism. This is demonstrated in 'tit for tat' scientific models and also by altruism in nature which has developed through evolutionary necessity.

Religion served the need in humans to plug the 'uncertainty' gap in our scientific knowledge. It has served its purpose of providing surety and optimism in a complicated world. It is long overdue that we drop its absurdity from our lives, and free ourselves from the clouding of our judgement that it causes.

On a related point, as Voltaire said; I may detest what Andrew, Blimpish, BNP and Hizb ut Tahrir say but I defend their right to say it to the death.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo. I have often heard a related argument for religion, which says that people "need" religion in order to give meaning to their otherwise dreary existence. How patronising!