Religion as an Anachronism

Posted in Uncategorized by sapere_aude on April 19, 2009

Probably as a result of the upcoming exams, my blog entries will now tend to be more terse.

A recent discussion over the miscalculations of Pope Benedict XVI has led many to re-evaluate the relevance of Catholicism in contemporary British affairs. There were calls,- mainly from fellow Catholics during a recent BBC1 debate, for a stricter scrutiny of the words and actions of the Pope. Controversial topics have recently been raised, notably anti-semitism (pointing out the glaring inconsistency of his stance on this matter) as well as homophobia and contraception.      However fellow Christian conservatives seek to protect the Pope from criticism by stating that at least he is ‘faithful’ to the original doctrines and adheres to orthodox practice. Not only does this take away any moral autonomy from ‘moderate’ Christians, but it also relies for its effect by romanticising the ecclesiastical practices prevalent thousands of years ago. To make a very unsubtle point, at least Christian or Islamic fundamentalists actually believe in what they say they do (though the actions taken are often morally repugnant.)   This ‘faith’ must be contrasted with the almost metaphoric interpretations of ‘moderates’ who are quick to take credit for charming parables in the new testament but become uneasy when any references to the book of Job are made, and at best consider it a problematic allegory. That double-standards are applied to scriptures, suggests to me that religion is an anachronism. 

Present day Britain bears no resemblence the context in which the New or Old Testaments were written. At best religion (as oppose to religiosity) is a form of conservatism ; a willing regress back to ‘simpler’ and more  nostalgic times. For all the talk of ‘broken society’ in our post-industrial state, this accounts for the growing potency of religion amongst young people (although paradoxically new scientific and anthropologic discoveries being made undermine this.) For many people, the now rare term of ‘good christian’  often equates to ‘charity’, ‘humility’, ‘conservatism’ etc – yet with an abundant supply of atheistic literature these received truths are being questioned.    Following the revival of humanism and atheism (Bertrand Russel’s ‘Why I am not a Christian’ being the earliest text I was aquainted with) we have seen an intellectual and rational repudiation of the scriptures on both a metaphysical and a moral level.

This makes Pope Benedict XVI’s public condemnation of anti-semitism and the contradictory reinstatement of a Holocaust-denying Bishop even more problematic.  Both religion and politics can be said vie for influence in society. However if allegations had been made that a Cabinet Minister had made anti-semitic comments (allegations that we later find out to be true) do you not believe that the Prime Minister would not call for his/her resignation? When you consider the severity of Holocaust-Denial it almost renders the Damian McBride affair trivial. Of the two main social influences in society – one is accountable and one is not.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that ”[religious states] are sustained by the ancient ordinances of religion, which are so all-powerful, and of such a character that the principalities may be held no matter how their princes behave and live”. – These ‘boundaries’ although less pronounced, are still present five-hundred years later – However we are now better educated, there is less poverty, we have made medical advances, we are more tolerant, we all retain political power etc.. the structure of society has changed.
 Picking and mixing the Christian soundbites which one ‘moderate’ Christian wishes to live their life by, suggests that there is a criterion with which to ‘pick’ –  thus fundamentally undermining any religious claims of moral superiority. On the other hand, the ‘blind faith of absolutist sects’ (to use Hitchens’ phrase) is also dangerous when considering the activities and plots of militant fundamentalists.
     Some still posit that ‘religiosity’ is an inherent emotion in humans. Perhaps this awe for the supernatural may account for the successes of organised religion. But as I have said, the faith of ‘moderates’ is no longer looked upon as favourable because humanists can derive the same values without reference to scriptural authority (and they retain the benefit of pragmatism). Also the faith of fundamentalists is equally irrelevant in this day and age; it is used to justify oppressive regimes, the subordination of women and sectional conflicts. Religious values, (or rather the values espoused by those who subscribe to monotheistic belief) do differ greatly from the collective consensus of values amongst moderates and humanists. Therefore should it not be considered anachronistic?


One Response

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  1. Rosa said, on April 20, 2009 at 19:43

    I utterly agree with everything you’ve said here, however I wouldn’t be so quick to penalise ‘moderates’ over fundamentalists; at least they have some notion of the modern reality we live in and are therefore somewhat rational and not completely and entirely insane…

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