By Jake Murray
“In the end, we could get rid of every religion in the world and we would still find reasons to hurt, kill, be intolerant and oppress one another. Get rid of religion and people would reorganise along lines of politics, class, race, nation, gender, greed, wealth etc etc – in other words, pretty much behave as they have done since time immemorial.
People like to say that Religion is the cause of all conflict, forgetting of course that until recently we haven’t fought a religious war since the 17th Century. Vietnam, Korea, Angola, Lebanon, WW1 & 2, the Russo-Japanese War, the Franco-Prussian War, the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars – none of these were fought on religious grounds. Even the Arab-Israeli Wars were not religious, none of the opposing forces (Israel, PLO, Syria, Egypt, Jordan etc) being anything other than secular states.
The rise of religious militancy is very recent. The Muslim Brotherhood murdered Sadat but it was not until the 80s with the radicalisation of people like Hamas, Hizbollah etc that religiously inspired violence really took off. The PLO was always a secular, nationalist-political movement, even if its membership included Muslims. Even in America the religious motivation of things like the recent invasion of Iraq is disputed. Even though Bush claims God ‘told him’ to invade, in all likelihood the real reasons were oil and strategic control of the Middle East.
In the end, it boils down to the problems of human nature. We have a desire to be certain and we have a desire to belong to a tribe. Very few of us ACTUALLY are willing to admit we know very little and are happy to live with that. Human violence, fear, suspicion, desire for control, greed, lust for power – these are the problem, not anything else. Everything else is just sauce to enable us to do terrible things in the name of a higher good. People have killed with a clean conscience in the name of country, religion, the Revolution, the Master Race, family, whatever you want. And people have killed in the cause of Militant Atheism as much as they have Religion.
This last is one of Dawkins’ worst ommissions. Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot all actively persecuted religious people under their regimes, killing and imprisoning priests and monks, denying people the right to worship and closing down and destroying temples, churches and other religious centres. Atheism is no more a guarantee of moral behaviour than Religion is.
In the end its all US US US! If we want to root out the problem, we have to look within, not without. But because of who were are, we think its all external. Remove Religion and the world would be a better place. WRONG! Impose Religion and the world would be a better place. WRONG! Take a look at ourselves and work from there and the world would be a better place – PERHAPS! At least it would be a good place to start! But it doesn’t look like its gonna happen any time soon!
To me, I don’t give a hoot what a person believes. I am only interested in what a person is and how they behave. To use a religious remark, ‘By their fruit shall ye know them’ (I leave you to identify where that came from). I am not going to tell a religious person not to believe what they believe, but I am going to argue with them if they seek to hurt or take someone’s rights away from them.
Similarly I am not going to tell an Atheist he is wrong to believe what he or she believes, but I am going to argue with them when they tell me they have access to Absolute Truth or I or anyone else is stupid because they don’t agree with them. I am also going to argue with them if they operate from a position of arrogance and ignorance while attacking someone else on the grounds that THEY are ignorant.
I am also not going to agree with them when they tell me that Consciousness is an illusion! 😉
The problem is also, it seems to me, that we are confusing the words ‘God’, ‘Religion’ and ‘Spirituality’, all of which are related but not the same thing. Indeed, they are not even contingent upon each other! Religion takes as its justification the existence of God, but God doesn’t need Religion to exist. If there is a God, it may well be completely independent of any human Religion. Indeed, its not stupid to say that Religion is entirely man-made while God is not. There are plenty of people who believe in God who are not members of any Religion – indeed they are not members of any Religion BECAUSE they believe in God!
At the same time, there are plenty of people who are have a spiritual dimension to their lives who are neither members of any religion or even believe in God. Take Philip Pullman, for instance, who has been a big champion of Dawkins and has made many bullish Atheistic statements against Religion. Nevertheless in a recent interview he said that people had misunderstood him. He said that he absolutely had what he called ‘the Religious Temperament’, he was just against Religion when it got mixed up with Politics.
All of these three words swirl in amongst one another and are very hard to define. ‘Spiritual’ can mean no more than an investment in the inner reality of our lives – ie that part of us which experiences wonder, emotions and creates art, poetry, beauty. It doesn’t always mean belief in an afterlife, ghosts etc or even God. ‘God’ can mean a whole army of things, none of which are covered in Dawkins’ book or words like Theist or Deist. Religion can also mean a whole number of things.
There are wonderful people who are Religious and wonderful people who are not. Would the world be better without Dante, Michelangelo or T S Eliot? I don’t think so. Would it be better without Nietzsche, Larkin or Beckett? Again, I don’t think so. Should we tear down the Temple Mount, Westminster Abbey, Chartres Cathedral. the Taj Mahal etc? I don’t think so. Equally, should we burn the books of Bertrand Russell, James Joyce or Martin Amis? I don’t think so either (well, maybe Martin Amis). Would we be better off without Science? No – or rather maybe, as we wouldn’t have the nuclear bomb or chemical warfare. But then we would have to do without medicine. Would we be better off without Religion? No – or rather maybe, as we wouldn’t have Bin Laden or the Inquisition. But then we would also not have Leonardo da Vinci or Monteverdi…
So you pays your money and you takes your pick.
What disturbs me most of all, though, is the polarisation of the two viewpoints, one worshipping Matter, the other Spirit. Both perspectives tyrannise us because they elevate one above the other at the expense of the other. Unless we want an existence of division and polarisation, we need to start thinking about the consequences of this. The Mind/Body split has been catastrophic for the human race as it has completely divorced us from our surroundings. Nature has become a thing to ravage and exploit rather than live with and we remain very alienated from each other.
We need to bring things together again. We need to listen more. Arguments such as these force us into polarised positions which cause deeply held feelings to become abstractions, rendering them meaningless. All this fruitless discussion about God – who is never going to be ‘provable’ beyond experience or lack of it – is just so much waste of time, as any idea of God is meaningless except in so far as it works through us. After a while everyone becomes exhausted and ends up at the ‘who cards?’ point.
Really, we should take time to find out about everything and not rest on ignorant assumptions about Science or Religion. Everything is more subtle. If we believe in evidence-based conclusions, we need to be starting from that point…”
To visit Jake’s blog click here, THE TEMPLE