Monday, 29 November 2010

What is Religion For?

The Thought for the Day today on BBC Radio 4 was a quite extraordinarily frank admission about the nature of religion. In commenting on the debate held in Canada between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the motion: "Be it resolved, that religion is a force for good in the world". Clifford Longley stated:

Christianity doesn't exist to make the world a better place. It exists to make men and women righteous in the sight of God.

Taking up a reference from Christopher Hitchens he also quoted from the recently beatified Cardinal Newman:

I suspect ... John Henry Newman, would have voted with Mr Hitchens in Toronto. He held that it would be better, and I quote, "for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extreme agony, than that one soul should tell one wilful untruth, or steal one poor farthing without excuse."

The point Cardinal Newman was making with maximum poetic overkill was that the mere possibility that one person might be damned to hell for all eternity is worse than the worst thing we can possibly imagine here on earth. If you take hell and damnation out of the equation, as New Atheists would of course, then what Newman is saying is utter insanity.

So Religion is Insanity. He admits it!

On Saturday I went to the AGM of the National Secular Society. The NSS President Terry Sanderson is asking for a debate on what he calls "a sharper focus" for the Society, that is a focus on the separation of State and Religion rather than arguing against Religion. He proposes a new "Secular Charter". As a speake from the floor noted this mentions "Religion" a lot but doesn't actually define what the term means. A members motion that the NSS should actively promote Atheism was defeated. Personally I think there is a lot more to religion than mere belief in gods; as Longley makes clear it is about denial of reality, and indeed is opposed to doing good in the world.

Incidentally I am loking forward to the new series by Ian Hislop on BBC 2 Television starting tonight on the "Age of the Do-Gooders". He is apparently starting with William Wilberforce. I'm wondering if he will mention Richard Carlile who was a victim of Wilberforce's Society for the Supression of Vice. Later episodes will apparently include Robert Owen. I'm wondering whether he will also include Owenites like Henry Hetherington and G. J. Holyoake.

I'm proposing that the meaning of Religion, and the attitudes we should take towards it, be the subject for our December meeting.


  1. Graham Martin-Royle30 November 2010 at 17:24

    I agree that the NSS should NOT promote atheism. I think that far too many people equate secularism with atheism and I think that they are wrong. To me, atheism means not believing in gods (or any other types of new age woo-woo). Secularism to me means the separation of religion from the state. The state should have no say in religious affairs (as long as they don't harm others) and religions should not be given preferred status by the state.

    The meaning of religion and what attitudes we should take would be a good subject. It should promote a healthy debate.

  2. Graham Martin-Royle30 November 2010 at 17:29

    I watched the 1st episode of Ian Hislop's program last night and I was a little disappointed that he went to Rowan Williams, describing him as someone who was used to debating morals (or something like that, I can't remember exactly what he said). To me this just regurgitated the false idea that morality comes from religion and that without it we can have no morals. If he is going to carry on in the vein I don't think I'll bother watching any more of the series.

  3. Would you say that all religions are "insane" then? What is the attitude that the Hastings Humanist Society has about religion in society today?And do you think it should still be taught to children? I worry about these things. Humanism sounds more reasonable to me but would it be good to get rid of all types of religion completely?