Saturday, 7 February 2009

"We don't do God" Part Two

Tony Blair has finally escaped from Alistair "we don't do God" Campbell's strictures and has just given a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. (Apart from the sheer unlikelihood of having an atheist president of the USA, I guess if they did he'd still have to go along to the National Prayer Breakfast and, basically, go along with it).

Anyway, Blair's speech included phrases that would have caused Alistair to explode if he'd inserted them in his party conference piece (e.g. 'in surrendering to God we become instruments of his love') and a very clear exposition of his belief that 'only God' or 'faith alone' is the answer. Which I for one would have found slightly alarming if he'd said it when he was PM, even though I suppose I always knew that's what he, as a committed Christian, must have believed.

More disconcerting, however, was this passage:

"Today, religion is under attack from without and from within. From within, it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other. From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance."

I don't actually think - Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens notwithstanding - that we are seeing an increasingly aggressive secularism. And yes, I suppose those writers do 'deride' faith as 'contrary to reason', and some will find the tone offensive. For many more of us though, it - the notion that faith is contrary to reason - is just what we believe. And surely we should be allowed to say that too?


Tom said...

I'm an athiest, but most religious people I know don't have a problem with anyone saying faith is contrary to reason: they agree. If it was based on reason and evidence, then it wouldn't be faith - it would simply be a belief like any other.

SteveL said...

"derides faith a contrary to reason"? I see Mr Blair no longer believes in the enlightenment, the notion of rational evidence-driven logical thought. And he being from Edinburgh and all.

However, given some of his past decisions -iraq, for example- evidence-driven logical thought weren't much in action. So his leanings towards superstition over reasoning can't be viewed with that much surprise.

Chris Hutt said...

"Superstition over reasoning"? that's a rather pejorative way of referring to "faith".

I can see a rational basis for it (and I don't suppose I'm the only one). Briefly (honest) it is based on the recognition that however much we know (through scientific analysis, etc) there always remains much that we don't know, the "unknown unknowns" as Donald Rumsfeld famously put it.

For all we know, what we know may be a miniscule part of all there is to know, a grain of sand in the desert as it were. So it would be foolish to base ones life "strategy" only on what we know. So we have to relate in some way to what we don't know. That traditionally is what religion allows us to do.

Although some of the unknowns that religious beliefs offered a metaphor for (how was the world created? etc.) have in recent times been given a scientific explanation, there remain fundamental questions which, as far as I'm aware, haven't been fully unanswered by science (what is the purpose of life? Why should we try to do good?).

So it seems reasonable, rational even, to turn to something like religious faith to give answers of sorts to those questions. How else can we decide how to behave towards each other and the environment within which we live?

Kerry said...

"How else can we decide how to behave towards each other and the environment within which we live?"

It's entirely possible to live life by a moral code and strongly held principles without it being founded in religious faith. Plenty of atheists would be able to answer "why should we try to do good?" without reference to faith or a supreme being or the Bible or whatever.

Chris Hutt said...

But what I'm suggesting is that to "believe in" moral values for their own sake is essentially a matter of religious faith. It goes beyond what can be deduced rationally from scientific observation.

Pete said...

ISTM that trying to use rationality as the ultimate judge of all human behaviour is both dangerous and dishonest. All sorts of behaviour from nationalism through eugenics and slavery to greed can be and have been justified by quite strong rational arguments. At the personal level, acts of generosity, compassion and courage are never rational - they can be rationalised after the event, but actions themselves are prompted by drives that are much deeper than logic or rationality.

Pete - a Christian agnostic, if we must be labelled.

Oh, and only slightly apropos - have a snigger at this: from another agnostic

Andrew said...

!I don't actually think... that we are seeing an increasingly aggressive secularism."

This is apparant simply by virtue of the fact that discussions of this nature take place on a regular basis. When I was growing up in the 1970's it was still very much the case that Christianity was the "default" faith. If you did not state any other belief then it was assumed yu were Christian. I remember school teachers telling us so, and singing hymns in Assembly - a standard state school not a faith school. Any one who admiited to being Atheist were regarded as strange and unusual. It was hardly socially acceptable to admit you didn't go to Church. That situation was begining to cahnge then and has done so with increasing rapidity since to the point now where secularism is actively promoted.

SteveL said...

Chris, "the enlightment" is entirely based on the idea that reasoning should be the basis for authority. Reasoning. Where there isn't enough evidence or information for that reasoning -get more. If new evidences contradicts your previous theories: your old theories were wrong. Come up with new ones and do not deny the evidence

Now, way back in viking times, thunderstorms were viewed as divine acts of Thor, hence Thursday. You no longer get people disputing thunderstorms. 400 years ago, heliocentricity was the theory under dispute. No churches argue that any more. 150 years ago: geology and the age of the earth. Some organisations still dispute that one, primarily by saying the evidence is made up.
Then there's evolution.

so, the issue is not what organisation holds answers, more one of what process you come up with any answers.