Religion and respect

Have a read of Norm on religion and Christopher Hitchens’ attitude towards believers. I am glad I did.

Norm says: One can, one should, argue about its truth content and its rational basis or, as I think, lack of one; because that is our duty with respect to all beliefs. But I have read now about hundreds of people impelled by their religious faith to acts of great and courageous humanity, and we who have never done that owe them respect and more than respect, we owe them the celebration of what they did; for such people are the glory of humankind.

Indeed. On a much more minor level, I had a discussion about this topic with my militantly anti-theist (to borrow a Hitchens phrase) father a couple of years ago when I was talking about a friend who is a strongly believing and practising Christian. She hasn’t committed any act of great and courageous humanity but I was praising her for being among the few people I knew, at that time, who thought at length and with involvement about many important questions.

It was (and is) her faith that leads her to think with intelligence and compassion about a range of moral, political and social issues and my point was that her attitude is in strong contrast to the great majority of people who go about their lives without pausing to consider issues such as global poverty, violence, the death penalty or abortion. My argument with my father was a simple one – that one does not need to share a faith to appreciate that someone’s faith can lead them to make a valuable contribution to trying to increase understanding of our problems and ultimately to trying to improve the world. If I am not mistaken, the phrase which I used and which led to the argument becoming somewhat animated was along the lines of “Give me a thinking Christian over an unthinking atheist any day of the week”.

Perhaps at one time I would have said that people such as my friend reach this position of involvement with issues ‘despite their faith’ but is not such terminology rather uncharitable? I don’t go along with the notion, fashionable in certain Christian quarters at the moment, that atheism is itself a faith but I would say that my own still very under-informed humanist-socialist worldview rests upon something which, if not exactly a faith, is certainly a strong belief in something that can be challenged daily by evidence – the essential goodness of human beings.

None of which undermines, in anyway at all, the arguments against religious belief and faith. Nor, of course, does it take anything away from a political commitment to a seperation of Church and State and to the broader positions associated with secularism. Indeed one of the other fashionable mistakes of the moment is to blur the distinction between the terms atheism and secularism. There is, of course, no contradiction involved in the phrases Christian Secularist or Secular Muslim.

Surely, in an ideal world, all the religious would be secularists and all the atheists would be tolerant of the religious?

It is, as Norman suggests, a matter of respect.