The National Post has been publishing a series of articles titled “Beyond Belief”. A piece by Charles Lewis or Charlie Lewis (not the Charles Lewis of 60 Minutes and the Center for Public Integrity) titled “The Trouble with Mary”, featured at AL Daily, discussed the psychology and semantics of “belief” and “faith”. Lewis found a psychologist who was said that faith in miracles and faith in the future are equally valid because they are equivalent subjective events. He found some theologians and Churchmen to explain the meaningfulness of belief in miracles. This was good journalism. Religion is a hard topic for the news industry to configure as marketable news. The political and criminal acts of people who belong to a religious group are news but their inner lives, including their beliefs, are beyond description in a news story. The philosophical rationalizations for religious belief are like book reviews – the justifications offered for people’s likes and tastes are usually meaningless outside the circle of people who care about those things.
The Golden Compass has been criticized for its negative presentation of organized religion. Its principal critic its the American Catholic League, a conservative body that speaks for conservative and traditional elements in the Catholic Church in America. The League says that the movie, like the books, promotes atheism, but their grievance appears to me to is that Pullman presents the history and traditions of Catholicism in a negative way. The criticism is a defensive reaction to Pullman’s presentation of the belief system and power structure of the Church as repressive, exploitative, manipulative, cynical, and dishonest. The League’s campaign brings to mind its reaction to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. It is incongruous for parents to take their children to this movie on Saturday, and then make them to Church and Sunday school. If you believe the Church is benevolent, why challenge your child or pay someone to insult your belief?
The shoe was on the other foot when the Christian churches in America were promoting the movie version of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories and defending Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
The challenge for self-professed faithful Christians is whether to deny their kids the experience of consuming the latest must-see fantasy product from the movie industry in the hope of consolidating their belief in the conservative Christian version of reality. It seems to me that parents who think they are insulating their children from secular ideology and popular culture by not taking them to one particular semi-animated fantasy film based on a coming of age novel are a little confused.
“The Aquarians and the Evangelicals: How left-wing hippies and right-wing fundamentalists created a libertarian America” is an extract from Brink Lindsey’s book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture in Reason Online. Lindsey’s assessment of the social history of American through the second half of the 20th century seems to be well grounded. Lindsey’s review of the polarization of American society between New Age liberals and fundamentalist Christian conservatives, equally devoted to self-actualization, authenticity, and emotional experience, is astute and convincing.
Last Sunday, I drove to Ladysmith. I have had a cold, and I didn’t have the energy to ride, so I took a short trip up island. On the radio, Michael Enright and The Sunday Edition, with Enright interviewing Richard Dawkins. The interview is accessible as a Real Audio file – it runs to a little over 36 minutes. The interview was mainly devoted to Dawkins’s identity as a public atheist and his arguments against religion, presented in The God Delusion. Enright gave Dawkins a chance to cover the main themes of the book, challenging him mildly on a few points. Dawkins was consistently polite in his tone, but he lived up to his reputation as an intellectual Rottweiler because he just doesn’t back down or let go.
Daniel C. Dennett’s 2006 book Breaking the Spell, Religion as a Natural Phenomenon reached the bookstores a few months ahead of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
The Telegraph published a essay by Umberto Eco – God isn’t Big Enough for Some People. It starts with the observation that the Christmas holiday is a mystery in a secular society. If the holiday has significance outside of the Christian religion, what are we celebrating? This leads to a meditation on religion, science, ideology, grandiosity and collapse of grandiosity into absurd beliefs in the occult. Eco has covered these themes extensively his fiction and essays, so he brings a well-honed set of observations and arguments into this essay.
As we might expect from Eco, a gem.
Another reflection on the culture wars. In the Times of London, William Rees-Mogg comments, in A pope for our times: why Darwin is back on the agenda at the Vatican, on how the Catholic Church seems to be accepting scientific Darwinism. I have to say “seems” because the process is slow and tentative.
The Guardian reports, in a story called Lords defeat for religious hatred bill, that the House of Lords voted against the British government’s Religious and Racial Hatred Bill. The opposition to the Bill crossed party lines with many Labour peers joining Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in opposing the Bill. The government can still override the Lords and pass the Bill into law in the Commons, which is a special process to break deadlock between the two House of the British Parliament. For background, here are the British government’s explanatory notes on the Bill as passed in the House of Commons, and here is the Bill after the amendments. These links to debate and more debate on the amendments in the House of Lords bring up the Hansard text. The quality of speeches is excellent. This level of debate makes Canadian MP’s sound like trolls.
I like a passage from Lord Onslow’s speech:
I also suggest that, in the well-established case of a Shia cleric who ensured the conviction of a young girl, aged 18, for pre-marital sexual intercourse, he not only advocated her conviction but he also went and put the noose around her neck. I do not know about noble Lords, but I personally find that detestable. It is meet to be detested, and should be by every single person in this Chamber. What this Bill could do—although I am obviously open to correction—is to say that I could be prosecuted for saying that it was a detestable habit and that the man who did it was an odious human being. I would say that with intent, and mean every single word. I give that as one example.
At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that religion had actually been defined. Now there is, as we know through evidence of it, a religion involving witchcraft and the mutilation of small boys. Their torsos were thrown into the Thames. I know that these things are illegal, but it seems odd to me that I cannot hate them. I may have misinterpreted the Bill; I may have it all wrong. But I am advised that I have not. Can the Minister clear my mind, and either accept the amendment or something like it in whatever form the Bill takes? Or can she explain to me that there is no such provision in the Bill and that I am quite entitled to go on hating Shia clerics who pull the legs of young girls dangling in a noose outside Tehran?
(This updates my entry on Behzti and Mr. Bean from last December, and other entries about religious freedom, freedom of conscience and free speech).
Stories about a Bill before the British Parliament for a Racial and Religious Hatred Act were prominent in the feed from Butterflies and Wheels in my aggregator yesterday. A government Bill, having made it through the Commons, is being debated in the House of Lords where it is facing opposition. Comedian Rowan Atkinson’s speech to a House Committee was reported in the Times on October 21, 2005 – “Hatred Bill Panders to Minorities”. The Times interviewed Atkinson for another story October 23, 2005. One of Atkinson’s points was that the Bill would give fringe groups like Wiccans and Satanists new standing to promote themselves as religions, and give fundamentalists (Sikh, Christian, Muslim) a new tool to oppress their critics. As to the Wiccans et al, they are looking forward to the enactment of the Bill, excited, as the story in the Times puts it. Will it be a crime to say that modern Wicca and Satanism are, like Scientolology, fraudulent inventions promoted by writers, performers and entrepreneurs?
The various stories say that the Bill is opposed by a non-partisan coalition in the House of Lords, including a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey. It has been criticized by many religious leaders. The old New Leftist writer Bernard Crick, writing in the Guardian online reports on a public lecture by Atkinson and the activities of the Citizen Organising Foundation, a community education group in East London – This age of fanaticism is no time for non-believers to make enemies – without discussing the Bill. The Bill was the subject of a comment in the Times October 23, an essay by Christopher Hart called God Save the Heretic.
I wonder if the religious groups that favour this legislation have thought about what should happen to religious leaders who use their churches and mosques to denounce feminism, homosexuality and secular values?
Today, the Wikipedia feature entry is about the French law banning conspicuous religious symbols in schools.
The ironies of politics – a conservative French government protects secular values. A self-styled progressive Labour government in England promotes cultural diversity by giving fundamentalists (and the fuzzy fringes of religion) a stick to beat their critics.
Last week, I read two essays. One was by a columnist in a trendy urban magazine, writing against teaching Intelligent Design as science in public schools. One was by a conservative academic, writing against the demand that public speech and conduct should be sensitive or “politically correct”.