"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Rowan Williams saying the right things for wrong reasons

Rowan Williams made a couple of interesting statements in his final Easter Sunday sermon before he stands down as Archbishop of Canterbury. Interesting but not perhaps for the reasons he thinks. The first is his plea that religious education does not become sidelined in schools.
“There is plenty to suggest that younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don’t have the hostility to faith that one might expect, but at least share some sense that there is something here to take seriously – when they have a chance to learn about it.”
I’m not sure why The Archbishop expects that young people would be “hostile” to faith. They may well be indifferent to it or find it faintly quaint and ridiculous, but I don’t think “militant secularism” has seriously pervaded the British School system yet.
But that apart, I actually agree with him that religious education should be taken seriously. We live in a multi-faith world where religion is the main driver of regional conflicts and social unease. It is important that young people enter the adult world equipped with knowledge of the foundational myths and dogmas of the major religions, in order that they can deal responsibly and sensitively to these issues when they arise and understand the socio-political makeup of the society around them. What they don’t need is their “moral and spiritual” development being tied to these classes, as religion shouldn’t have a monopoly on morality, but as part of a rounded education R.E has a place when taught in a historical and social context.

William’s second statement of interest is his assertion that the ultimate test of the Christian religion is not whether it is useful or beneficial but whether or not the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened.
“When all’s said and done about the newly acknowledged social value of religion, we mustn’t forget that what we ultimately have to speak about isn’t this but God – the God who raised Jesus and, as St Paul repeatedly says, will raise us also with him,”
Personally I’m glad that the Church is prepared to offer this hostage to fortune. If the relevance of religion is not that it promotes social welfare or charity, straightforward humanist values that do not require faith at all, but that its central claims to the existence of supernatural events and forces need to be actually true we can finally ditch all of the “sophisticated” theology and tortured apologetics and point to the evidence. No it isn’t true: prayer doesn’t work, genuinely dead people do not resurrect, miracles that are anything other than coincidences do not happen and there is no reason to expect they ever will or ever have.
Whilst finding an archaeological disproof of the resurrection is unlikely (even assuming a historical Jesus existed in the first place) we don’t need to actually falsify the claim that it really happened to work on the reasonable assumption that it didn’t. So thanks for that Dr Williams.

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