Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Are you sure religious faith is a good idea?

Just a few topical examples to back my point:

Rev Wallace Benn: Campaign for women bishops 'just like Nazis in 1939' Mail Online

A Church of England bishop caused outrage last night by linking those who support the ordination of women bishops to the Nazis.
An Iranian woman who faced being stoned to death will hang today, a human rights group has claimed.
The International Committee Against Stoning said that the authorities had given the go-ahead for the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
Her fate has provoked international outcry after she was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery...


  1. Surely the problem is not with religious faith, but with bad religion.

    Remember, religion also gave us the likes of William Wilberforce, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Desmond Tutu.

    Like political beliefs, religion's impact on the world is a mixture of good and bad.

    Also: from reading the article you link to, Rev Benn doesn't actually liken his opponents to Nazis. He likens the situation of his camp within the Church of England to that of a nation that's about to end up in a war. You could change the year in his quote from 1939 to 1914 without changing its meaning at all.

  2. No, for me the problem is with religious faith and what you say helps illustrate my point. 'Bad religion' might well be a term people of one religion use against other religions eg Protestants against Catholics in Northern Ireland, Christians in the USA who planned to burn the Koran, Hindu/Muslim/Sikh tensions in India...there are many, many other examples. 'Bad religion' would be a devil to define (no pun inintended) and in itself is likely cause religious tensions/divisions. Rev Benn seesm to feel those who favour the ordination of women represent 'bad religion'.

    King, Gandhi, Tutu, Wilberforce are known much more for their social and political activism. Such activism does not require religious faith and the appeal of these people was much broader. There are plenty of examples of leadership and bravery from people who say they have no religious faith.

    Religions impact on the world is for me overwhelmingly divisive - and the negative effects of people in the various 'camps' are plain for all too see. Faith seems to mean acceptance of a position or action when there is no reason, backed by evidence, to do so. The power of doubt, as opposed to faith, is that it brings with it questioning - and this brings accountability and responsibility.

    Faith in a single idea, figure, leader or set of ideas, figures, leaders (which includes the world's religions plus phenomena such as Nazism, Communism which have clear religious parallels) is a bad idea. The fact that you are attempting to defend the Bishop in the Mail story who opposes people becoming Bishops just because they are women only reinforces the point I'm trying to make. He and his camp as you put it have in a sense defined the ordination of women as a feature of 'bad religion' and so presumeably his camp feature more 'good religion'.

  3. The reason I mentioned those four people is that their faith was their primary motivation for their social action. They are examples of faith at its best, much like Bin Laden is an example of faith at its worst. And that's what I mean by talking about good religion and bad religion. Religion at its best inspires people to make the world a better place and we would be immeasurably poorer without the things it has inspired - social and political action, great art and philosophy. Even the invention of science owes a great deal to religious thinking.

    And religious faith is rarely faith in the face of the evidence. Most religious people would say that their faith is based on some kind of evidence.

    Also, you seem to be taking issue not with religious faith, but with any kind of faith - which would include faith that the ideals we both share as greens would make the world a better place.

    Finally, my comments about the bishop were simply because I didn't think that your summary of his comments (or the daily mail headline you copied it from) were an accurate representation of what he actually said. Regardless of whether you're right in believing that all religion is bad, he's a bad example to use.

  4. I see that you persist with the good religion/bad religion concepts despite the fact there is no way to define it that would not be divisive and therefore harmful. Would King, Gandhi, Tutu and Wilberforce be content with religion, and thus the relevant people and organisations, classified as either good or bad? Or would they want to emphasise what all people have in common and what all people need? For me they attempted to go beyond what puts people into categories and that was their appeal and the source of their success.

    Science is about being sceptical, generating questions - then hypothesing, testing, generating and analysing data which we then attempt to explain as best we can via theorising. Religion is very far from this - it offers either a total 'explanation' with no reference to evidence at all or simply says that god works in mysterious ways (a great get out if you want something bad done or excused)!

    I doubt that Galileo, imprisoned for establishing scientific fact, as have others, would agree with your assertion that 'religious faith is rarely faith in the face of the evidence'. Have you forgotten those of faith who oppose condom use in the face of huge evidence of the lives condom use would save? Or those who deny the mountain of evidence for evolution by natural selection, who instead assert 'intelligent design' or creationism that there is zero evidence for? Or those who condemn homosexuals as evil and women as unsuitable to be priests, bishops...? Are these good signs that religions are thinking, responsive phenomena that are progressing in their understanding?

    The basis of my advocacy of green ideas and action is not faith but evidence and reason. Is your green stance primarily a matter of faith?

    When reasoning upon the evidence is such that I can have decent confidence about - or 'faith' in - a concept or action then I'm happy with it. This is not total rejection of faith but saying that faith comes about as a result of evidence and reasoning. In fact whether I'm happy with a concept/action or not I still continue to test it out through a cycle of questioning - dont you?

    There are those in the green movement whose green-ness is primarily a matter of faith. I've never been particularly comfortable with that and it has caused tensions on and off over the 28 yrs or so I've been an active green. In fact there are 'greens' who are positively Taliban-like in their faith - I dont think they are green at all and I'm steadfastly opposed to them and their approach becuae its wrong and cant work.

    The Rev Benn, who you still appear to want to defend, chose the yr 1939 himself! What is the significance of this yr? He is a pretty good example of the unthinking, unquestioning person speaking due to his faith and faith alone. Do you oppose the ordination of women?

  5. '...Most religious people would say that their faith is based on some kind of evidence'

    Green Christian are you saying then that there is evidence indicating the existence of god? And that belief in god is for most religious people a matter of evidence before faith?


Genuine, open, reasonable debate is most welcome. Comments that meet this test will always be published.