Thursday, 31 July 2008

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion . ."

Recent internet dialogues have produced the inevitable crop of anti-religionists professing that they would die for my right to believe in what they consider a dangerous and irrational superstition. This has led me to conclude that people who say "everyone's entitled to their opinion" are likely to either

(a) not really care much about anyone else's opinion, because they can't see that mere opinions actually make any difference to anything,

(b) are wanting to avoid the unpleasantness of serious discussion, in case they find their own opinions challenged : it's the 'get-out clause', or

(c) despise other people's opinions, but don't want to sound bigoted or intolerant.

Sometimes, a mixture of all three.

The truth, however, (whether religious or secular) is not handed down to us on a plate. It has to be negotiated the hard way, every inch of the way. Toleration simply means that we don't win arguments by using coercion; it doesn't mean you have to respect the beliefs of someone who has not earned that respect through serious engagement.

Friday, 11 July 2008

the Registrar who won't

Bit of stuff going around the blogosphere about the Registrar who is asking to be excused conducting Civil Partnerships on grounds that it's against her religion.

Some argue that it isn't against her religion - she's wrong. Others (the anti-religionists) saying 'why should appeals to religious conviction be granted special favours'. Both of these are red herrings, really.

Quakers appeals against conscripted military service were accepted because to be a Quaker is to be a pacifist - but most national religious organisations don't require the signing of a pacifist pledge. The issue is not whether same-sex partnerships are acceptable to Christianity as a religion, but whether opposition to same-sex partnerships is a fundamental aspect of her particular church. Actually, I think that would be hard to prove.

There are presumably many atheists who cannot accept same-sex partnerships, but are there any national secular membership organisations that require members to sign their opposition to them? The question of 'special favours for religion' can only be demonstrated here if there are such organisations, and their members are overruled.

On the conscription issue, the membership of the Quakers was relevant not (I think) because it's a religious society, but because long-term membership of the Quakers was acceptable as evidence that the person claiming exemption wasn't just looking for an excuse to evade their responsibility but was appealing genuinely to conscience. It's the question of evidence that is crucial.

The United Reformed Church enshrines rights of conscience in its constitution. It put that into practice when, in 1981, it merged with the Churches of Christ who had never accepted the practice of baptising infants. Former Churches of Christ ministers were not obliged (after the merger) to baptise infants if it was against their conscience. But if they personally couldn't, they did have to arrange for another minister to do it.

Therefore, provided a court can be convinced that the lady's objection is a genuine conscience issue for her (and actually that might be quite difficult to prove) she should be similiarly granted exemption from her responsibility.

Monday, 7 July 2008

There's a very revealing comment from 'Carniphage' on my 'little anti-religious martyrs' post. I wonder how typical it is of the anti-religion school. Carniphage clearly believes that the natural human condition is atheism - that religion is something loaded on to a child 'from outside' as it were, whereas left to its own devices it wouldn't be religious. Let's leave aside for the moment the question of the impossibility of any child being born outside a human culture (the only way that could be achieved would be by immediately putting the child in a darkened sound-proof box - but even that, clearly, would be imposing something).

Carniphage is coming from the exact opposite end of the spectrum from me. It seems evident to me that religion and religious behaviour is intrinsic to human nature. Only yesterday, down at the Cowley Carnival, a DJ (dressed as Doctor Death) was dispensing shots of Bourbon whisky to punters who came down the front - by pouring it straight down their throats! (Was this an *intentional* imitation of a Christian eucharist?) The struggle is not between religion and no-religion but between bad religion and good religion. Atheism has its value as a corrective to some forms of bad religion, to be sure, but it even defines itself in relation to religion, and it has no coherence, single focus or common language in itself. Christianity is probably a dynamic balance of at least five 'religious understandings' which are mutually contradictory at many points, but at least it maintains (though it's a struggle) a common theological language, and has a clear focus : Jesus of Nazareth.

Therefore the idea of treating religion as if it were a single thing, imposed upon naturally non-religious subjects is grossly mistaken. If public policy were shaped by people who think like this (and there are plenty of them in the media), the actual effect will be to exaggerate the more fundamentalist forms of religion. Certainly Richard Dawkins is at a loss to know how to deal with Christians like me. All he can do is define me as a 'sexed-up atheist'. The trouble is, to do that he must break one of his own scientific rules : 'don't ignore and twist the data to fit your theory'. If I worship God and follow Christ, and there's behavioural evidence to prove it, don't describe this as a form of atheism! I recognise that I impute religious behaviour to atheists - but that is quite acceptable, as the Cowley Carnival example above demonstrates.

In many senses, the most anti-religious figure in history was Jesus. In Mark 11 he describes how if you have enough 'faith' the entire Temple Mount has no more meaning for you, then goes on to say, effectively, that the Temple is replaced in his new community by the simple (but incredibly challenging) call to 'forgive one another'.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Media disappears up own backside

Well, well. Five months on, the Lord Chief Justice reiterates and endorses what the Archbishop said.

The BBC Today programme insists on referring to the issue as controversial - more accurately as 'having caused controversy when it was aired by the archbishop'.

So effectively, the narcissistic media reports its *own coverage* as news, not the news item itself, which wasn't particularly controversial at all. Eventually it will disappear up its own backside.

On the other hand, I suppose the incipient religious hatred and bigotry in the media, revealed by their initial response, *was* quite newsworthy. Though somehow I don't suppose they'd see it that way.