"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

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ed Miliband's atheism and respect for the faithful

Driving home from work yesterday I caught the end of an interview with Labour leader Ed Miliband on the PM program. I tuned in just as interviewer Eddie Mair was questioning him on his religious beliefs, or rather lack of them. Ed Miliband has stated before that he’s a “culturally Jewish” atheist and he repeated the same comment on the PM program he made then:
''I don't believe in God personally, but I have great respect for those people who do.”
Which is exactly the sort of thing you would expect a politician to say, but if you think about it cannot possibly be the case.
If you are an intellectually honest atheist you will have come to the conclusion, presumeably by rational means, that the god hypothesis doesn’t hold water. Unless you are an atheist that ‘just doesn’t’ or ‘merely chooses not to' believe in God without examining why, which Miliband might be though it seems unlikely, it would seem nonsensical to “have great respect” for those who have reached an opposite conclusion.
If after wrestling with the Euthyphro dilemma and the problem of evil, then applying the outsider test for faith, maybe formally or autodidactically equipping yourself with some understanding of evolution, cosmology and partical physics, after reading Aquinas, the bible and (FSM save us) even Alvin Plantinga, then finally delving into philosophy and notions of free will and morality you have found no intellectually satisfying reason to believe in supernatural agencies of any kind, why on earth would you automatically have “great respect” for someone who did?
Look, I have great respect for many people who happen to believe in God, but I respect them for who and what they are and what they have achieved. I respect them for their character or their compassion or their skills, but I don’t respect them for their adherence to a religion.
Respecting other people's right to their beliefs is one thing, respecting the belief is another. The way Ed Miliband phrases his atheism almosts suggests that he is envious of people with faith as though they have something worth having that we atheists lack. But if he has really thought about his atheism, he cannot genuinly think that.
I’m sure this is a sound-bite, a sop to the faithful for purely political expediency. Although our atheist politicians experience nothing like the problems they might encounter in the U.S, being openly atheist still presents difficulties here. Polticians are expected to attend constituency and state functions with religious themes in religious settings where showing the ‘required’ respect is necessary (and generally good manners), but declaring that you respect religious believers devoid of any other criteria to warrant it is being disengenuous and, to some extent, not truly respecting them at all.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliantly argued. Nice writing.