Monday, 13 December 2010

Blair vs Hitchens on the good that religion does

Radio 4 - Monday 13.Dec.2010 3pm.

Blair should not have sought to defend "Religion" i.e the institutions. Hitchens is quite right to attack "Religions" for their attitudes to sex, sexuality, women etc. Blair should have said he agreed with everything Hitchens had to say, but then said there is more to faith or spirituality than is imagined or conceded in Hitchens' world view.

Religious institutions, like all human institutions, are essentially conservative power structures which reflect the traditions of their societies and the views of the powerful in those societies. Even Christianity, in essence a creed for the poor and dispossessed, has been taken over by the elites. Relgious institutions may do some good (in that they preserve, if in distorted form, the teachings of their founders, and provide some support for a particular society's ethical system, but even that may be fundamentally skewed - e.g. Aztec human sacrifice). But they are bad, in that they elevate the teachings of their founders (e.g. and especially Paul in Christianity) to the status of Holy Writ, which cannot be questioned. Yet Paul was simply a man, of his time, with all the limits and prejudices of a 1st century Jewish man. Religious institutions need to do this, to preserve and justify their authority. If what Paul said (or what Mahommed or Jesus or Buddha said) is merely their opinion, to be judged on its merits and from our perspective, it makes the job of Popes, Imams and the rest that much harder - they have to convince and persuade, not simply state "this is the Word of God and you must believe or go to hell". And they have no intrinsic authority based on what for example Jesus said: "thou art Peter and upon this rock I shall build my church" which he very likely didn't do in any case.

Religion is fine as long as societies don't collide - then their separate religions simply fuel the conflict (or one overcomes the other - e.g. Islam in Africa, India, Afghanistan, Europe, Christianity in South America, Africa, Asia). Of all the world religions, only Buddhism appears to have spread, simply by convincing people it was true, rather than by chopping peoples' heads off.

Scepticism and individual self determination is vital and sacrosanct; so Hitchens is right. But religion, or faith, or spirituality, points to something beyond the merely material and secular, and refers to the inner life, not the mechanics of day to day living. It has nothing to do with "charidee" or "good works", although these may arise from a religious or spiritual understanding.

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