Wednesday, 4 July 2012
Rifkindism - mindfulness and belief part 2
The internet wars of religion/atheism seem to have died down somewhat, though the argument is still there, of course. Maybe I’ve just pulled out, because mostly, it’s boring and repetitive. But in the wider world, conflicts over religion+politics rage on in the usual terrifying way. What is the Truth? Does the Taliban wield it, or is it being defended by the U.S. Marine Corps? Or....
Last post, I was trying to consider absolute vs relative ways of looking at truth, and identifying a third “not sure” way that so many people seem to live in.
Hugo Rifkind in The Spectator, 23 June 2012, touches on one kind of “not sure”ness after attending a Christening in a country church. He writes “other people’s religions pose no problem for me. I’m rather an Anglican agnostic rationalist Jewish disestablishmentarian, in this respect.” He wonders if anyone has done a study of the degree to which atheism is an urban phenomenon, and decides that:
“Your urban atheist, I suspect, strips back religion to just the God bit, and that’s why they find it so inexplicably stupid. But that’s exactly the bit the core religious aren’t concentrating on. That is why the very rational views of people like Richard Dawkins make some, like me, feel terribly uncomfortable. He thinks he’s declaring war on suicide bombers, intolerance and female circumcision. But it comes across, to people who have nothing to do with these things, as a war against niceness, biscuits, and the quiet humility of everyone getting along.”
Despite his jokey tone, he makes an interesting point. You don’t have to accept the core belief systems of a religion to have it as part of your individual identity, your cultural reference point, and it may help people get along better. Or as someone put it neatly about religious ritual, “it’s simply what we do around here.”
Maybe that’s why atheists sometimes enjoy Christmas carols and that whole magnificent story which they must see, in essence, as a myth – but Christmas (or Diwali, or Hanuka, or….) may simply be what people do around here. It’s part of what makes people feel they belong, even if they feel that creationism is dangerous nonsense and Darwin was pretty much spot on.
It is, however, at that sort of crux that we have to make our choices: Darwin or Christian fundamentalist views of the origins of life? It matters very much in education. And that is where Rifkind’s civilized aversion to polarizing views around the truth of religious doctrine reaches its limit.
There are “either/or” issues with roots in religious differences, and that’s not only in areas of appalling conflict where religious difference is welded to tribal or ethnic differences to create lethal political strife. (Although in a sense, what does it matter if a mass murderer is an Islamist bomber or that Norwegian monster currently on trial? “By their fruits shall ye know them,” whatever their beliefs.)
There is another mode of thought and being, a different middle way that is not about belief at all, not about The One Truth. It could be categorised as a state of mind, a state of being, rather than a set of beliefs or an attitude towards truth. I’ll finish off this mini-series in a third instalment. Yes, I know, the tension is unbearable...