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.
January 14th, 2012 at 02:27
Hi Duncan. I think you might be even more aggressive against religion in your blog than on the FFF. I say go for it! However, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to get the opposite side’s view in here. North Korea’s poisonous religion, which also works in concord with a suppression of freedom of thought and freedom of criticism, says nothing about the poisonous or nonpoisonous tendencies of other religions, unless you can demonstrate a common methodology that naturally progresses to the more poisoned outcomes. And can this be, if UK Christianity is the more “refined” religion? Or is UK Christianity just compromised, or maybe just as poisonous, with UK society just as poisoned? Surely not the latter.
February 2nd, 2012 at 13:21
Apologies for not replying sooner but after all the obituaries of late last year I have my own personal tragedy to report: my ancient desktop computer which never missed a beat, decided to expire amid a peculiar electrical smell. I’m using my Windows laptop now – and it is faster – but I’m a desktop kind of guy. More to the point, all my emails and documents including my CV and anything I did for this blog are locked away on its inaccessible hard drive. My CV and God have this much in common at the moment. I’ll get it repaired but it’s low priority.
Anyway,”even more aggressive”? I think I held back. But that was fair enough because I managed to preserve some sort of reputation on the forum. I always did my best to back up what I said without rancour which is more than can be said about oh_once’s interlocutors. Eventually I’ll put down my final thoughts on Christianity, and if anyone on the FFF read them they probably wouldn’t be too happy, but hopefully I can maintain a dispassionate view.
Having said that, I certainly came away from the FFF with, if anything, a lower opinion of Christianity than when I started. I spent many years virtually ignoring religion, or dismissing it without much understanding it. To improve my understanding I probably read more theology than the majority of posters on the FFF and came away with not only a deeper understanding (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) but my opinions reinforced. For they have nothing of substance to say, and often come close to admitting this. I have seen atheist evasion on numerous occasions but by and large most of the evasion, and virtually all of the equivocation, of the straw man arguments, the unsupported assertions, the twisting of points, the poor or non-existent logic and, yes, virtually all of the mendacity, has come from the Christian side. You will have noticed this yourself – how often have you raised a point which is only answered in the form of an attack on your character or motivation rather than a refutation or rebuttal? This is not to say that these people are not largely good people – they are, overwhelmingly – nor is it to say that I am somehow better or more intelligent than them – I’m not (maybe with one or two exceptions).
North Korean communism is but an extreme example of the problem with all religions and all ideologies – that they are committed to a pragmatic view of truth. We can see this all over the world today, from the Saudi state to seemingly every pronouncement from Ratzinger. Orwell was writing about this state of affairs in Homage to Catalonia. As Sam Harris points out in The Moral Landscape: “Religious thinkers in all faiths and on both ends of the political spectrum, are united on precisely this point; the defense one most often hears for belief in God is not that there is compelling evidence for His existence, but that faith in Him is the only reliable source of meaning and moral guidance. Mutually incompatible religious traditions now take refuge behind the same non sequitur.”
Even with the iron grip that they had on state institutions, the North Korean leadership didn’t stop there. They still appealed to the supernatural to bolster their authority. There are people like the Saudi Royals and the Papacy who do the same but generally there isn’t anything like the same degree of control in the West. This is because we have evolved our own culture(s) in which the forces within society and developed in a different way. I could take thousands of words to expound this, and I will one day, but still come nowhere close to taking it all in. It’s hard to explain culture. Stasis was partially right when he said that we live in a Christian culture, but he was wrong when he said that this makes us all Christians. Because the culture is constantly evolving, taking things from the past and updating alongside new stuff. This explains the differences between fundamentalist American and liberal British Christianity (itself much oversimplified) and we are left holding the language of Christianity as a living relic.
You are right in a sense. There is nothing intrinsic to Christianity or any other religion that inexorably leads to dictatorship. But if we value the gains of the enlightenment, freedom of thought and speech and personal autonomy then we should be on our guard against religious interference. For by taking a pragmatic view of truth they are bent on curtailing those hard-won freedoms. Never a day goes by without some Muslim bitterly complaining about some mortal affront to their “deeply-held beliefs” and what a Perry or Bachman presidency would look like we can only guess at. Not something I’d be very happy with.
I hope that’s some sort of answer to you.
January 14th, 2012 at 02:36
To reply to your comment on my blog (but maybe I could have just posted my reply there), any contradiction between Christianity and non-cognitivism is not a threat to Christianity. Perhaps it is a mortal threat to modern Christian apologetics and its (respectable, in my opinion) utilitarian approach to the Hebrew god’s designs on the Canaanites, Midianites, Amalekites, et al., but that’s not necessarily fundamental to Christianity. Paul in Romans comes close to explicitly endorsing cognitivism. – scripture_searcher