The Samovar

Manifesto: Religion
September 20, 2006, 11:57 pm
Filed under: Manifesto, Politics, Religion

First off, I am an atheist of possibly the logically strongest type. Not only do I not believe in the existence of god, but I deny even that the question of the existence of god is meaningful. In my opinion, the term “god” is a sort of glitch in our language. I may explain this view further in a later manifesto entry on truth and meaning.

That said, I do not share the view of the vocal minority of people who see religion as the source of all the world’s problems. This sort of view is common amongst otherwise progressive individuals, for example here:

I suspect that an world without religion would be peaceful and happy… As long as there is religion, there will be religionists who decide they need to kill others to fulfill their role within their religion

To be fair to the author, he does go on to say:

I include various patriotisms [Stalinism, Naziism, American Constitutionalism, etc.] under the heading of Religion

This view is deeply flawed, and surprisingly prevalent. First of all, it is deceptive of the author to include what he calls patriotisms under the general term religion. Religion is not a particularly badly defined term and this misusage of it is almost designed to cause confusion and misunderstanding.

The second problem is that this view marks out violence and hatred as the source of the world’s problems, and suggests that removing these problems would make the world a happy place. This view entirely leaves out exploitation, inequality, etc. Perhaps the author would argue that these are a form of violence, but even if we allowed this twisting of words, these sources of unhappiness do not flow from religion or nationalism, but from greed, capitalism, and so forth.

Finally, this view suggests that religion creates violence and hatred. In my view, religion is used as an excuse for war and hatred, but the determining factor is really something else (perhaps inequality). A correlation between the existence of conflict and strong religious beliefs has been observed, but this does not imply a causative link. Removing religion would not necessarily remove the conflict. The existence of major secular conflicts certainly suggests this. Nationalism provides a more accurate model for understanding conflict, but even this oversimplifies.

The view is a dangerous one. It makes it more difficult to understand what is going on in the world. If you are engaged in a conflict with a religious opponent and you take the view quoted above, you cannot understand the elements of rationality in their view. Differences become irreconcilable, and you are left with force as the only option. However, if the cause of the conflict were inequality or exploitation for example, other options become apparent. (Again, to be fair to the author quoted above, he concludes that “negotiation” should be considered, which is not the same thing at least as I see it. You “negotiate” with an enemy you cannot overwhelm.)

This view also makes communication more difficult. If atheistic progressives sneer at their religious counterparts, and the views quoted above certainly constitute a sneer, then dialogue is impossible. Is the atheist who supports his country’s football team or proclaims its culture superior to others really in a position to criticise the rationality of someone with a deeply considered spirituality?

So, while I personally believe that religion, founded as it is on the notion of god, is fundamentally flawed, I do not believe that we should set ourselves above those with religious faith. The way to solve our problems is not to seek the elimination of religion. (Again to be fair to the quoted author, he agrees with this sentiment.) Solving our problems requires that we look at the politics underlying them.


Exelent entry! But how do you talk to the religious zealot who was expressing his opinion on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning.
0810 We speak to Abu Izzadeen, muslim protester, who made the headlines this week by heckling the home secretary John Reid.

Comment by alji

Ah! That’s who you are.

Yes, agreed. Even if religion causes/adds to problems, it doesn’t follow that it’s removal will solve them.

I would go further than defining myself as an atheist. I’m not an atheist in that I just have no need for gods. I’m a Rationalist, in the tradition, I guess, of the Scottish Empirical Enlightenment. Sure, that leads inevitably to Strong Atheism. But it goes further: If we’re making an argument, we have to be able to defend it on a rational basis. When it comes to politics, ultimately we have to ask ‘How convinces are we that X will make us happier than Y” (I could go on for ages about how we cope with situations where we simply don’t know…but that’s another issue).

Unfortunately the concept of Rationalism is not widely known…and we certainly don’t teach Empiriciam or Logical Positivism in our schools (my kids are being taught Christianity, with a token nod to Islam, Sikhism and Judaism). That’s pretty much whay I’m a proselytiser for Atheism.

As for how we speak to Abu IzzyStradlin…why should we? I regularly pass drunks raving away on Sauchiehall St, and I don’t take them seriously either. We only have to bother about them if they take a swing at someone.

Comment by Edward the Bonobo

alji I didn’t hear the program and can’t get it to work on my computer (might have something to do with my zealot of a firewall), but my understanding is that the guy is a bit of a fringe nut? If so (and I don’t know if it is), then it’s not different from trying to talk to a secular nut I expect, very difficult.

EtB, I liked your comment on the theists talking to atheists thread that religious people can hold two different sorts of ideas in their heads, ones based on reason and ones based on faith, and that’s fine as long as faith doesn’t trump reason.

I had some ideas about all this sort of thing last night as I was trying to get to sleep and I’m going to write another entry about it, either today or Monday if I don’t get round to it.

Comment by Dan Goodman

[…] I have been thinking about my manifesto entry on religion, and I want to throw out an idea relating to it. […]

Pingback by Religion, atheists and heirarchies « The Samovar

[…] I also realised that it is equally possible to be a liberal theist or a bigoted atheist, and I realised that I much prefer the former. In fact, whether someone believes in god or not is wholly irrelevant to how they behave in society. What is important is how they relate to other people. A recent study showed that muslim children at two schools in Blackburn were more tolerant than ‘white’ children. This is related to another point. Atheists can be manipulated by nonsense beliefs just as much as theists can. They can be motivated by racism, classism, sexism, nationalism, etc. Many of these have quite close parallels with religious forms of intolerance. As I argued in an earlier manifesto entry, focusing on religion and ignoring all these other forms of intolerance makes us miss some very important points. […]

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the pathetic arrogance of some individuals who believe they have something worth saying. save your poorly written words for someone else.

Comment by crap

Anyone in particular, crap?

Comment by azahar

It’s funny that this one should have attracted the random abuse, it’s quite mild really. I wonder what they’ll think when I write my next one about how theists don’t really believe in God? 🙂

Comment by Dan | thesamovar

Yeah, talk about arrogrant crapola, eh?

I do take umbrage that your post was criticised for being poory written though, especially by someone who doesn’t use capital letters.

Comment by azahar

And of course, arrogrant is a word not known by many people, not simply a typo…

Um, does crapola have two t’s?

Comment by azahar

Oh and goddamm!!! Poorly written … not poory.

Sheesh already.

Comment by azahar

[…] and beneficial when democratic and driven by ordinary human needs and desires. See also my old manifesto entry on religion, and followup on religion, atheists and […]

Pingback by “Belief” – la revanche! « The Samovar

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