Monday, July 19, 2010

Keep God out of it!

Alistair Campbell once famously said, when Tony Blair was asked a religious question, "We don't do God."

Although both Tony Blair and George W Bush were both clearly sorts of Christians, what Campbell meant was that religion should be kept as a private matter and not be allowed to enter the public discourse. This view has been endorsed by well-known secularists like Peter Singer, EO Wilson and Daniel Dennett.

But what is religion? Some say it is a form of belief in God, but that would exclude Buddhism which does believe in God at all. Some would say it is a belief in the supernatural, but that would exclude Hinduism which admits to no supernatural beyond the natural world. A better definition is 'a set of beliefs which explain what life is all about'. Perhaps the most popular set of beliefs in Western Europe today is that the material world is all there is; that we are here by accident and that when we die we rot. Therefore the most important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. The point is that even secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human.

We all live according to a fundamental set of beliefs about what our existence means and we act according to those beliefs. To exclude 'religious' principles from public debate is to favor the secular point of view in a biased way, just as much as Islamic countries favor a view that Mohammed's name must not be sullied.

In fact secular grounds for moral positions are no less controversial than religious ones; all moral positions are at least implicitly religious and rely on 'givens' that are neither self-evident not logically provable.

Although many continue to insist on the exclusion of religious opinions from public debate, many thinkers, both religious and secular have come to recognize that such a call is itself religious.


Burke said...

The history of the US shows that a people cannot have one set of moral beliefs and maintain a political system based on another.

Socialism, for example, is predicated on the morality of altruism with its claim that we exist to serve others and its virtues of selflessness and self-sacrifice. Capitalism is based on egoism and the idea of rights, the notion that we exist primarily for our own sakes. For altruists, the profit motive is earthly and vulgar.

The communists claim rightly that their system puts the ideas of Jesus and the Bible into practice better than capitalism

Today's religious "conservatives" here are just yesterday's liberals, because they just can't say "no" to the plethora of welfare programs that would "help the poor," the "little children," the "sick," etc.

In Jesus' way of thinking need trumps rights.

There is really nothing in the Bible or Christianity about individual rights. Just the opposite, actually. See Romans 13.

Burke said...

As an example, I would like to add the following from the Time magazine, 1957:

"Recalling his tortuous postwar discussions with Zhukov--a 'confirmed communist--but an 'honest man'--Dwight Eisenhower went on: 'One evening we had a three-hour conversation. We tried each to explain to the other just what our systems meant . . . to the individual, and I was very hard put to it when he insisted that their system appealed to the idealistic and we completely to the materialistic, and I had a very tough time trying to defend our position because he said: "You tell a person he can do as he pleases, he can act as he pleases, he can do anything. Everything that is selfish in man you appeal to him, and we tell him that he must sacrifice for the state. . . ."'
"Asked by the New York Times's James Reston if he meant to imply that democracy was more difficult to defend than Communism, the President patiently explained: Look, Mr. Reston, I think you could run into people you have a hard time convincing that the sun is hot and the earth is round. . . . Against that kind o belief you run against arguments that almost leave you breathless. You don't know how to meet them.'"

50s something professional in recovery said...

please don't discuss George Bush who although he professed to be a Christion, consistently ACTED OTHERWISE...o

Terry Hamblin said...

Many would say the same about Tony Blair whose main virtue was that he was articlate without the need of a teleprompt.


Communism has been shown to fail. It is just not realistic about amn's baser motives.

Capitalism with the mantra, "Greed is good" certainly recognizes the selfish motive is very largely the one that drives performance, and takes advantage of it. However, most capitalists also recognize some degree of value in community - protection from a common foe, protection against infectious plagues, education of a workforce, sanctity of borders - to accept some degree of taxation by 'government' to provide these services.

Back in the 13th century we lived, in England, in an era when might was right. The Magna Carta first attempted to restrain the power of the king. Simon de Monfort established the need for a parliament. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 finaly broke the power of the king and since then democracy has developed - not perfect, but the least worst as Churchill put it. The process of organizing an economy has developed over the past 300+ years by gradually fidgetting itself into place. Constant adjustment is necessary.