The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was reading an article in the Guardian today about how hard it is to be a Muslim in public life.  You get asked all kinds of questions like, ‘Do you think the state of Israel should exist?  Do you sympathise with terrorists?  What do you think of underage marriage?’  You become the poster-girl or boy for every horrendous act perpetrated in the name of Islam – and in the end you discover, as Nesrine Malik says, that the only way to win the game is not to play.

I can totally sympathise – if not empathise – with this, because it ain’t that easy to come out as a Christian these days either, at least not in Europe.  I would never suggest that Christians get abuse on the level of Muslims – for a start, we’re not easily visible unless we go out looking like these guys (the ones with crucifixes, not the ones with breasts).  Unless we open our mouths and start quoting the Bible, nobody can tell what we are.  But if you want to suck all the atmosphere out of a social occasion and have people edging away from you fast, just try mentioning the G-word.

These days I don’t even say I’m a you-know-what: if anyone asks I tell them I’m a Quaker.  This is partly because it’s more in tune with where I am, and partly because you avoid being blamed by association for everything from colonialism to the inquisition.  Being a Quaker is much more user-friendly because either people don’t know what that means and are interested, or they do know what it means and start talking about chocolate and world peace (usually in that order.)  Being a Quaker is – well, Friendly – and unless your interlocutor is wedded to nuclear weapons or radically opposed to chocolate in all its forms, you’re onto a winner.

Then again, it’s better to stick to the outward actions rather than touching on the inner revelation.  Mention ‘the spirit’ or ‘worship’ or ‘the light’ and people will edge away faster than the tide at Camber Sands (and believe me, that’s fast.)  Why is it so hard to talk about this stuff?  Why are people so hostile to anyone, no matter how tolerant or open-minded, who expresses a faith?  I’m not Billy Graham, for f***’s sake; nor do I think evangelism is a good thing.  Quite the reverse.

Sometimes I can’t help thinking that the evangelists are all atheists now.  Doesn’t Richard Dawkins want to make converts?  Aren’t some of the new atheists more intolerant than the believers?

Discuss.  (Politely, please – rude comments will be deleted.)

Kirk out

Where the hell IS God?

OK so here is an attempt to deconstruct the whole atheism-religion debate.  Of course, without writing a whole book on the subject it’s impossible to do more than touch on one or two areas, so that’s all I’m trying to do here.  But it does seem that the voice of reason, the voice of tolerance, is getting lost.  Somewhere between Dawkins and the Westboro Baptist Church lies a whole acre of middle-ground, so let’s go there.

Firstly, we need to decide whether God exists.  There is no way to prove, in any scientific sense, the existence of God.  Science deals with the physical world – or what can be intimated about the physical world, through evidence.  God being a spiritual entity, it’s hard to see how science as it is at the moment, can have anything to say about him/her.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: in other words, the most science can have to say is that there is no evidence for God: the most religion can say is that there wouldn’t be, would there?  This does not get us any further.

What I would insert into the debate is the question, What is Love?  Dawkins, so far as I can remember having read ‘The Selfish Gene’ a few years back, has a great deal to say about sexual and parental love and the genetic advantages to the human race.  What he cannot adequately explain is the kind of love that Christianity (and other faiths) is built on, and that is compassionate love.  It’s hard to see how it can benefit me genetically to raise money for Water Aid to help people I have never seen and never will see: or even to buy, say, The Big Issue from a man I can see, but whom I only interact with very briefly.  It could be argued that there is a ‘good feeling’ attached to these gifts which confers some benefit, but actually this is often not the case: I give because I feel I should, and often don’t feel very good about it at all as it just reminds me of how much poverty and injustice there is in the world.  Anyway, if that were a universal law, wouldn’t more people give to charity more of the time?  If there was some advantage in it, wouldn’t we all be doing it, just as nearly all of us find a partner and reproduce?

So I don’t buy that.  In any case, I don’t think science can adequately define love – and if you accept that such love exists, AND the proposition that God is love, then you have accepted that science can’t define God.


Comments, please

Kirk out

The Penguins Are Talking About Me Again

Now, as you guys all know, I’m not against atheism.  I think it’s a perfectly respectable – even logical – point of view in many ways: I also like many aspects of the secularist tradition.  What I don’t like is dogmatic – and what I might call sneering – atheism: the kind of atheism that not only mocks belief, but suggests you have to be an idiot to believe in God.  Viz someone on Facebook the other day who posted a link to Richard Dawkins.  I commented that I don’t like Dawkins because I find him dogmatic and intolerant: she responded that it’s better than believing in ‘invisible sky-wizards’.

So that’s me told… I commented that the phrase ‘invisible sky-wizards’ is kind of loaded and that I would wish for a more tolerant approach to the debate.  Still waiting on a reply…

Penguins are strangely anthropomorphic – I can’t help wondering if they believe in God.  The current BBC series on penguins is quite startlingly brilliant, even by the high standards of BBC nature programmes; they’ve developed some robot cameras which mimic penguins and eggs! so that for the first time we can see what happens inside when they all go into a huddle and talk about me.  (Oh, wait – that’s in rugby.)  They don’t make as much use of these cameras as I’d hoped, but the programmes are utterly fascinating. Go watch.

Some good news yesterday – I’ve had an acceptance from a magazine I sent stuff to a while ago.  When I looked up what it was, I saw I’d sent them a poem and a short story.  I emailed to ask which they were publishing: they said ‘both – they were very good.’  That gave me a boost…

And here’s the magazine – though not the relevant issue yet:

I shall post a longer diatribe on atheism when I’m feeling a bit more together.

Kirk out

Half past slightly silly

Bit better today.  The stories are coming on.  Yesterday Holly and Daniel went to visit Leicester Sound.  Holly cycled there and back – 8 miles – not bad.  They both enjoyed it a lot.

Not much else to report.  A good day yesterday – I started early in Esquire’s cafe, then went to have a wander round Waterstone’s only to discover they open late on Weds!  Went to SPCK instead (pronounced “spck” *) and bought a book called “The Selfless Gene”.  It tries to unpick the whole Dawkins/fundamentalist christian argument from a Christian and scientific viewpoint.  So far I think it’s good, although Dawkins also has problems with Catholics and Muslims and so far the book hasn’t mentioned them.

I wish the library would open earlier.

Never mind – chalet next week!  yay!

Kirk out

* like someone spitting on a windscreen.  Remember Spitting Image?

the God allusion

Ugh!  Woke this morning at 4 am, heard noises downstairs.  Went to investigate – nothing.  Must have been next door.  Then failed to get back to sleep.

It’s strange that on the day I get a comment about Richard Dawkins, the library should email me to say the copy of “The God Delusion” I reserved has arrived!  I got it yesterday and spent the morning dipping into it for my short story, “The God Illusion”.  I disagree with just about everything Dawkins says – but what struck me was how like a fundamentalist Christian he was – albeit on the other side of the fence.

He refuses to countenance agnosticism (too wishy-washy) or pantheism – a broader, more tolerant notion of God is, in his view, a nonsense (“you might as well say you can see God in a lump of coal.”)  Er – well, yes, I thought, you can.

“To see a world in a grain of sand

and a heaven in a wild flower

hold infinity in the palm of your hand

and eternity in an hour”

– that’s Blake.

Blake is one of my favourite poets, as you will know if you’ve been paying attention.

He (Dawkins) also says that a sense of wonder – and wondering – about life, which many scientists experience, has “nothing to do” with God or religion.  I definitely don’t agree with that, although again, I was struck by how similar this was to what some fundamentalists might say.  Dawkins says that God “must be” a creator God, who is worshipped by people – again, very like a fundamentalist Christian.

Methinks he doth protest too much… which is basically the point of my story.

But where I think he is demonstrably wrong is when he maintains that Jesus saying “love your neighbour” only meant “love other Jews”.  Jesus went out of his way to demonstrate that “your neighbour” also means “your enemy” – and that, nearly everyone agrees, is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Not to mention the Samaritan woman at the well.)

He bangs on about sin a lot (fundamentalist) but hardly mentions love at all.  When he does, it’s only sexual love.  I’ll save my thoughts on this for another post, else we’ll never get done here – I will just add that there was no reference to compassion at all.*

I rest my case.  Well, actually there’s a lot more work to do before that can happen, but Mary Midgeley says something useful here:

Nope – I can’t find it, but she wrote an article called “A Plague on Both your Houses” which said that Dawkins was taking science into realms which science does not and cannot cover – ie the metaphysical.

Mark says that Dawkins is philosophically naive – and doesn’t know it.  I think he’s right.

More on this anon.

Kirk out.

PS Just realised that I mentioned Dawkins in my own post – so, Duh! – not so much of a coincidence, after all.

* Actually, though compassion is not in the index, he does define it as a “misfiring” of the instinct to defend the tribe – I have blogged about this later.

In this huose we worship the Dog…

A couple of lingering thoughts before I get up and begin the day.  Being Sunday, they are thoughts about religion.  A while ago I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins in which he conclusively disproves the existence of God.

Ho ho.  Actually he does no such thing, since, as Mary Midgely has apparently said (“A Plague on Both Your Houses”)* such matters are beyond science and can neither be proved nor disproved.  Actually, I agree with every word Richard Dawkins says about religion.  It’s the things he doesn’t say that I have a problem with.

A while ago I had a response to a blog posting in this very boutique (bloody parrot sketch again) about god-bothering.  The writer made a number of very interesting and insightful comments about things I hadn’t said.

There’s a link there somewhere!

Enjoy the day.  Breathe!

Go on, you’ll enjoy it.  You know you want to!


* Would put a link but my links have gone all wobbly

PS A while ago Mark posited (I asked Owl and he said that’s what Mark had done) an idea about a spoof religious sect called the Anagrammatists.  We speculated for a while in a humorous sort of way about what they might believe and then, quick as a flash, I quipped:  “They would worship the Dog”.

Mark found this very funny.

Of course, the truth is that, as Homer Simpson once said (and how true) “In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics”.

Now, what were those again?

# 1: Whatever temperature a thing is at, that’s how hot it is ( I may be paraphrasing slightly)

# 2: Erm, things can heat up or cool down – no, wait!  I know this one!  Heat has to go somewhere – it can’t just disappear.  That’s it, right?

# 3: God alone knows

RIP Charles Percy Snow.  When I am famous I will have a statue of you erected in Town Hall Square.

W at the Y

Word tonight at the Y theatre Leicester. I shall be reading a couple I sent off for the Mslexia poetry comp, judged by Ruth Padel. She is apparently a descendant of Darwin – which brings me beautifully to a short story I’m going to write about Richard Dawkins, in which he is going to have a road-to-Damascus conversion and become a born-again Christian. It could happen! In fact I think it’s more likely that people who cling tightly to dogmatic views can turn around and embrace the exact opposite view. And I tell you this: Richard Dawkins the evangelical Christian is going to be ten times the pain in the arse that R D the atheist ever was.

If you haven’t read The God Delusion, it’s an interesting rant – I mean, read. I can’t argue with anything he says about religion: it’s the things he doesn’t say that I object to. Yes, religions have been guilty of corruption – but so has politics and business. Yes, religions are guilty of indoctrination – but so is politics – and no, there isn’t any evidence for the existence of God – but how could there be? As Mary Midgely points out in her article, A Plague on Both Your Houses, science does not and cannot concern itself with metaphysics. To say there is no scientific evidence for God is like – like – like an octopus saying there is no sky. Which reminds me of Blake’s Newton, trying to measure the world with compasses, which in turn reminds me that some time in April Peter and I (and possibly the daughter) are going to London to see the Picasso exhibition. Can’t ask the daughter at the mo’, because she is still in Wales. If she ever comes back, I’ll talk to her. Or if she reads this blog…

Ho ho ho.