Questionable Motives

November 28, 2010

Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Filed under: belief,Blair,Debate,God,Hitchens — tildeb @ 3:36 pm

Tony Blair vs The Hitch


  1. Do you really think that a debate like this is of any consequences – especially in a time where in the UK the biggest attacks on knowledge and learning comes from quite a different quarter.
    I mean, I totally agree with most of what Mr. Hitchens said, but this sort of debate is in the end not much more than intellectual wanking. It’s not really going to change any opinions. (Those present hardly count. For one, everyone will claim that they are open to change in the face of good argument, but hardly anyone ever is. Secondly the very fact that they went to this sort of debate provides a pretty stiff sample bias.) You don’t reduce religious thinking in the world by attacking religion, no matter how good your arguments. You automatically reduce it by funding education and granting people free access to it, by reducing their worries about death through a strong, stable, accessible health care system, and by removing the feeling of helplessness imposed on most of us by arbitrary and willfully unethical leaders of finance, industry, and the military.
    It isn’t Atheism that makes countries like those of Scandinavia such prosperous and comparatively peaceful places – it is the peace and fair prosperity of such places that makes people less in need of God.

    Comment by FreeFox — November 29, 2010 @ 2:47 am | Reply

    • Peter Munk spoke at the beginning and explained why any true debate between differing ideas is important, why holding opinions is one thing – a lesser thing – but having to defend them in the presence of a knowledgeable opponent is quite another, that being part of this process regardless of topic helps to inform not only what we think but helps us to understand the reasons upon which other people’s opinions are based, that this process is as much one of discovery as it is validation, and that we do this with civilized discourse if we agree to respect the role of reason.

      It seems to me that the link you provide helps prove this point. When reasoned discourse fails, this is the inevitable result where force of power rather that reasonable debate determines the outcome. If it is reasonable to reduce funding while increasing fees, then street demonstrations is nothing more than a bully tactic. If it is a matter of power to reduce funding and increase fees then street demonstrations are to be expected, which is a direct challenge to that power. A smart student leader would set up a day for all students to stay home to flex their power, and if changes aren’t made then set up a week to stay home, and then a fortnight, then a month, and perhaps a year, and eventually soft power exercised in a disciplined way that is reasonable will always rule because it is always just.

      The same exercise of soft power based on what’s reasonable will slowly influence and reduce the religious divide. That atheism is slowly approaching the default position of youth is absolutely key to bringing about the kind of societal changes necessary to influence reasonable policies on social welfare and fair prosperity. When religious preferences are legitimately questioned and eloquently shown to be an unreasonable force against social cohesion and an unfair force against specific groups, then this kind of reasoned debate is an important part of that process.

      This particular debate brought in 150,000 subscribers to watch it streamed here in Canada, and Munk says that the worldwide audience was around 240 million. In this sense the debate itself was not trivial nor unimportant when interest for it seemed so widespread. But of greater importance is the point that this kind of debate is needed more now than ever, where what is reasonable rather than what is merely powerful matters. So I agree with your conclusion that it isn’t atheism itself that brings about prosperity and fair change that you suggest makes the Scandinavian countries less religious; it is a government and its people respecting the social value of what is reasonable. In contrast, religion does not respect what is reasonable for the sake of reason; it not only demands obedience for what is by its very nature a belief in what cannot be supported by reason and fairness and equity and prosperity but raises the social consequences of faith-based beliefs – the terrible consequences in poverty and misogyny and suffering in religion’s name – to becomes virtues in the name of piety rather than social ills in need of reasonable redress.

      Comment by tildeb — November 29, 2010 @ 9:25 am | Reply

    • Freefox wrote:

      “everyone will claim that they are open to change in the face of good argument”

      I just wish the believing side could muster a good argument. In all my reading and in all the debates I have watched and participated in, nobody seems to be able to muster a convincing argument for the central item of import…Is it true?…Is there really any reason to think there is a concerned deity at work? Believers can’t even properly support there being a deistic god…much less a theistic god.

      Comment by Mike (FVThinker) Burns — November 30, 2010 @ 9:23 am | Reply

      • Although this seems self-evident to skeptics, I think its absence in the arguments for supernatural agencies reveals a fatal flaw in faith-based thinking: having to show what’s true doesn’t matter as much as simply believing what’s true.

        Comment by tildeb — November 30, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  2. From The Hitch’s opening:

    Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well. I’ll repeat that. Created sick, and then ordered to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent, greedy for uncritical phrase from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original since with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place.
    However, let no one say there’s no cure, salvation is offered, redemption, indeed, is promised, at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties. Religion, it might be said, it must be said, would have to admit makes extraordinary claims but though I would maintain that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, rather daringly provides not even ordinary evidence for its extraordinary supernatural claims.
    Therefore, we might begin by asking, and I’m asking my opponent as well as you when you consider your voting, is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our scepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and to our guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal?
    To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all the while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but their parents and those they love. Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world, and can you name me a religion that has not done that? To insist that we are created and not evolved in the face of all the evidence. To say that certain books of legend and myth, man-made and primitive, are revealed not man-made code.

    Comment by tildeb — November 29, 2010 @ 11:38 am | Reply

    • I think there is confusion as to what is sin… For many they think of sin as being the sexual act. Clearly Christianity doesn’t support this; for it supports the idea that sex is good if used wisely and as a act of love. If its not, it is as destructive for self and others as much as any other addictive behaviour is.

      Take sexual activity that a spouse has outside of the relationship covenant.. its destructive to that relationship and those within it not constructive.

      However my definition of sin is that Sin is the destructive force that works its way within us, communities and globally destroying relationship and care for creation, each other and the relationship we have with the Creator (God) ..

      How you understand the creation is another issue… If you believe that evolution is scientifically correct, which there are a lot of issues to work through in proving it… you cannot prove God is not / was not working through this.

      Comment by Craig Benno — November 29, 2010 @ 5:47 pm | Reply

      • Uh oh…

        Comment by tildeb — November 29, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

      • Religious belief co-opts and steals whatever is useful to itself and then claims this stolen property as coming from itself.

        That irresponsible sexual activity can lead to problems is not a religious revelation. But what does belong to religion is this notion that it and not some other moral concern drives what defines responsible sexual activity. This is not only arrogant but intrusive meddling without cause. And so religion feels perfectly justified to make such pronouncements as if it had some special place of knowledge to do so and then pretends to be hurt if anyone dares criticize it from being soundly spanked for it unwarranted intrusion and unwanted insertion into the bedrooms of our nations where it has no business being.

        As for evolution, one does not believe whether or not it is the best explanation we have to describe biological changes over time; one understands why this is so. Failure to understand how the overwhelming evidence supports the theory of natural selection from common ancestry is not a reflection of the quality and veracity of the theory as you would have us think; this failure is a reflection of a very poor education of someone audacious enough to think this is justified in the matter. It isn’t; it’s a sign of ignorance. Filling in this absence of knowledge with a religious belief merely compounds the state of ignorance and presents religious belief as if it were an equivalent answer when it is not. Inserting god into the process is an unnecessary and unwarranted complication to soothe ill-informed religious sensibilities.

        Comment by tildeb — November 30, 2010 @ 8:42 am

  3. From Blair’s opening:

    I am going to make seven points in my seven minutes, that’s a biblical seven. The first is this, it is undoubtedly true that people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion. It is also undoubtedly true that people do acts of extraordinary common good inspired by religion. Almost half the healthcare in Africa is delivered by faith based organisations, saving millions of lives. A quarter of worldwide HIV/AIDS care is provided by Catholic organisations. There is the fantastic work of Muslims and Jewish relief organisations. There are in Canada thousands of religious organisations that care for the mentally ill or disabled or disadvantaged or destitute. And here in Toronto, barely one and a half miles from here, is a shelter run by covenant house, a Christian charity for homeless youth in Canada.
    So the proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable. It can be destructive, it can also create a deep well of compassion, and frequently does.
    And the second is that people are inspired to do such good by what I would say is the true essence of faith, which is along with doctrine and ritual particular to each faith, a basic belief common to all faiths, in serving and loving God, through serving and loving your fellow human beings. As witnessed by the life and teaching of Jesus, one of love, selflessness and sacrifice, the meaning of the Torah. It was Rabbi Hillel who was once famously challenged by someone that said they would convert to religion if he could recite the whole of the Torah standing on one leg. He stood on one leg and said: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and do it.
    The message of the prophet Mohammed, saving one life is as if you’re saving the whole of humanity, the Hindu searching after selflessness, the Buddhist concepts of Kuruni … which all subjugate selfish desires to care for others, Sikh insistence on respect for others of another faith. That in my view is the true face of faith. And the values derived from this essence offer to many people a benign, positive and progressive framework by which to live our daily lives. Stimulating the impulse to do good, disciplining the propensity to be selfish and bad.
    And faith defined in this way is not simply faith as solace in times of need, though it can be; nor a relic of unthinking tradition, still less a piece of superstition or an explanation of biology. Instead, it answers a profound spiritual yearning, something we feel and sense instinctively. This is a spiritual presence, bigger, more important, more meaningful than just us alone, that has its own power separate from our power, and that even as the world’s marvels multiply, makes us kneel in humility not swagger in pride.
    If faith is seen in this way, science and religion are not incompatible, destined to fight each other, until eventually the cool reason of science extinguishes the fanatical flames of religion. Rather science educates us as to how the physical world is and how it functions, and faiths educates us as to the purpose to which such knowledge is put, the values that should guide its use, and the limits of what science and technology can do not to make our lives materially richer but rather richer in spirit.

    Comment by tildeb — November 29, 2010 @ 11:42 am | Reply

    • Amen!

      Comment by 4amzgkids — December 1, 2010 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

    • “Almost half the healthcare in Africa is delivered by faith based organisations, saving millions of lives.”

      I wouldn’t call it healthcare – dirty hospitals, poor AIDS education etc… not very good healthcare, not the sort of healthcare the Pope would use.

      “And the second is that people are inspired to do such good by what I would say is the true essence of faith”

      Otherwise they wouldn’t do it? What sort of person needs to be ‘inspired’ to do good?

      “It was Rabbi Hillel who was once famously challenged by someone that said they would convert to religion if he could recite the whole of the Torah standing on one leg. He stood on one leg and said: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and do it.”

      LIAR! This is all from a man – who made up some bullshit about WMD so that he could convince a nation to send people to war to kill people so he could get rich off the profits. This man knows how divisive religion is, he has used it to start wars, and to make him look good in the public arena – he’s divisive and manipulative, a truly dangerous individual who should be criminally punished for his crimes against humanity. Now people are treating us as we have treated them – we now live with a real threat of terrorist attack everyday because this pathetic individual wanted to leave a legacy.

      Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 2, 2010 @ 1:22 am | Reply

  4. I didn’t have time to comment here this morning when I made my other one. I like this quote.

    Rather science educates us as to how the physical world is and how it functions, and faiths educates us as to the purpose to which such knowledge is put, the values that should guide its use, and the limits of what science and technology can do not to make our lives materially richer but rather richer in spirit.

    It’s what I believe that faith never will and cannot direct science; rather that faith can inform and direct the way science is used within an ethical frame work.

    Comment by Craig Benno — November 30, 2010 @ 6:59 am | Reply

    • Yeah, most religious believers use this line because it sounds so nice. Religion’s supposed special role is to tell us of our purpose, which then supposedly informs us how to live, which in turn supposedly justifies the placing of some ethical or moral value ahead of others. It’s a lovely little circle. But it’s a closed circle that reveals very poor reasoning.

      Granted, various religions assign various purposes and then select various values to be more important than others, but based on what? And herein lies the snag: in the details.

      When we question exactly this, we quickly and easily find religions to be first in conflict with each other over this assignment and with no apparent means to determine which religion is better informed than any other, and then second (and to our great disappointment when we find the cupboard of reasoning bare) that none of them are better informed than some other course of study. This circular argument that creates a false dichotomy is empty of good reasons. It just sounds nice.

      Unless the religious believers can first identify why a theological position is better informed than another theological position, we can’t even approach why any of them is somehow equally competent to a philosophical or political or social or scientific or academic position that merely assigns purpose or (more properly) calls into question if purpose itself is anything other than meaningless and unanswerable drivel (the wrong question, as Dawkins constantly points out). All this glib niceness about purpose as a key plank in religious relevance really reveals is a gullibility to believe in a false dichotomy out of convenience rather than merit.

      Comment by tildeb — November 30, 2010 @ 7:20 am | Reply

      • Yet, one only has to look at the history of the nations who tried to ban a faith based involvement within society, to see the collapse of the ethical framework in which science can operate.

        Take the Nazi regime and the scientific experiments they did with no regard for any form of a faith based ethical framework. The same with Communism and Socialist nations. China and its human rights violation with experimentation with prisoners…criminal or political; not to mention the forcible abortive acts on families who wish to have more then one baby.

        The Christian faith in that all are made in the image of God and therefore all should be treated with the dignity and respect that that deserves; certainly safeguards this ethic… in that no matter the age; class, gender or nationality… all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.History shows that Science of its self without this safeguard it cannot be trusted to keep this ethic.

        Comment by Craig Benno — November 30, 2010 @ 7:36 am

      • The problem with totalitarian states is not that they tried to ban religious belief; it’s that they tried to become a substitute belief. These states tried to be too much like a religion. This is antithetical to atheism, meaning non belief. And that’s why it’s a false dichotomy but constantly presented as fact – as if by getting religion out of the public domain means an invitation for some totalitarian state to take root. This is exactly backwards: non belief means establishing an ethical framework based on human well-being rather than the well-being of some substitute agency… whether that agency is the nation state or some supernatural divinity. Ethics based on good reasons is not comparable to living by some goat herder’s water-parched hallucination about the values chosen for us by some three-part god. As Hitchens so rightly points out, believing in the latter makes us things… property of the capricious agency rather than active self-directed, interactive, and responsible agents of the former.

        Christianity has a long and continued history of institutional misogyny where men and women are not treated as equal members, equally worthy of the same respect and dignity. Your assertion to the contrary can only be upheld in the absence of plentiful historical as well as recent evidence to the contrary, yet you seem to think that religion in this regard has a legitimate role to play ‘guiding’ what that respect should look like.

        Christianity has had a long and current history of actively interfering with scientific inquiry and avenues of research. You seem to think that religion in this regard has a legitimate role to play ‘guiding’ what that inquiry should look like.

        Christianity has a long and current history of actively interfering with sexual relations between consenting adults. You seem to think that religion in this regard has a legitimate role to play ‘guiding’ what that relationship should look like.

        My question should be obvious: why do you grant to religious oversight that which belongs to me?

        How does your religious belief earn a place at the discussion table about ethics and morality and human rights and freedoms and sexual relations and scientific inquiry and avenues of research and what education should look like and what theories are acceptable and what politicians to support, and so on, ad nauseum? How does religious belief in and of itself add anything to any of these areas of interest and inform any responsive policy with anything other than statements of pure hubris? Why should I grant to religious belief any value whatsoever?

        Comment by tildeb — November 30, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  5. I actually paid for access to the live stream from Munk Debates (though I didn’t watch it live). I was anxious to hear two great orators on the topic. It seemed very cramped (time-wise) for them to make their points and Hitch barely got out of the gate. Still…Blair was SPANKED!!! I loved the bit where Blair was saying how the Catholics and Protestants were reaching across the divide in Ireland and Hitch [properly] pounced with “Well…where did the divide come from?”. Blair was totally backed into a corner and so qualified and diluted his position as to be embarrassing.

    I will soooo miss Mr. Hitchens.

    Comment by Mike (FVThinker) Burns — November 30, 2010 @ 9:30 am | Reply

    • I laughed out loud at that point. It’s the same broken idea that more of the same will yield a different result with enough belief… more of whatever has poisoned you will make you better if you just believe, that more religion in a sectarian conflict will be the path to peace if only all of us would believe. It’s just so bizarre!

      Comment by tildeb — November 30, 2010 @ 9:38 am | Reply

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