PEOPLE & THINGS: Facing the God complex
By Peter Wickham | Sun, April 29, 2012 - 12:00 AM
THE NATION editorial for Monday, April 23, 2012, fit well into a series of events related to my “spiritual” existence.
Recently, I read two books that cumulatively established a respectable foundation for spiritual introspection. On the far left was Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, while to the right of the spiritual centre was Desmond Tutu’s recent compilation of messages entitled God Is Not A Christian.
Both present compelling arguments which are well supported with references to global events and it was useful to locate the contemporary Barbadian discussion on the role of religion as reflected in a national consultation along with THE NATION’S editorial.
Much of Hitchens’ writings speak to the highly illogical nature of religion and, moreover, the damage that has been done by religious preoccupation throughout history. He systematically reduces the basis of religion to a highly illogical set of archaic beliefs which we seem afraid to admit make little sense.
Nobel Laureate Tutu presents a manual for religious tolerance and in so doing offers the suggestion that religious beliefs need of necessity to appreciate that while conceptions of “God” are many and varied none is more “right” than the other.
His reminder that most of us have taken our religious beliefs by accident of birth should strike a chord with Barbadians who wallow in this mistaken belief that “we” are in some way special by virtue of our association with a Christian God. One is, however, struck by his inherent assumption that while my “God” is not better than your “God” it’s always better to believe in some God, which in my opinion defeats the principle of tolerance.
Against this background, it is clear that a case needs to be made for the non-believer in Barbados. The numbers tell only half the story as a 2004 CADRES poll identified only three per cent of Barbadians as either atheist or agnostic which is slightly less than 8 000 people.
The fact that 35 per cent (the second largest group in the survey) of people identified themselves as “non-practising” Christians speaks volumes about a country that is awash with closet agnostics and atheists who hide behind the “fig leaf” called Christianity, while unwilling to identify with its principles.
It is also interesting that religious leaders here agree that religion is losing its appeal to Barbadians which effectively supports the argument that the disparagingly labelled “band of atheists” is growing exponentially.
In pursuit of its objectives, THE NATION’S editorial committed several offences. It begins by making the assertion that THE NATION’S discussion was essentially a Christian discussion. There can be little disagreement here since Christians are entitled to proselytize without the distraction of people like myself who might want to challenge some of their baseless assertions.
If, however, their intention was to stem the tide of Barbadians who are slipping from religion’s grasp, might it not have been better to engage those who have already been “lost” and show “us” (or them) the way by answering the numerous questions that religion refuses to answer?
Another assertion which urgently needs to be unpacked is this suggestion that we exist in “an ordered, complex universe, imprinted with the image of some Intelligent Designer.” Yes, our universe is complex and perhaps relatively well ordered; however, the expression, non-sequitur, comes quickly to mind when the state of our universe is said to imply that there was a designer and “he” was intelligent.
If this universe were intelligently designed, the reality of natural selection would never have left the dinosaurs behind, and the clash of tectonic plates would not have caused the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami in Japan. If therefore one were to subscribe to this theory of an intelligent designer, one would effectively have to admit that this designer was either not that intelligent, made several mistakes, or has been exceedingly vengeful at times.
As the editorial continues, it presents an argument about Christianity’s moral imperatives. I am prepared to accept that there is scope for the construction of an argument that Christianity can help to advance a society’s morals; however, the editorial does little to prove this. The statement that “none of these subjective, human-based ethics can adequately account for the fact that murder is absolutely wrong, or so the massacre of innocent children” is strange to say the least.
Less we forget, it was not the atheists who slaughtered thousands of non-Christians during the crusades, in an extreme level of savagery which was sanctioned by both the Pope and the Catholic Church. This accounts for mass murder, but the editorial writer also obviously forgot the biblical story of King Herod who ordered the “massacre of innocent children” in the Gospel of Matthew.
The presentation of these arguments while ignoring critical historical facts is most unfortunate especially for a newspaper that attempts to be the guardian of the nation’s conscience.
The implicit suggestion that that religion (Christianity) has brought us morality and we as a country are better of for it, is an assertion that is without basis since it can as easily be proven that religious preoccupation has historically caused just as many problems as it has solved and one need only refer to the Biblically supported practice of slavery to substantiate this point.
The inferential suggestion that non-believers are evil and will only hasten social decline is one which cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. The vast majority of us who inhabit this “rock” are Christians which means that the majority of criminals also “know-God”. This is a statistical fact, but does not imply that there is a relationship between the two, in much the same that that it cannot be proven that a society without “God” would be any more morally bankrupt than Barbados is today.
In much the same way that it is wrong to take “pot shots” at Christianity (as I have here), one would hope that an institution like THE NATION which should understand tolerance also appreciates that taking “pot shots” at any individual or a group of atheists is also out of order.
Editor’s Note: THE NATION newspaper welcomes alternative views as evidenced by the participation of several atheists at our recent town hall meeting and today’s publication of Peter Wickham’s opinion.
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