Saturday, May 12, 2007

the bandwagon accelerates

keep em coming

I remember I was going to start each post with a quote, so here's one from G J Holyoake from a text written in 1861:

If we cannot tell the history of a single stone, who shall tell the history of God? If a poor pebble is a surpassing mystery, who shall understand the Deity? What must be the pretension, the presumption to infinite capacity of that man who, pausing not in reverent humility in the presence of these myriad miracles which crowd before him, yet tells us in confident and dogmatic tones, that he 'Looks through Nature up to Nature's God?'

I heard the other day that Christopher Hitchens has joined the bandwagon with a stinging polemic against religion. Not being a huge fan of Hitchens’ style, I may not look at it, but then again maybe I will. The title of his book, God is not great: how religion poisons everything, gives an indication of his sympathies I think.

So we can add another to the list of heavies who have chosen to pursue an uncompromising line, in a very public way. There’s a very definite trend happening here: the polemical but historically informed writings of A C Grayling, the polemical but scientifically informed writings of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, Michel Onfray’s Traite d’Athéologie [translated as The Atheist Manifesto], and various other texts have been selling very well in recent years. Possibly it’s a reaction to international political events and ‘the clash of cultures’ which implicates the two most influential monotheistic belief systems on the planet. The repressive atmosphere of the soi-disant ‘war against terror’ has created an inevitable reaction. Atheists everywhere are being encouraged by current trends to put aside their masks of politeness and sweet reasonableness and to strike out for the principles of enlightenment. After all, the best arguments, historical, scientific and psychological, are on our side, and there’s a great deal at stake, for, since the enlightenment, religion has been sharply in retreat, especially in western Europe, but the recent dominance of the USA [in particular its religious right] and the rousing of the Islamic nations against it threaten to destroy the great gains of secularism.

So may the bandwagon roll on and gather momentum. However, I would naturally like to see a more analytical approach, and less repeated attacks on the softest targets and the flakiest extremes.

It’s probably true that my own voice has been raised a little louder in criticism of religion, and particularly Christianity, in recent years, and I’m constantly willing myself to speak out against religious complacency, not to let it ride. This has led to the occasional uncomfortable scene, and recently someone close to me suggested that I was being intolerant, possibly even bigoted in my stridency.

This annoys me, because I don’t think this person, who has read The God Delusion and some of Grayling’s writings, would describe Dawkins or Grayling, or Nietzsche for that matter, as bigots. Many of my own views are simply in tune with those writers, vis-à-vis religion, and I share some of their justified ire. Possibly the problem is that abstract, intellectual attacks are one thing, but those involving real flesh and blood people are another. Yet in the end it must come down to this – particular battles, intellectual or otherwise, with particular people.

Having said that, I’ve never yet told anyone directly that their religion sucks, though I’ve often been tempted. The unfortunate thing is that, with some people, to say anything, to challenge in any way at all, is to say too much. Harmony is preferable to honesty. It’s an old liberal conundrum, as applicable to multicultural nations as it is to blended families.

Ultimately, though, the best arguments against religions will come in action rather than words. The well-regulated and thriving secular state, the knowledge and power derived from scientific activity, the sheer joy of sex, the thrill of artistic creation, all these things testify, in their various ways to the dead hand of religion and its attempt to deny the exhilarations and tragedies of fully realized and real humanity.



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