Monday, 1 October 2007

Start the Week

Start the Week on Radio 4 is back after its summer break and today was great stuff, with interesting contributions on the battle for Japan in 1944-45, the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqis and - the thing I want to mention here - a brief discussion with Karen Armstrong about her new book The Bible - the biography.

Karen Armstrong is a former nun who has written many books on religion, including A history of God. She now calls heself a freelance monotheist, not attached to a particular religion but still very much attached to God.

Since I became convinced of the process of evolution as an explanation of how we got here I have lost any interest in analysing the Bible or any other religious texts in order to pick holes in it, so I won't be reading the book. But it was interesting to hear her summary and also instructive that here is an intelligent woman who doesn't have a lot of time for any particular religion, thinks the afterlife is a red herring, and yet is still dedicating her life to the search for some kind of spiritual meaning.

She blames militant secularism, to a large extent, for the rise of religious fundamentalism, which irritates me more than a little. Of more interest to me is that here we have another example of a clever person, well-educated and by no means blind to the faults of religion - far from it - and yet she thinks that a religious faith is so important to humans that it is dangerous to remove it from them.

I am rather depressed, I admit. I don't want to proselytise for atheism. As I have written here before, I came to my decision on god in my forties and after a series of life and learning experiences that were unique to me. It would be unfair of me to expect other people to spring to my side simply because of the power of my rhetoric. You have to be a very strong person to cast off the crutch of religion. If you are not strong or if you have never had to be strong because life has never dealt you a bad hand then you are going to cling to that crutch like a comfort blanket (if I'm not mixing my metaphors.)

But I do get angry with intelligent people who, it seems to me, wilfully cling to their own personal brand of spirituality in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, managing to hold mutually exclusive ideas in their brains at the same time. If every academic was forced to take a course in logic the world might be a saner place.

You can listen to the programme online here


reasonable robinson said...

Have your readers seen the article by Richard Dawkins in the Grauniad (sic) yesyerday (1/10/07) and his tour of the US to promote the views of Americas silent atheists?

Puddock said...

Thanks rr, not least for suggesting I have multiple readers!

Here's the link to the article:,,2180660,00.html

Until I started blogging and thus reading other people's blogs, I had no idea quite how endemic religion was in the US. I wish Richard luck in his task, although he is such an iconic figure now that I wonder if he'll actually change anyone's mind. Everyone thinks they know what he says so they don't listen any more, unless they are already 'converts'.

Puddock said...

There was a good piece by Thomas Sutcliffe in the Independent in response to this too