First of all, I’d like to wish a merry Christmas to all my readers – all five of them. I said that when I got to ten posts I’d make this blog searchable and I’m nearly there now so we’ll see what that brings. I still don’t know how these regular bloggers find the time.
It’s now got to the stage where I’m thinking about the best acronym for this place. (HOTG? HBotG? HBG?) I think I’ll settle for HOTG. And what’s the best T-shirt design? Questions, questions.
Time permitting, the future of this site is mapped out in the short term. I have three more posts on the theme of “Thoughts on Christianity” – at least. But eventually I intend to show that Christianity, and religion in general, is now far from my thoughts in terms of its metaphysical relevance. My time at the FFF has convinced me that religion is just an obstacle to correct thought in many ways. oh_once’s reappearance in particular has consolidated this thought process. For example, the whole question of “objective morality” is a question for philosophy and ethics in particular – religion actually adds nothing to the debate. And just as our morality is often portrayed as an evolutionary by-product if looked at in a certain way, so is religious adherence. So religion is interesting from that angle, but the truth claims of religions don’t really hold much water.
I also want to post more about football, but the problem there is that there’s so much much to say that it’s hard to get started. I’d like to stick the boot in on FIFA if possible but that’s a huge subject also.
And I wanted to make some posts on economics, as that’s the discipline I graduated in all those years ago. Again the problem is finding a subject. Indeed I did try to address the issues between the UK government and the rest of the EU. But it’s hard to find out just what Cameron has actually vetoed, as all the EU countries still seem to have their own agendas, and the Brits haven’t been to forthcoming about it themselves. Personally I’ve always thought the single currency a jolly good idea, but it does seem that the Euro-authorities were way too lax with their “convergence criteria” back in the late 90’s and there were too many economies that just weren’t ready for it.
A none-too clear summary can be found here. Maybe Nouriel Roubini will write a book about it.
I might take a look in due course, but mention of Cameron brings me to his speech about the role of religion in society. And I’d like to write about this for a start because I’d like to introduce some level of topicality, as the best blogs seem to produce effortlessly. So for now I’ll aim for a once-a-month post just reflecting on few things from the recent news, and see how it goes.
Some have said that Cameron’s speech was a cynical ploy to get Christians on the side of the Conservative party, and therefore it was a side-swipe against the liberal Christianity (or at least broad church Protestantism) that prevails over here. A visitor to any decent-sized Anglican church can’t fail to notice that that the Anglicans have largely come down on the side of the liberals, the anti-poverty campaigners and environmentalists – not to mention their tolerance of homosexuality and womens’ rights in the church – and if anyone can understand a word of what Rowan Williams says they would be left in little doubt. They have little in common with the social Darwinists of the FFF and the Free Presbyterians or the cynical opportunism of the Catholics.
But in fact Cameron didn’t say anything of any substance. How can he juxtapose “…what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today” with “…many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all” without admitting that these values of which he speaks are only “Christian” incidentally? A cursory glance through the history of Christianity and the activities of certain Christians today would show him that moral values have improved despite, not because of, Christianity and that anyone who thinks that the Ten Commandments, as a whole, form some kind of moral basis is a fool. So Cameron’s comments are mere platitudes, albeit reflective of false assumptions that actually damage, rather than assist, society. Since when did Christianity “demand tolerance“? Christianity is notable for many of its adherents being dragged kicking and screaming in response to any moral improvement, just as it is now with the subject of gay marriage. What Cameron refers to as Christian moral values are in truth the results of Christianity catching up with secular morality.
Cameron appears to be contradicting himself by saying that, firstly,” [we need] a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s ‘moral collapse’“, while simultaneously stating that “…the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today“. Either Britain is in a state of moral collapse or it isn’t, it can’t be both. I’d dispute that it is in such a state, but even so, if an ideal set of moral values exists then they must exist independently of any authority, as authority in itself cannot be a basis for such a thing.
The notion that there can be such a thing as a “moral law”, that is, a prescriptive moral law, is at best a misunderstanding and at worst a deception. But while I don’t accept that Christianity has pervaded society anything like as much as society has pervaded Christianity, the language of Christianity is all around us, and it is this language, as much as anything, that leads us into making so many false assumptions. The major distinguishing feature of any religion is not its moral teaching but its reliance on the supernatural as an explanation of the universe and everything in it. The so-called moral authority of a religion therefore depends not on its interpretation of ethics but on an acceptance that at root it comes from above and outside that universe, as well as the language that surrounds it. Without belief in its supernatural aspects Christianity is nothing. Therefore deference to Christianity in the moral arena is a reflection of deference to the supernatural, nothing more. If follows that any analytical view of ethics is ignored in favour of religious language and therefore Christianity, like other religions, are actually an obstacle to morality. If we truly want to understand what is good and what is bad then we should start by seeing religion for what it is, and what it is is an enemy of understanding.
Cameron, not apparently that much of a beleiver himself, appears to be infected with the same religious way of thinking that has poisoned moral education for centuries. However, as a cynical politician, the likely reason for his speech is that he was telling Christians what they want to hear. We should expect nothing less from our leaders. I didn’t think much of him before and my opinion hasn’t gotten any better. At least Rick Perry isn’t a Brit.
Talking of religion and the supernatural, the big story of the week is the death of Kim Jong-il. Topically, we are reminded once again by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens visited North Korea, memorably describing it as the world’s most religious country, and he wasn’t far wrong. Although the scenes of utter grief among the populace at Kim’s death could cynically be described as contrived, there is no doubt in my mind that it was overwhelmingly genuine, This isn’t surprising given the utter and complete control that Kim, and his father before him, had over their entire country. These poor Koreans truly believed that they lived in Paradise, and all of it was due to the Kims. But it wasn’t sufficient just to control everybody’s thoughts, the cults of personality that they cultivated extended to assuming the characteristics of gods (h/t Jerry Coyne). How much easier to believe in infallibility if they somehow had control over nature.
If it wasn’t so sad it would be hilarious.
“When Kim Jong-il officially took control of the state, pear and apricot trees mysteriously and spontaneously came into bloom across the country attracting butterflies and bees. Fisherman caught a rare white sea cucumber, which led Koreans to say “Kim Jong-il is indeed the greatest of great men produced by heaven”
My favourite: we are not given the golf handicaps of Yahweh or Allah but Kim was a scratch golfer without even trying:
…legend has it that the first time Kim played golf, he shot 11 holes-in-one and carded a score about 20 strokes lower than the best round ever for a professional event over 18 holes.
In other words, North Korea was as close to a theocracy as anywhere including Saudi Arabia. If anyone is in any doubt that religion poisons everything then look no further. We should be thankful that our religious leaders don’t have that degree of influence.