Friday, May 9, 2008

Cardinal virtues

What was interesting for me in this piece about Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's insistence that Richard Dawkins is wrong because he is anti a particular kind of theism:

The interesting question about atheism is what is the theism being denied? Have you ever met anyone who believes what Richard Dawkins does not believe in? The God that is being rejected by such people is a God I don't believe in either.

whereas Dawkins would suggest that the cardinal's views on whether there's a god are his own business, and have absolutely no place in public life.

I think the cardinal is unclear that Dawkins would simply suggest that any god he believed in would be about as bad as any other. Still, you'd like to think that Dawkins has more problem with the outcomes of religious belief than the belief itself, but I've always thought that what offended him most was that people were stupid enough to believe in gods in the first place. (Or, to be more charitable, that they were a/ not willing to examine beliefs spoonfed them by their folks and b/ too willing to spoonfeed those beliefs to others.)

I was interested too by Tony Blair's suggestion that religion needs to be saved from irrelevance and extremism. It's curious that he sees them as a spectrum, with being too into religion at one end, and not thinking it's all that important at the other, and presumably being just religious enough in the middle. Personally, I think that other people's religion should be irrelevant, but I am a secularist, who believes that we have a better society if religion is kept strictly to the private sphere, and not allowed to intrude on the public. I don't believe religion has ever added anything to the public discourse, and has far too often detracted from it. Neither is it irrelevant that the Nazis marched with "Gott mit uns" as their motto.

Religion is often a tool of the powerful. I'm sure that Blair would prefer a Britain in which Catholicism could be wielded as a means of controlling the masses, with priests as agents of governance.

The article mentions some of the ways the cardinal feels that religion can contribute to public life. Murphy O'Connor suggests that it had a valuable role in the debate over hybrid embryos. But what was that role? It was to oppose them for religious reasons. He also has criticised the government for not giving in to Catholic pressure over adoption laws and faith schools. In none of these issues is the cardinal constructive. If his church was permitted a greater role in public life, it would simply obstruct more, seek to impose more conservative, anti-progressive agendas on the government and sidetrack debates into narrow frames that don't illuminate the issues but simply turn them into discussions of Catholic religious views.

Note what Cardinal O'Brien of Scotland said about hybrid embryos, that they would allow "grotesque procedures" of "Frankenstein procedures". We should encourage this? Why? So much of religion can be boiled down to "ick". Why should we further empower these weird, ultraconservative men--only men because their religion does not permit the egalitarian principles that our society believes in to have sway, and unmarried men because their god is stuffed-up enough not to think half of the human race is fit to lead worship of it--whose contribution to public debate is rarely elevated above "ewwwwww"?

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