Archive for December 20th, 2008

There are two separate articles attacking me in the current issue of Humanism Ireland.

The humanists are always having a bash at me; it’s because I am a humanist and they are not.

It seems that fundamentalist movements like this are always more annoyed with people who nearly completely agree with them, but won’t go all the way, than they are with the people they declare to be their real target.

I write about religion from a premiss that makes no sense to a fundamentalist atheist. That is, that some religions are better than others; that there is diveristy and much to be fascinated by in the history of religion; that religion is human and that you can not be a humanist without caring to understand religious motivations – given that religion is not a fringe lunacy in human culture but has been, for probably ten thousand years and more, practically all of it.

So, I argue, if you want to set yourself up as a critic of the baneful influences of religion on people and society, it helps to read about religion, talk to religious people and think about religion. It is not enough to simply sneer at it.

And if they want to attack my articles and books, they should try to understand the motivation behind them and not just read them through a filter that says: he thinks Dawkins is a prat, therefore he must be a prat himself.

I do think Dawkins is a prat. I do think that fundamentalist atheists are as annoying and simplistic as any other kind of fundamentalist.

I don’t believe that religion can be identified as a failure to grasp the theory of evolution or the Big Bang; that it is only a primitive mind’s response to lightning.

One article corrects me with the assertion that Dawkins and the new atheists broke a taboo on talking seriously about religion in the public domain. This is nonsense; they did perhaps break a taboo about celebrating atheism and sneering at religion.  And there is value in that. A religious idea is still just an idea and has to be defended in frank and open discussion or it has to slink coyly away.

But the new atheists are wrong about many of their charges against religion, and they are wrong because they don’t empathise enough with religious people to have any sense of what drives them and divides them.

That’s how they end up with nonsense like Christopher Hitchens’ claim that a revulsion at menstrual fluid is part of all religion. It isn’t.  For all we know there are Irish presbyterians who drink the stuff – it’s just not something they talk about.

Then there is the review of my book, Empty Pulpits.

I am happy when people review my books. I would rather have a frank attack that makes its point well than a sychophantic review that doesn’t, and I have had both.

So, fair dos.  Nail me where you can.

But to attack me for name dropping because there are lots of sources cited! Usually having a lot of sources and interviewees is a credit to a book.

‘I came away dizzily wondering if this was the literary equivalent of one of Hollywood’s Biblical epics, with their “cast of thousands”‘. Really? Too many people quoted in my book? I must remember to keep the numbers down next time to please humanists, for if there is one thing a Belfast Humanist can’t stand it is diversity of opinion and outlook.

‘Malachi adds a dose of mysticism to the brew and decides that the Irish know more about it than the new atheists..’.

No I don’t. I make no claim to their being a particularly Irish insight into anything other than into their own experience. That experience is of being saturated in and dominated by religion until recent times. If you are Irish and middle aged and were once a Catholic, you can remember a religious childhood that precedes the liberation of attitudes in the Second Vatican Council.  What’s contentious about saying that?

Why shouldn’t the memories of those who have lived in a religious culture feature in the discussion about religion?

So it turns out that I am a ‘daylight atheist’ and ‘a lapsed Catholic who can not completely shake it off’ and be as confidently free of religion as the humanists are.

Well maybe I am still immersed in ideas about religion and tilted in different directions by those ideas from day to day.

That is not about a failure to have the courage to stand on the solid ground of reason; it is about the clearest understanding that there is no solid ground.

Humans disappoint the humanists, with their superstitions and diverse religious cultures.  Humans will only measure up to Humanist expectations when they are as logical as Humanists are.

There will be time enough to be logical when we really do understand the universe we live in.

Neitzche said that ultimate truth, if we could grasp it,  might turn out to be of no human value.  What is a humanist to hang on to then but humanity? Revere that, in all its complexity and colour and you might be on safer ground than revering a logic that is still not fully informed.

In the mean time, let’s give the fundamentalists a hard time and be wary of flattering them with imitation.

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