• Ambidexter

    If all religious folk held their strange views, but never acted on the basis of them, we (atheists) would care far less – but they don’t stop there. At least, many of them don’t.

    We see theists use religion to excuse all sorts of actions. Many fundamentalists use religion as the basis for a far right wing political stance. Boyd K. Packer of the Mormon Church and Fred Phelps use religion to justify their homophobia. The Pope lies about condoms and AIDS because he thinks God hates birth control. The Mullahs maintain tight political control of Iran because that’s what Allah wants.

    If the religious were to worship privately and otherwise keep their religions to themselves, then most atheists would take a live and let live attitude toward religion. It’s when goddists try to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else that we get annoyed with them.

    • http://synapses.co.za Jacques Rousseau

      Indeed. I’d go so far as to say that religion that’s a private affair shouldn’t really be anyone else’s concern. After all, you’re free to harm yourself, or waste your time, in whatever way you see fit. But so often there are either children involved, or societal perks granted – making it more than just a private matter.

  • Bob

    Yes, beliefs motivate actions. That’s partly what makes them important. But then, I’m interested in beliefs even if they’re so metaphysical that it’s hard to see how they could motivate actions – they can still pertain to truth so they can still be interesting.

    But this is a philosophical objection and kind of gives the article too much credit! It’s factual and historical nonsense through and through.

    > “The idea that religions are essentially creeds, lists of propositions that you have to accept, doesn’t come from religion.”

    What is this guy on? This doesn’t really do credence to vast swathes of more ‘orthodox’ or ‘conservative’ religious sorts. It makes sense of a more enlightened, mythopoeic concept, or a vague waffley Church of England kind of religion. But the world over and throughout history it is very clearly the case that the great majority took at least some of the tenets of their religion to be more or less factual, ontological kinds of claims. Most religious people have always thought they were saying something truthful about the world beyond the allegories and archetypes of poetry.

    I don’t believe for a second that the ancient Greek philosophers “invented” this in-the-world way of treating religious beliefs. They could only have been responding to the fact that most people did think that way about religious beliefs – that they pertained directly to the world, not via poetic resonance. Imagine, would philosophers today spent their time telling people that the dualistic soul is an unnecessary concept unless some people actually believed it was real. Philosophers may spend time attacking slightly out of kilter versions of each others academic theories, but they rarely criticise popular beliefs that aren’t actually popular beliefs.

    None of this is to disparage actual mythology, the value of literature, the truths that poetry can convey. It’s just to say that’s not what religion is exclusively about, probably not even what it’s commonly about, if you look at how most people have believed historically and even today. Gray seems to be imagining a modern church man, probably in England, calmly discussing the mythological nature of the Resurrection. All the angry, spitting heretic-hunters and murderous mullahs and oppressive theocracies are conveniently forgotten to fit his little story.

    Gray on the other hand seems quite capable of attacking views no one has taken. “The idea that science can enable us to live without myths is one of these silly modern stories.” Who says this? One might say that science means we don’t need ancient myths *to answer ontological questions*. But no one is saying that all fictions, mythology, novels, poetry are suddenly extraneous. The world would be so much poorer without the spine-tingly inspiration and depth of art and story.

    But we must remember; Gray seems to be a humanist troll. Stuff like this really gives it away: “The idea that humans will rise from the dead may be incredible, but no more so than the notion that “humanity” can use science to remake the world.” Assuming Gray isn’t a very smart chimpanzee in an uncontacted jungle somewhere, then he must be a very blind-sighted human not to have noticed that human beings (some of them) are already using science to change (remake) the world. So how can this already progressing phenomenon be equally as credible with the Christian idea (note: taken to be factual, not poetic, throughout most of history) that Jesus will rise us from the dead in the end times. I may as well say that the existence of wizards is only as incredible as the idea of little technological boxes with moving pictures on them being beamed into our living rooms.

    • http://synapses.co.za Jacques Rousseau

      Good points, Bob. I can’t remember who it was right now (Harris, maybe?) who also made the point that, not only do secular folk get caricatured as “scientistic” and so forth, but that the religious perspective of the “enlightened” (whether it be Eagleton or more ambiguous sorts like Wright) are quite far removed from the perspective of religious folk outside of ivory towers.