Jun 20 2011

Pulling Us Back from the Brink – Religion?

Published by under Talks

Pulling us Back from the Brink:


Economics? Science? Religion?






Alan: Religion may be the death of us


Bruce: Religion can deliver the world



Alan: Religion may be the death of us


Six Points of View


Stephen Weinberg said that, “in the ordinary moral universe, the good will do the best they can, the worst will do the worst they can, but if you want to make good people do wicked things, you’ll need religion.”


This was quoted by Christopher Hitchens in the debate with Tony Blair, held last year in Toronto, Canada, in front of an audience of 2600.


The debate was called “Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.”


Hitchens went on to ask “ “is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our scepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and to our guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good for the world?


“To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all the while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but their parents and those they love. Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world, and can you name me a religion that has not done that? To insist that we are created and not evolved in the face of all the evidence. To say that certain books of legend and myth, man-made and primitive, are revealed and not man-made code.


“Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things. Handed a small baby for the first time, is it your first reaction to think, beautiful, almost perfect, now please hand me the sharp stone for its genitalia that I may do the work of the Lord.”


The debate was very lively, as you can see from the following transcript hyperlink still alive:  Blair vs Hitchens debate (Original New Statesman link now dead.)


The vast majority of the divisions in the world today, in the new country of Southern Sudan, in Nigeria, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine- Israel are all a result of religious intolerance. Maybe that intolerance would exist without religion, as you may argue is the case in North Korea and before that in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia but you cannot overlook the pain caused by Catholic preaching against condom use and the spread of HIV, or Catholic preaching about regulating family size in poverty-stricken parts of South America, Africa and elsewhere. The Catholic assertion that Catholicism is the only true Christian church excludes all those of other flavours of Christianity: Protestants, Orthodox, Nestorians and all the rest. The Muslim world is still split between Sunnis and Shias all because of a row over who should follow the Prophet after his death and that split has been used as an excuse for mass murder in Iraq and many other parts of the Middle East.


The non-democratically elected religious leaders use their fanatical religious platforms to establish a power base for themselves, to manipulate the masses into doing their will. They draw lines, not in the sand, but in stone tablets and declare them to be more fundamental than the laws of the Medes and Persians. So… will we ever see peace in the Middle East? – not whilst the religious leaders have any say in the solutions. Can we rely on common sense coming from America – the most powerful nation the world has ever known? Not while fundamentalism is being taught in classrooms and facts about evolution dismissed aided by huge charitable monies such as the US$1m Templeton Prize given to Martin Rees, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal last year for his “ exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”.


Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion” asks the reader to “ imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian Partition, no Israel/Palestine wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as “Christ killers”, no Northern Ireland “troubles”, no honour killings, no shiny-suited, bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of money, no Taliban blowing up statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of females for showing an inch of skin.”


The Hitchens-Blair debate had some fascinating results: Over 90% of those who voted in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia believed that religion is a force for good in the world, in Australia 30% and in Sweden just under 20%. Whilst accepting the huge efforts made by many folk in our Dunedin faith community to make the world a better place, my vote goes to the Hitchens-Dawkins camp.
(Click following to enlarge)


Debate Blair-Hitchens


Bruce: Religion can deliver the world

Religion can deliver the world. Bruce Spittle 23 June 2011.


We have heard how religion can be the death of us. Fundamentalist religious convictions, if unchecked by critical examination, can lead to irrational and destructive conflict. However, religion can be more than believing in and centring one’s life around a supernatural deity. As Lloyd Geering has noted, in his 1998 booklet, Does society need religion? and which is the source of most of the following comments, the word religion, derived from the Latin religio, did not originally refer to any particular set of beliefs at all but to the degree of commitment or devotion which people displayed towards their most important interests. Religion basically meant conscientiousness and reverence—a conscientious concern for what really matters.


Religion is a total mode of interpreting and living life. Religion is a human product, what we humans have evolved in our culture to live together in the most harmonious way, and everyone who takes life seriously is taking the first steps in religion.


Lloyd has noted that human society today, living in a global village, is facing a crisis which can be legitimately analysed as a religious crisis and that to become whole and healthy, human society needs an appropriate religion to serve as a superglue to hold it together by providing it with a common set of values and a common goal.


Humans not only need to be in harmony with themselves but also with the planet. We face the problems of the growing population outstripping the food supply, our rapidly exhausting the earth’s natural resources, the pollution of air and water which are basic to human survival, the destruction of rainforests, the expansion of deserts, the washing of topsoil into the sea, interference with ecosystems and hastening the extinction of various species, ozone layer depletion, and increasing carbon dioxide levels contributing to global warming.


A new global religion must come that has arisen out of a renewed understanding of how dependent we are on the earth, out of a shared consciousness of what threatens all humans equally, and out of a widespread willingness to work together to achieve a common global goal.


It will dispense with the natural / supernatural dichotomy and the natural world itself will be treated as sacred. It will dispense with the concept of unseen objective spiritual beings, such as a Heavenly Father, for life itself in all its forms will constitute the highest known value. It will dispense with any notion of personal immortality, for death will be valued positively as an essential ingredient in the evolution of life.


In the new religion, the forces of nature, the process of evolution, and the existence of life itself will be the objects of respect and veneration. The new religion will be equally relevant to all humans, irrespective of their cultural past, simply because of their humanity. As humankind recovers full appreciation of how much our earthly life depends upon the conditions and processes of the earth, it will recreate the appropriate nature festivals to celebrate it. They will also celebrate everything we have come to value in human existence, such as the importance of healthy human relationships and the rich inheritance of human culture.


The most important religious issue of today is addressing how we are to respond to the forces of nature in such a way that there will be a world worth living in for our children and grandchildren. The religious way for this century which may bring us back from the brink will involve:
• being devoted to maximizing the future for all living creatures whose destiny is increasingly in our hands
• valuing, more that ever, the importance of the human relationships which bind us together into social groups and
• placing the needs of the coming global society before those of our immediate family, tribe, or nation.


There will be no one way of being religious and no one language for expressing it. There will not be one exclusively religious global organization but rather a host of relatively small and somewhat diverse social groups whose members are bonded to one another on a purely personal basis. But the groups will be inclusive, being ready to accept anyone who wishes to join, and will share a set of common goals and values.


The future for humans on our planet is uncertain. A new religion, to give us global cohesion and commitment to the welfare of the planet, may pull us back from the brink. Whether we will survive is at present not known but the challenge is to go forward in faith and hope, and, as Lloyd has noted, God helps those who help themselves.




1. Geering L. Does society need religion? Wellington: St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society;1998.
2. Smart Talk on Radio New Zealand National 2010: Innovation and faith
A conversation between Finlay Macdonald and theologian Sir Lloyd Geering, aged 92, who is still encouraging people to re-think the idea of religious belief. (duration: 52′18″).
Available from:podcast.radionz.co.nz

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