Sunday, June 21, 2009

so, does the archbishop of canterbury believe in god?

A couple of brief riders to yesterday's post - I'm conscious of trying to minimise the length of these rants so as not to scare off potential readers, though of course that presupposes that there are some.

Firstly, a key third (or fourth, if you include McGrath) voice in this nonsensical debate is our very own Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. A man who you might expect to be able to clearly and articulately set out what he believes regarding God and religion, and set out in easily grasped ways in what measurable and observable ways his God interacts with the world. Not so, sadly, as the hilarious weaselling in this interview with Richard Dawkins reveals. Which doesn't stop him from having a pop at Dawkins' book in very similar vein to all the other berks I've previously mentioned.

The other key point, with regard to this particular debate, is this: what Eagleton, Williams and the rest argue is that Dawkins et al's characterisation of religion (as the belief that there is some supernatural being who created the universe and all the rules that govern its day-to-day behaviour, takes a day-to-day interest in our activities, can be petitioned by prayer and, if you're lucky, intervenes in the physical world in various ways, and, furthermore, has various rules and guidelines for our daily conduct which are written down in a book) simply does not address what religion actually is, i.e. it's a hopelessly simplistic and old-fashioned view and the modern versions of the various faiths are far more sophisticated and nuanced than that.

The trouble with this argument is that outside of the ivory towers of theological academia (i.e. in the real world) these things are precisely what people believe; furthermore they believe these things so deeply that they judge themselves entitled, indeed compelled, to constrain others' behaviour in line with these beliefs, whether it be by campaigning against, say, gay marriage or abortion rights, or by stoning 13-year-old rape victims to death for adultery.

If you are going to assert (as Eagleton et al appear to be doing) that in fact God interacts with the world in no measurable way, and that he is merely some sort of reification of "love", the "life force", then what you're left with is merely a sort of loose Deism. Which is fine, but that provides no logical basis for ever seeking to constrain anyone's behaviour, still less embody any sort of religious teaching in law (because, essentially, there isn't any; God set the balls in motion and then kicked back, put his celestial slippers on and lit up a cigar for 13.7 billion years).

To put it more simply, Eagleton's real argument should be with the 99.99% of all religious believers in the world who believe things in no way resembling what Eagleton himself believes, since these are the people whose beliefs Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and all the others are engaging with. I wonder why he doesn't? Could it be because there isn't much money in it?

A bracing blast of good sense is required here: here are the Hitch and Dame Stephen Fry discussing blasphemy and all manner of other religious topics at the Hay Festival in 2005. I think it's Joan Bakewell chairing the discussion. You might need a cup of tea and a pikelet (or possibly a crumpet, hahaha), as it's rather long, but it's absolutely fascinating. Actually, since it's Hitchens, a quadruple whisky might be more appropriate.

1 comment:

Peter Addison said...

why this Rowan Williams is in this post begars belief...
This a very good article
Peter Addison