Friday, February 05, 2010

Atheists versus God Botherers

I'll be upfront from the off. I'm a libertarian and a practising Roman Catholic, there's even a Facebook group for us, so there are definitely more than just me.

Throughout my time in politics I have practised my religon without making a huge song and dance about it, for which some Christians would probably condemn me, but that's me. If religion comes up I'll get involved in discussion but tend not to be too evangelical, I suspect many political colleagues over the years didn't even know of my religion.

But increasingly I find myself commenting on religous affairs because of the increasing intolerance of non-believers, characterised by Dawkins and his ilk. Fair enough you don't believe but why bang on and on and on and on and on? It's very tedious. It reminds me of the nutty anti-smoking lobby. OK, you don't smoke but don't bang on and on, a la Dawkins, whining and whinging about people who do. We used to call it 'live and let live'.

On my specific religion, Roman Catholicism, I get weary of the complete rubbish and lies, told by ignorant non-catholics or bitter lapsed Catholics usually, about things that they claim go on in the Catholic church. I was educated from infant school to grammar school by monks and never once witnessed sado-masochism or paedophilia. It's sad that I have had to state that on a regular basis over the decades. Nobody else I know educated by monks, priests or nuns suffered anything untoward either. Yes, I know there have been instances of priests committing evil acts, condemn those individuals not the priesthood or the whole church. There have been a higher proportion of teachers convicted of offences against children but critics don't attack the whole teaching profession. It does seem that all kinds of groups receive official protection from attack but not Christians.

So I was particulalry interested to read this article in today's Times by Hugo Rifkind.

I’m transfixed, in a mind-melty sort of way, by the allegation that Cherie Booth — in her lofty judge capacity, rather than her slightly-chippy-former- PM’s-wife capacity — gave a more lenient sentence to a man convicted of assault because he was religious. Shamso Miah was on his way home from his mosque when he joined the queue at a cash dispenser. After a disagreement about who was in front of whom, he punched somebody else in the face, breaking his jaw. Judge Cherie, the story goes, suspended his sentence, on the basis that he was a religious man, and already beating himself up about it. Albeit not literally. Presumably.

Now the National Secular Society has complained to the Judicial Complaints Office that this sort of thing is unfair to atheists, on the basis that, if Miah had been one, he’d have been off to chokey. It’s got everything, this story. Creepy religious Blairs? Check. Out-of-touch judges? Check. A slightly scary Muslim? Check. They’re probably knocking out a BBC Four docudrama about it as I type. But the nub of the matter, I think, is the old chestnut about the bearing, if any, that religious belief should have on abstract morality.

Judge Cherie seems to be on the same page as the Pope on this, in believing that religious belief gives you a sort of super, better morality, which outweighs everything else. The NSS, equally unsurprisingly, seems to find this quite offensive. My instincts are with it. Annoyingly, though, and as my philosophy degree taught me in week one, it’s only Cherie’s lot that make conceptual sense. There’s no such thing as abstract morality. It doesn’t even make any sense. If God isn’t the ultimate answer, what is?

This is precisely why secularists are always even more annoying that religious people. Often they’re even more annoying than Cherie Booth. It’s because they’re insincere. Sooner or later, I always think, secularists are going to have to bite the bullet, ditch “morality” and “fairness” and all that Goddish guff, and start talking about convenience. Crimes are wrong, because they are inconvenient. Value systems are good, because they make life nicer. Murder is a hassle. It’ll never be stirring stuff, but at least it’s honest.

I wonder why so many 'liberal' commentators don't practice the doctrine of live and let live towards Christians that they urge on the rest of us in relation to so many others in sociey. Perhaps that'll be one of the questions I ask when I join the Benedictines at Pluscarden Abbey next week on my retreat.

In conclusion I welcome reasoned discussion of religion, but I find ignorant attacks on religion tedious in the extreme. However, I would no sooner ban those attacks on religion than I would advocate banning the Burqa. So I hope that ignorant bigots like Peter Tatchell learn to practice the liberalism they claim to believe in, and stop calling for the Pope to be banned from visiting England later this year.


Citizen Stuart said...

As a devout atheist with strong objectivist tendencies, I agreed with Dave Allen when he said that God probably likes atheists best because we're the only people who don't ask him for favours. ;-)

Seriously, you can respect people without actually respecting or sharing their beliefs - if this wasn't the case, I wouldn't have any friends. Most athiests (and most religious peopel that I've met) aren't going to mither you because your spiritual beliefs are different. It's only loud-mouthed statist goons like Peter Tatchel who like to get on people's cases for being different - which is pretty ironic, really.

Gregg Beaman said...

Exactly Stuart. It's about accepting the views of others, even if you think they are mad, libertarianism really.

There are plenty of 'good' Christians who I find tedious and hypocritical, and plenty of atheists who live better lives than some of the 'good' Christians, robably me included.