Today: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Is religion the problem?    (3/1/2015 1)

Many people have had bad experiences of religion at some time - I can think of a few horror stories in my own experience! Certainly, the news is full of stories of atrocities committed, supposedly, in the name of a religion. What are we to make of religion, then? If you’ve suffered at the hands of a religious freak, or if someone who’s supposed to be a believer doesn’t live up to it, what do you do?

You might be tempted to give up on religion altogether; or you might decide the problem is the person themselves rather than their religion. You might want to find out what that religion is really about. So let's look at Christianity. 

Richard Dawkins outlines his ‘scientific atheism’ in his book The God Delusion, and is clearly in the first of those camps. He says he knows more about Christianity than other religions—but the evidence is not compelling. Most likely, he’s had some bad experiences (some of which he quotes) and then decided to blame religion. He makes several fundamental mistakes, however; I’ve picked out just four:

  • First, he lumps all religions together and writes them all off as bad. But to imagine that all religions are the same shows a profound lack of insight. Also, it’s a wild claim indeed to suppose that all who follow a religious path are deluded and a source of evil, and that all forms of religion should now be condemned. He condemns all, without any apparent interest in understanding what he criticises.
  • Second, he fails to recognise the good religions have done. Actually, we do have to wince at some of the uncomfortable stories he and the newspapers tell; there have been terrible scandals in the life of the church, for instance, both in past history and today. But not to take an equally open view of the massive good that has been, and is being, done by people of faith—in terms of sacrifice, service, selflessness, and shaping a better world—is to be hopelessly unbalanced.
  • Third, he fails to see that science and religion are not necessarily at war at all, and can be reconciled and mutually informative. Like others of the so-called ‘new atheists’, what Dawkins really rails at is the fundamental difference in the way he thinks science and religion work. Science is based on evidence, he insists, and religion is based on superstition. That’s what makes them incompatible. But both suppositions are wrong! Science can only go so far on evidence—it also has to work with provisional answers, based on fundamental principles which are widely believed (but not known) to be true. Religion works with evidence too, and very many eminent scientists—despite some disparaging comments from Richard Dawkins—find the evidence for their faith as compelling as the evidence they deal with in their work.
  • Fourth, he fails to see that what he wants to put in place of religion is also a belief system—which suffers the same human frailties as every religious system. Science which has no room for God still has its own belief structures, and is still at the mercy of human weakness. It has its own chequered history. We shall have more to say about that another time! But for the moment we need to challenge Dawkins’ prejudices and distortions.

When violence is committed in the name of the religion, is it the religion to blame, or the god, or the human? To paraphrase often-quoted words, the heart of the human problem is not religion but the problem of the human heart. And that’s the problem God has dealt with through Jesus, and which many of us have grappled with and gladly seek to get straight in our lives.

Pray: God, you gave us minds to think with, and a place to live in your creation. Help us to think deeply and clearly about your world with its wonders and mysteries, not to jump to conclusions, and to find a way of life that makes sense of you and all the evidence around us. Amen.

Think about: If you see someone who is a bad example of religious faith, and you see another person who is a good example of religious faith, which one do you focus on? Do either tell you anything about the existence or nature of God?

Challenge: If you want to follow up the debate with Richard Dawkins, there are plenty of books which challenge his arguments while giving credit to the positive things he has done in the world of science.  To find out more, visit a Christian bookshop or ask us...

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