The whole issue of religion has been taking up a bit more space in my head these last few days than in quite a while. I have been reading Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' and hearing all about the visit of Josef Ratzinger to the UK.
It also reflects on my last blog and religion is, I think a central part of belonging. The central part of belonging is a shared body of assumptions, often without basis in reality. Other religions can seem bizarre even to those who are religious but it is often difficult to see this about the religion that you are brought up in. Dawkin’s puts forward a few possible evolutionary reasons why religion prospers including the need to believe and act on your parent’s instructions unquestioningly (in early human society).
Personally I feel that one of our great evolutionary strengths is our need for an answer and perhaps our weakness is reliance on ‘faith’ where there is no obvious answer. However this weakness doesn’t necessarily have any negative affect. It didn’t affect pastoral communities to believe that the earth was the centre of the universe or that it was flat.
However, there is certainly plenty of ill effects from the tendency of religion to splinter people into groups/tribes and this has been at the heart of much of humanities inhumanity to man. There has also been a tendency to demand faith from members of the tribe and to ostracise or kill those who challenge this faith.
One of my historical heroes is Menocchio, a sixteenth century Italian miller who wound up being burnt by the Roman Inquisition as a heresiarch. (See The Cheese and the Worms) One of his heresies was to expound that the Catholic Church couldn’t be the one true church because many people in the world would not even have heard of it and the God that he believed in would not commit large tracts of the human race to hellfire simply for being born in the wrong place. There is a very large pressure on people even in liberal, open societies to subscribe to a set of beliefs which underpin the social contract. It is not generally encouraged to look outside the society in question in order to get a clearer view of the overall impact of these values.
If we are to develop The Empathetic Civilisation we will have to look outside our tribal groups, whether religious, tribal, racial, sexual etc and look at building political and social systems that have the good of the whole human species at their heart. This is accepted as “a good thing” but never seems to form part of political policy other than giving
blood money development aid.
If we can start to leave religion behind and teach children from birth that we are part of an evolutionary process that places us on a continuum from inert chemicals through amoeba, through more complex animals, the great apes and all forms of human. In terms of geological time and the vast spaces of the universe we are so close to a fish or a bird as to be almost indistinguishable from them through those immense tracts of time and space.
And yet we teach of the rightness of books handed through generations like a game of Chinese whispers and then translated and interpreted through further generations, often for political and personal reasons. We teach these Dogmas as if they were true although that itself immediately condemns others as following ‘false gods’. If there is a ‘god’ or ‘gods’ all we can know is that it/they made the world and the only way we have to understand their will is by examining and understanding this world as far as we can.
And yet we allow Mr Ratzinger to travel in pomp and splendour and preach his churches intolerance of those who disagree with it. He insinuated that secularization of society would lead to more atheists like Stalin and Hitler. This despite the fact that Stalin was in a seminary before he renounced his belief and the fact that Hitler espoused his Catholicism on many occasions. It was good to read The God Delusion and feel part of a tribe of atheists – not something I normally feel but it does feel good to belong.
And the theme song to these cobbled thoughts is provided by someone who crosses tribal barriers himself, the English/Irish John Lydon, for many an anti-pope.
I am an atheist, I am an anarchist would even rhyme better John!