Tag Archives: meta-narrative

On Religion and Goodness

Last time, I wrote about the false idea of religion and the suppression of innovation and truth, as exemplified by a reconsideration of the Galileo incident. Today, I want to consider another part of the atheistic meta-narrative that I find equally amusing and frustrating. The meta-narrative summarizes as, “nothing good ever came from religion,” and usually has a variant, “all wars came from religion.”

It’s difficult, in the extreme, to defend absolute statements such as these, especially when they involve interpretive elements. If it’s about winning the argument, I’m sure there are all kinds of websites out there that will give you all of the best, most defensible, responses to these. I want to address, instead, the statement behind the statement. Before that, I do want to give a reply to the second statement by suggesting that most (all) wars are usually related to land: control, ownership, and possession of land and the revenue that land generates. Certainly governments use religion as the rallying cry to motivate the masses to action, but when you boil it down it really comes down to land and resources.

In the end, wars happen because of money, or the love of it.

But to my point: the statement behind the statement of good and religion. I think the real question is a question of goodness. The atheist meta-narrative explicitly (and some would say rationally) denies the the concept of God and the necessity of God in connection to the concept of good. The implicit statement follows that we should discard the irrational God concept and embrace the rational concept of goodness.

Irrational = bad, rational = good.

Ironically, most atheists I know would espouse the goodness of medicine and education, putting these forth as examples of the pinnacle of rationality and enlightenment. I usually lean to my atheist associates and point out that both institutions came from religion. Seriously (there’s a reason why there are Baptist, Presbyterian, and/or Methodist hospitals in most North American cities). The western higher education system is based off of monastic education—to train priests—which in turn drew influence from the madrasa. Both birthed out of the (supposedly non-rational) callings put forth by religion inclinations and the (again, non-rational) pursuit of Godliness and (supposedly rational) goodness.

I think that the atheist meta-narrative question is really, “Is religion good?” My obligatory christian answer to that question is, “any man-made construct has inherent flaws because humanity is inherently flawed, but the object of religion is inherently good.” My real answer to that question is, “God is good, man is not.” Religions are systematic and rational, usually making a lot of sense and having a great deal of internal coherence. God, conceptually, is irrational and doesn’t work according to our categories. Actually, I reject the notion of God as a concept being irrational (I leave it to finer philosophical minds than mine to make the God argument but I hear William Lane Craig does a pretty good job), but I would agree that God as a concept fits outside of neat human construct.

Personally, I call that good.

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On Religion and Ignorance

I stumble across atheist rants every now and then, denouncing the evils of religion. Usually I smile in vague amusement and move on, but lately, something about the atheist anti-religious meta-narrative has bothered me. It took me a while to see it, but I think I’ve finally figured out what, exactly, has stuck in my craw.

The meta-narrative goes something like this: (1) those who practice religion/believe in a higher power are uneducated nut-jobs looking for a crutch to get themselves through life, (2) religion has brought nothing but pain and misery to the world, and (3) rational thinking would force people away from ritualistic reliance on revelation; reason should rule the roost (forgive my alliterative indulgence here). Therefore, we should divest ourselves of the fetters of religiosity and embrace the freedom of rationalism.

In short, theism breeds ignorance, but atheism brings enlightenment.

If you pay any attention to history, you probably spot several of the flaws in this line of thinking. To acknowledge the meta-narrative (and by “meta-narrative” I mean “bigger story being told”) truth, the commitment to a particular faith or value system has, at times, choked the pure exploration of knowledge for its own sake. The meta-narrative will point to the story of Galileo for an example of this. In one version of this tale, the evil religious establishment (the Roman Catholic Church) suppresses the truth of the valiant defender of science and truth, against all reasonable observation. Another version of this tale exists: that Galileo, having previously been wrong about the nature of comets while writing in support of the pope, pushed his agenda of changing the nature of scientific inquiry too far by invoking some hot-button political issues of his day. Galileo, in one of his salvos, actually argued against some of the greatest scientific minds of the time—the Jesuits.

In other words, Galileo thought he was right (although it turns out he was wrong about several things, such as the nature of the tides and circular orbits), and made a rhetorical argument that skewered one of the most powerful religious and political rulers of his day (the pope). That ruler responded with brute force, crushing any chance Galileo had of actually dealing with the scientific issues he’d attempted to address.

I will grant you that the pope was wrong in using the church as an instrument to enforce his will. As a dyed-in-the-wool American protestant christian, I have the same objections to the behavior of some of the pope’s and their ties to (and abuse of) political power as many atheists. I suggest, in contrast to the meta-narrative, that the problem with this is not an issue of religion, but rather an issue of people with power. When you look over history, I believe the more accurate story is not the one which speaks of religions suppression, but rather the story of an engine of economics driving the tools and institutions of power (most often centered in organized religion) to carry out the will of a few. For example, I encourage you to reconsider the actions of Urban VIII in light of the debt and dissension he dealt with at the time of the Galileo affair.

Maybe there’s some truth to the idea of money and evil.

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