Militant secularism

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be impolite, but can these people keep their imaginary friends and sky fairies out of law and public policy? Thanks.”

– David Allen Green tweeting as @jackofkent 11/02/2012 (Tweet now deleted.)

What struck me about this quote is that it clearly was meant to be impolite despite what he claimed. Mr Green used the phrase “imaginary friends and sky fairies” which is fine for him to think and to say, but he is clever enough to know that it would offend the people that he was nominally aiming the message at. Adding a false apology to this message simply reinforced the offensiveness of the message. I suspect that the message was not really meant for the people it was addressed to, but rather as something to stir up popularity among followers and controversy and reaction among religious people. Trolling, in fact. Something that newspaper headlines were also doing on Saturday:

Daily Mail front page - "Christianity under attack"Times front page - "Christianity on the rack as judge bans public prayer"

Images read “Christianity under Attack” (Daily Mail) and “Christianity on the rack as judge bans public prayer” (The Times)

These misleading headlines were a reaction to a high-court judgement on Friday which found that Bideford Council could not hold prayers as part of their council sessions.  The objection by the National Secular Society to requiring people to attend these prayers was that they made it very uncomfortable for  Councillor Clive Jones – or indeed any other non-Christian – and left him with a choice of sitting through the prayers or walking out and looking bad. This is not a problem unknown to Christians, and the NSS cite the example of a Christian councillor who walked out of a Portsmouth council meeting because they invited a muslim imam to pray. I accept that this councillor does not represent all Christians but the example does show that the problem affects all sides. The ruling on Friday disagreed with the argument put by the NSS and found that prayer in council meetings does not violate human rights and is not discrimination.

Part of the judgement said:

“A local authority has no powers under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 to hold prayers as part of a formal local authority meeting or to summon councillors to such a meeting at which prayers are on the agenda.

“The saying of prayers in a local authority chamber before a formal meeting of such a body is lawful provided councillors are not formally summoned to attend.” – Mr Justice Ouseley

This judgement did not forbid prayer by the council members, nor prayer in public. What it did was to assert that the council had no power under the current law to hold prayer as part of the formal council meeting (in this case, included in the minutes) or to make it compulsory for councillors to attend those prayers. In fact the law that was referred to does not refer to prayer at all, merely as to what other things the council can include in meetings to support their work.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles hasn’t even grasped what the judgement is. He said:

“Public authorities – be it Parliament or a parish council – should have the right to say prayers before meetings if they wish.”

This of course is exactly what the the ruling said, as I quoted earlier. Pickles has stated that the Localism Act which will come into force in a few weeks does include powers that will make it possible to include prayer as part of council meetings, reversing the judgement anyway. What is very worrying is that Pickles has publicly stated that councils should “continue to have prayers if they want to” in violation of the law as it is now.

Secular State

The United Kingdom is officially a Christian country. I firmly believe that all government should be secular and there should be no state-endorsed religion, instead leaving everyone free to believe or not as they wish. The concept that the state should not impose a religion on anyone is not new. In the USA the first amendment to the constitution says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In a letter  to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 Thomas Jefferson expanded on this when he wrote:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” [Quote via Wikipedia]

US courts have found that organisations such as schools should not hold formal prayer as a result of the first amendment, as in the recent ruling against a school having a prayer displayed on a banner in Ahlquist v Cranston. [Daily Mail] Despite the law being on their side people who object to prayer in schools in the USA are often the subject of abuse and death threats.

I believe that the backlash against the people involved in these cases is a very good argument as to why the state should be secular. It is obvious that people in a minority will be discriminated against and marginalised, even more so when they point out this fact. I think that the very existence of human rights is down to a need to protect minorities and vulnerable groups from tyranny by the majority, and actions by those above show a need to protect the freedom to not be part of a religion as much as they protect the freedom of those who are part of a religion.

 

One of the problems that we face in our society is that there appears to be an unresolvable conflict between advertising standards and freedom of speech. I suspect that there are quite a few such clashes. One example is this recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Agency that a flyer given out by a group called Healing On The Streets (HOTS) violated advertising standards by promising healing. Not only did the flyer make claims which could not be proven or backed up with medical trials, they also offered prayer for healing from cancer. It is actually illegal to talk about treating or curing cancer in advertising in any way at all under the Cancer Act 1939:

(1)No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement—

(a)containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof;

It is important to note that the ASA ruling affects advertising only. It does not prevent HOTS from believing that god can heal these afflictions or praying. The originator of the complaint was concerned that people might stop taking medication and then suffer as a result. She took pains to point out on her blog that she has also made complaints against claims made for homeopathy and is not opposed to Christianity.

Human Rights

There can also be conflict between human rights law and religion. For an example of this we can look at the case of Christian owners of a guest house in Cornwall who refused to allow a gay couple to stay in a double bed in their guest house because they thought it would be promoting sin. The couple lost a legal case brought against them and their actions were found to be discrimination under equality laws. This wasn’t an attacked by secularists, the couple violated human rights law which was put in place by government to protect people. That same law allows freedom of conscience and religion which also allows freedom from religion.

Militant Secularism

Chair of the Conservative party, Baroness Warsi has reacted to recent court cases by claiming that “a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies.” She goes on:

“We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; when states won’t fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere. It seems astonishing to me that those who wrote the European Constitution made no mention of God or Christianity”

Leaving aside the accusation of militant secularisation for a moment, Warsi’s comment about the constitution frightens me. I believe that just like the first amendment of the US constitution, all constitutions and governments should be distinct from religion. This isn’t to wipe out or reduce any religion, but to ensure that people of all religions and none will be protected from discrimination. Putting Christianity in to the European Constitution would discriminate against Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Hindus as much as it would against agnostics and atheists.

Writing in the Telegraph, Warsi continued:

For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.

None of the people pursuing complaints against false advertising, prayer in council meetings, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or prayer in schools were doing anything they shouldn’t. They were all trying to uphold the law as it stands by having it enforced. The laws already exist and others are merely pointing out this fact. And this seems to be what “militant atheists” do. We aren’t exactly overrun with atheist suicide bombers. Instead they object to the law being broken. They make complaints when they are discriminated against. They attend an occasional protest rally such as the One Law For All event last Saturday. They fail to respect religion in what they say. But why should anyone have to avoid saying things that aren’t respectful? It is everyone’s right to believe that Christianity is nonsense just as much as it is for them to believe in Jesus. If you turn that around, Christians fail to respect atheists when they shout that Jesus saved them. The phrases “militant secularism” or “militant atheism” seem to mean that someone has been offended by atheists. Atheists can’t help it if religious people are offended by their mere existence or by what they talk about with each other. Both parties are being daft about this – Christians and atheists must learn not to take offence at each other’s statements when they disagree.

Militant Atheist
Comic from atheistcartoons.com. Note, portrays extremists, not everyone!

Having said that, it is clear that Christians and secularists are caught in a loop where their offence is feeding from each other and growing as a result. I want a secular society where all faiths and none can live together.  Baroness Warsi’s accusation of militant secularism made me react by getting angry and wanting to become militant which is probably not what she intended. But conversely, the quote which I opened with made Christians that I know who also want a secular society react angrily against the sentiment expressed. They agreed with the sentiment, but were furious at the insult contained in the statement. Insults turn everyone against your message, not just the ones that are affecting you.

No one has a right not to be offended. Human rights guarantee freedom of conscience, religion and expression but they don’t force anyone to listen. However, setting out to deliberately offend people does not win them over to your side. Either side.

Further reading

Council loses court battle over prayer sessions before meetings [Guardian]

Council Prayers unlawful rules High Court [NSS]

Government tells councils to carry on praying despite High Court ban [Telegraph]

Christian guesthouse owners lose appeal over ban on gay guests [Telegraph]

We stand side by side with the Pope in fighting for faith [Telegraph]

Militant secularisation threat to religion, says Warsi [BBC]

George Carey: time to say that Christians have rights too [Telegraph]

Religious and Social Attitudes of UK Christians in 2011 [Ipsos MORI]

Healing claims being made across the UK [Hayley is a ghost]

Healing on the Streets & why I am not ‘a group generally opposed to Christianity’ [Hayley is a ghost]

 

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

9 thoughts on “Militant secularism”

  1. “Baroness Warsi’s accusation of militant secularism made me react by getting angry and wanting to become militant which is probably not what she intended.” – I’d expect her intent was to get more people to vote Conservative. You’re unlikely to be the target, but those towards the BNP end of the spectrum are going to have their brains imploding at the sight of a Muslim Conservative defending Christian rights.

    I think the worry amongst thinking Christians is that people who claim to want a fair society, are actually going to restrict what Christians can do. So that “equal rights” won’t, in fact, be equal at all. It will go beyond allowing other people to do what they want, and will extend to stopping Christians from doing what they want. Where “human rights” conflict (as they often will), the presumption will be against religious belief.

    Simply put, there’s a worry that we’re not heading to a situation where people’s “rights” will be balanced. We’re heading towards a situation where the rights of believers will be subjugated. The ex arch bish seems to be taking every opportunity to plug his forthcoming book discussing some specific examples…
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9075653/George-Carey-time-to-say-that-Christians-have-rights-too.html 

    It’s dangerous to overstate things. No one is throwing us to the lions in the UK. Many of the people and groups who are now asserting their rights and getting fair treatment have suffered centuries of persecution, often at the hands of religion. So I’d hardly expect those people to be defending the rights of the religious. And no one should ever trust a Daily Mail headline.

    But I don’t think you’d expect Christians to look at Richard Dawkins and the National Secular Society, and say “oh, that’s all right – we’ll just go away quietly and you’ll never hear from us again.” I doubt you’d expect people to easily accept changes to the law that made them lose their jobs and/or their livelihoods either.

    Cheers,
    David.

    1. “I think the worry amongst thinking Christians is that people who claim to want a fair society, are actually going to restrict what Christians can do. So that “equal rights” won’t, in fact, be equal at all. It will go beyond allowing other people to do what they want, and will extend to stopping Christians from doing what they want. Where “human rights” conflict (as they often will), the presumption will be against religious belief.”
      Ok, I have to extend this to it’s ridiculous conclusion for the sake of provoking thought.  Take a fairly small branch of Christianity, the Rastafari movement.  They are probably most well known for using cannabis as a spiritual act whilst studying the bible (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rastafari_movement#Spiritual_use_of_cannabis).

      Where does their right to do that stop?  Would you let them smoke in Government buildings as part of a prayer ceremony?  Would you allow them to smoke it on the street whilst preaching to the public?  Would you allow them to smoke it whilst in a Rastafari church as part of their ceremonies?  Would you allow them to do it at all because cannabis is a controlled substance over here, despite the fact that you’d be infringing on their religious rights?

      The point i’m trying (badly) to make is that nobody is going to stop you from doing anything that isn’t directly against the law.  You want to stand on a street corner yelling bible verses?  Fine, i’m happy to ignore you.  You want to pray and read the bible in a church?  Yup, no problems with that.  You want to apply your religion to my life?  Uhh, no.

      That’s where all this “militant secularism” is coming from.  Christians have had their way for so long that it sometimes feels like they’ve forgotten how to share.  We don’t want to push equality in the opposite direction and stop you from even practicing your religion in private.  We just want to stop you from using your religion to affect our lives.

      I mean, seriously.  Look at the Islamic Imams that are constantly yelling about how the west is decadent and we should be expecting our own 9/11 soon (or something like that, I pay very little attention to the news).  They’re (mostly) still living here, saying whatever they please and we don’t even have freedom of speech here.

      “But I don’t think you’d expect Christians to look at Richard Dawkins and the National Secular Society, and say “oh, that’s all right – we’ll just go away quietly and you’ll never hear from us again.” I doubt you’d expect people to easily accept changes to the law that made them lose their jobs and/or their livelihoods either.”

      No, we don’t.  I certainly don’t speak for any other atheist, but I have to say it’s about time we had an organisation that atheists can “belong” to and will stick up for us.  As for the losing jobs bit at the end, I would make a concerted effort to hide my atheism if I was looking for a job because I know full well that admitting that would put me at a severe disadvantage to other candidates.

  2. Hi Steve

    I do agree that the phrase ‘militant secularism’ is totally over the top, probably made up by the media to sell a few more newspapers or whatever.

    But I just wanted to respond to one point you mentioned: the HOTS group did make the specific cancer claim on their leaflet, but as I understand it they tried to discuss with the ASA alternative wording and the ASA were having none of it. In other words, the cancer thing has nothing to do with it. If you can’t make the claim that God “can” heal, all other things being equal, IMO that is an infringement upon religious freedom.

    I also think what you say about the rights of minorities is a red herring. So some atheists in America get death threats from some ‘Bible belt’ Christians. I absolutely agree that the government should protect those people. But I don’t think that separation from Church and State is the answer. In fact, don’t you find it a bit strange that in a country like the USA – which _has_ the separation of Church and State – they have more of that kind of problem than we do here in the UK, where Christianity is the official religion?

    What David Robinson said re: secularism is pretty much on the money as far as I’m concerned: it’s not militant secularism that is the problem, it’s implicit secularism. The assumption is that all religions are inherently false, so we can just brush them under the carpet, into people’s private lives, and not bring them into public life.

    I’ve already explained why I don’t think secularism is good for this country in terms of a legal system and so on, so let me just refer you to my comment on your last post for that.

    Secularism is a worldview, just like Christianity is. They are not mutually compatible. I think many Christians are concerned that secularism is somehow seen as the ‘default’ position, the neutral ground, which is not the case. 

    Anyway, just my two pence 🙂

    Phill

  3. ” If you turn that around, Christians fail to respect atheists when they shout that Jesus saved them.Christians and atheists must learn not to take offense at each other’s statements when they disagree.”

    That is a rather stereotypical statement about Christians,Many people who are Christians do not take such bold approaches to witness, but it is a cornerstone of our faith that we do belive Jesus did save us.

    This new secular society we live in does not protect Christians, nor our way of life. You yourself pointed out the case on the Bed And Breakfast owner that refused a Gay couple’s stay in their “Home.” The couple lost their case, why because of the emergence of a deserving and undeserving discrimination, something that the disabled community is starting to feel at the moment.

    I read a comment on a local newspaper site calling Jesus vile and the bible disgusting last week,  the comments were allowed to remain on the site. Those statements are religious hate crime, and I want to put the emphasis on Crime. Secular societies breach Christians human rights to practice our faith without fear or hostility. Christians in the UK and the world are feeling more and more marginalized, with our rights to free practice of our faith, where will it lead next, underground prayer groups. I find it slightly odd that in the times of austerity and hardship that atheists and secularists are not even bringing themselves to praise the actions of churches.

    “The assumption is that all religions are inherently false, so we can
    just brush them under the carpet, into people’s private lives, and not
    bring them into public life.”

    As in my last sentence, Christians show Gods love in many different ways, through food banks, street pastors, community outreach projects and much much more if we were to go down the line; As we seem to be doing, of sweeping the christian faith under the table and not bringing those values into public life then it would be a far less enriched society. Faith and religion are often quoted as being the root of all problems, but some people do not seem to register the good the Christian church does every day in this country, choosing to focus on division and biblical text that endorses discrimination ( in cases theologically unsoundly.)  

    ” I think many Christians are concerned that secularism is somehow seen
    as the ‘default’ position, the neutral ground, which is not the case. ”

    Thats because unfortunately it is, how many times have you heard cases in courts like the BA stewardess who was banned from wearing a cross. A cross a symbol of our faith, you would not have people from other faiths suffering such discrimination. There is a massive double standard in enforcing the rule of law on discrimination. Grassroots Christians will not get overly militant, as theologically it would not be a sound basis of recourse.  If you want a more open dialogue, secular societies must not be as profoundly provocative. With their campaign on buses ” does god exist?” Yes they are entitled to ask society that question, but not in the manner it conducted the advertisement campaign in.

    Love the blog keep up the good work Steven.

    1. “This new secular society we live in does not protect Christians, nor our way of life. You yourself pointed out the case on the Bed And Breakfast owner that refused a Gay couple’s stay in their “Home.” The couple lost their case, why because of the emergence of a deserving and undeserving discrimination, something that the disabled community is starting to feel at the moment.”

      No, the couple lost their case because they are a business who discriminated against a protected minority.  If they weren’t a business then they would be well within their rights to discriminate as much as they wanted.  Fact is they are a business, and businesses aren’t allowed to discriminate in this country. (http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/layer?topicId=1074003268)

      In this case, religion is irrelevant. If they didn’t want gay people to stay with them, then they shouldn’t have become a business (or at least done their homework regarding the law)

      I bet if the positions were reversed, and a couple refused service to a Christian couple, and then lost the resulting court case, you’d be proclaiming the inherent fairness of the judgement and how they should be punished to the full extent of the law for discrimination.

      “I read a comment on a local newspaper site calling Jesus vile and the bible disgusting last week,  the comments were allowed to remain on the site. Those statements are religious hate crime, and I want to put the emphasis on Crime. Secular societies breach Christians human rights to practice our faith without fear or hostility. Christians in the UK and the world are feeling more and more marginalized, with our rights to free practice of our faith, where will it lead next, underground prayer groups. I find it slightly odd that in the times of austerity and hardship that atheists and secularists are not even bringing themselves to praise the actions of churches. ”

      Seriously?  Y’know I can’t remember the last time I heard about jackbooted police smashing into a church, arresting everyone in there and closing the place down.  Oh yeah, because it’s never happened, that’s why.  We’re not even remotely close to that scenario either.  As long as you aren’t breaking the law, then you have nothing to worry about.  The time you can start complaining is when it is against the law to practice your religion.

      “If you want a more open dialogue, secular societies must not be as profoundly provocative. With their campaign on buses ” does god exist?” Yes they are entitled to ask society that question, but not in the manner it conducted the advertisement campaign in. ”

      Really?  On my drive to work every day, I have to pass multiple churches with advertising, banners hanging from garden fences proclaiming the Alpha Course.  I regularly get Jehovah’s Witnesses banging on my door and that’s not even including the fact that i’m married to a Christian woman (who goes out of her way not to shove it in my face, and I return the favour in kind regarding my atheism)

      Yet one campaign on 200 buses in major cities that lasted all of 4 weeks counts as “profoundly provocative” in your view?

  4. (urgh, this was a reply to Phill Sacre)

    “But I just wanted to respond to one point you mentioned: the HOTS group did make the specific cancer claim on their leaflet, but as I understand it they tried to discuss with the ASA alternative wording and the ASA were having none of it. In other words, the cancer thing has nothing to do with it. If you can’t make the claim that God “can” heal, all other things being equal, IMO that is an infringement upon religious freedom.”

    Have to disagree with the infringement thing.  This is a medical issue i.e. claiming to cure cancer.  You are quite free to put up posters in your church (being a private building) that your god can cure cancer.  However, in the public arena medical claims are (usually) held up to scientific scrutiny and the simple fact is that faith healing never has.  I’d be overjoyed to see a proper, scientific study done of faith healing but I think we both know that’ll never happen.  I suspect homeopathy gets away with it because they use sneaky wording to get around the ASA rules, words such as “may have beneficial effects” and “has been found to help with some problem” basically allowing them to get around it.  The HOTS group were out-and-out saying that faith healing can cure cancer, which is where they got tripped up.

    “I also think what you say about the rights of minorities is a red herring. So some atheists in America get death threats from some ‘Bible belt’ Christians. I absolutely agree that the government should protect those people. But I don’t think that separation from Church and State is the answer. In fact, don’t you find it a bit strange that in a country like the USA – which _has_ the separation of Church and State – they have more of that kind of problem than we do here in the UK, where Christianity is the official religion?”

    I’d recommend a quick scan of reddit.com/r/atheism for some of the stories of people who’ve “come out” to their families as atheist over there, and basically been disowned, kicked out of the house and completely removed from the family.  (yeah, there’s a lot of dross in there as well, but occasionally there’s a few good bits)  Frankly the Christians in America (see the Westboro Baptist Church for a fantastic example) scare me, and they’re well on their way to getting a grade-a lunatic for a President next election.

    “What David Robinson said re: secularism is pretty much on the money as far as I’m concerned: it’s not militant secularism that is the problem, it’s implicit secularism. The assumption is that all religions are inherently false, so we can just brush them under the carpet, into people’s private lives, and not bring them into public life.”

    I think it’s not so much inherently false, but inherently different which is the problem.I’ve already explained why I don’t think secularism is good for this country in terms of a legal system and so on, so let me just refer you to my comment on your last post for that.

    Really?  So which religion would you pick?  Islam with Sharia law cos i’m pretty sure the Daily Mail did a piece on how Britain was falling apart because of it or something.  Yours?  But what if your version of Christianity doesn’t fit with everyone else’s (apologies if you’re not actually Christian, i’ve just assumed it from your post)

    Would you make homosexuality illegal? (Leviticus, yeah it’s OT but Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 cover it too, depending on your interpretation). What about women teachers? (1 Timothy 2:12)  Or any of the many other bible verses I could pick completely at random that I don’t agree with.  I’m sure you’ll come back with some comment about how i’m interpreting it wrong, or that they don’t apply any more but the simple fact is that there’s plenty of people out there who do think they apply.  Are they to be ignored in this new religious legal system?

    “Secularism is a worldview, just like Christianity is. They are not mutually compatible. I think many Christians are concerned that secularism is somehow seen as the ‘default’ position, the neutral ground, which is not the case. ”

    But it is the default position.  Babies are born knowing no religion.  Only people give other people religion.

    1. Hi there Rob, 

      “I’d be overjoyed to see a proper, scientific study done of faith healing but I think we both know that’ll never happen.”

      Absolutely. And the reason is, if Christianity is true, i.e. a “best case scenario”, there can never be a scientific test. I don’t think God works like a vending machine, the claims of Christianity (you’re right, I am a Christian) don’t work the same way as, say, homeopathy. Andrew Lilico wrote a good post about this a few days ago. Any God who can’t heal is not worth believing in, and is by definition pretty much impossible to test in a ‘scientific’ way. No reason that makes it false though.

      I think the point you raise about which religious laws to apply is a practical one, in the sense that – yes, Christians do disagree with specifics, but that doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      Let me ask you a question. You say that you don’t agree with the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality or women teachers (for example). How did you arrive at that conclusion? What makes your atheist moral framework superior to everyone else’s? My problem is that I don’t think atheism would give rise to any kind of moral framework, not one which could be applied universally anyway.

      So, if I believe that homosexual practice is wrong, you can’t call that immoral – you can only call it immoral with respect to your own personal belief system.

      Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a book called “Creed or Chaos” in the 1940s where she says, “We on our side have been trying for several centuries to uphold a particular standard of ethical values which derives from Christian dogma, while gradually dispensing with the very dogma which is the sole rational foundation for those values.” I think she was right, this is the point I was making about secularism.

      “But it is the default position.  Babies are born knowing no religion.  Only people give other people religion.”

      I’m actually not sure I agree with this. Atheism is largely a product of an affluent Western culture. Most of the world believes in some kind of a god. If you want to claim it’s just because they’re taught to believe in God or gods, I’d say it’s up to you to demonstrate that. In my view, as Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man”.

      1. “Any God who can’t heal is not worth believing in, and is by definition pretty much impossible to test in a ‘scientific’ way. No reason that makes it false though”

        Ah, that would be a “god doesn’t like being tested” explanation.  Handy that, since it completely removes any requirement on your part to show that faith healing is anything more than a placebo effect.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and all that.

        “What makes your atheist moral framework superior to everyone else’s?”

        Absolutely nothing, i’ve never claimed it was, never will.  I suppose I most closely identify with the wiccan doctrine of “do what you will and do no harm”.  For me, stopping someone from doing something that isn’t hurting another human being simply because I don’t agree with it is wrong.  I would never stop a Christian or any other religious person from pursuing their beliefs, unless they were doing unwanted harm to another.  

        I.e. a Christian attempting to make homosexuality illegal would be something I would try and stop because that would be harming homosexuals.

        As to where I got my morals from, my best guess would be my parents, but only barely.  I looked around at the world and decided that the best way to behave was to be nice to people and hope that would cause them to be nice to me.  Hasn’t always worked, but for the most part it’s done me well enough.  Other people look around and decide that the best way for them is to take whatever they can and (metaphorically) shove everyone else out of the way.

        At some point though you have to settle on a set of laws that everyone is required to abide by.  At the moment, they’re mostly ok.  Some I don’t agree with, but they are what the consensus has come to so I will abide by them.

        “Atheism is largely a product of an affluent Western culture.”

        I’d be tempted to say that it’s more likely to be a combination of a greater understanding of the world and universe around us leading to a lessening of the “god of the gaps”, and a sharp decrease in the amount of “believe in my god, or I will shove hot pokers into your eyes”.

        “Most of the world believes in some kind of a god.”

        Most of the world also used to believe that the stars were candles on a shell around the earth.  Most of the world used to believe that  the sun wouldn’t come up in the morning unless they ritually slaughtered someone (ok, not most, but a reasonable number).  In the words of Men in Black “Imagine what we’ll know tomorrow”.  Or even in 100 years, 200, 500 even.

        “If you want to claim it’s just because they’re taught to believe in God or gods, I’d say it’s up to you to demonstrate that”

        I’d love to but I don’t think i’d ever get funding for an experiment that involves taking some children and shutting them away from the world til they grow up and see what happens.  I can’t honestly think of any realistic way to test the hypothesis.

        For a less reasonable view (and much more opinionated)   my wife is a practising Christian, as are her two brothers.  They were brought up by very religious parents.  Her brother now has three kids who I have absolutely no doubt will end up being devout Christians as well.  One interesting question is this:  “If you were brought up in a different country where the majority were Islamic, do you think you’d still be Christian?”

        I’ve felt that need to believe in something bigger than me, but I just can’t bring myself to perform the mental dancing required to believe the bible, or any other religious text is anything more than folk tales.  I choose to fill that hole with science and an understanding of the universe and nature all around us.

        1. Hi Rob

          “Ah, that would be a “god doesn’t like being tested” explanation.  Handy that, since it completely removes any requirement on your part to show that faith healing is anything more than a placebo effect.”

          Actually I don’t think that’s true at all. Such a test would assume that God was basically a vending machine, you put your prayers in the slot and out comes healing. The Christian God is not at all like that, he is relational and will relate to different circumstances differently. 

          You say: I suppose I most closely identify with the wiccan doctrine of “do what you will and do no harm”

          Now this is interesting. Do you think ‘harm’ and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ exist as actual, objective concepts, or do you think they’re all relative? If they’re objective, how do you derive that from a naturalistic worldview? If they’re subjective, who gets to decide what is good and bad? If they’re subjective, they’re basically arbitrary labels. [You could say the same thing about other abstract concepts like love, for example. Is it merely a label for a bunch of chemical reactions or is there something called ‘love’ which actually exists?]

          Let me give a concrete example. Let’s say in a strict Islamic country, a woman may be stoned for committing adultery. It’s the law of the land. Would you say that was an immoral thing, for them?

          “I’d be tempted to say that it’s more likely to be a combination of a greater understanding of the world and universe around us leading to a lessening of the “god of the gaps”, and a sharp decrease in the amount of “believe in my god, or I will shove hot pokers into your eyes”.”

          I’m not sure that’s the case. Look at America – one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, yet a very high level of belief. Similarly with the UK – yes, not a high churchgoing population, but I think still more people believe in some kind of god than not.

          If you try and put yourself in my shoes for a second, from my perspective it really does look like people have a predisposition to believe in God – which, naturally, I would say is because there is in fact a God.

          “One interesting question is this:  “If you were brought up in a different country where the majority were Islamic, do you think you’d still be Christian?” ”

          It’s an interesting question, although obviously it could be applied to any set of religious (or non-religious) beliefs. i.e. were you raised with any religious beliefs? I know a number of people who have both converted to / from atheism. What you are raised with has nothing to do with the truth of a set of beliefs.

          “I’ve felt that need to believe in something bigger than me, but I just can’t bring myself to perform the mental dancing required to believe the bible, or any other religious text is anything more than folk tales. ”

          That’s interesting. As I said before, I think the fact that everybody seems to have this need is indicative that there is a god; I’m distinctly unconvinced that a naturalistic worldview would lead to that experience. Why should it?

          Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reply to me, it’s good to have an honest, non-aggressive conversation like this 🙂 There are too many people on both sides of the divide who get very heated about this issue and it’s not helpful.

          Phill

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