|Rev. Colin Still|
Reverend Still is the kind of professional Christian with whom you could go down the pub to indulge in a bit of light theological banter without him taking visible offense and knowing that nothing you said would shake his confidence in a benign deity. Which, is precisely the problem I have with him and Christians like him.
What annoys me about this brand of Christianity is the inanity and intellectual dishonesty that surrounds it. At least with a Bible thumping Southern Baptist you know where you stand as they mean what they say and believe what they are saying. Those heathen Buddhists are going to hell regardless of whatever else there is to commend so none of this mealy mouthed pretence at respect for them. The fundamentalist Christian position may be obnoxious and more obviously crazy than Middle England Anglicanism but at least it’s honest and they can point to plain speaking scripture to back up their assertions whereas the Colin Stills of this world cannot really defend their tolerance except by invoking some vague notion that Jesus wants us to be nice to everyone.
Whenever I talk about the real harm religion causes in the world this passive Christianity is frequently cited in defence as though the existence of tolerant religion justifies the existence of all of it. In reality though what it does is exacerbate the problem because disingenuous respect masks real disagreements and perpetuates the myth that all religions are the same underneath and if it wasn’t for those pesky extremists the bombing and acid throwing and abortionist assassinations would cease and we could all sing kumbaya in harmony, whereas, a world where the fault lines between beliefs were apparent would be easier to navigate and arguably safer as a result. I also suspect that such transparency would result in less religion generally as it would encourage more people to apply the Outsider Test for Faith probably one of the best tools for highlighting the absurdities in one’s own religion.
The fact is, you can’t have a good intellectual scrap with someone who won’t admit the extent to which they disagree with you. Real respect is acknowledging different points of view and assuming others have the ability to follow your arguments one way or the other and there should always be the possibility that one party could change the other’s mind. It would not occur to me to enter into a discussion about religion without being explicit that I consider 99% of it to be nonsense on stilts and if I said I respected someone’s religious beliefs I would be lying. I may be doing Reverend Still a disservice but I think he is lying about Buddhism. “It has much to commend it” is really damning it with faint praise and recognising only that it is vaguely spiritual and somehow better than nothing. He may like to think that people of other faiths and philosophies do not go to hell, he may even genuinely believe that, but if so he is not a Christian, either he is denying the theology of the faith he purports to represent or he is misrepresenting his own position, both are dishonest and inimical to proper discourse. Regardless, in this documentary we never see his religion seriously challenged as the closest anyone has got to admitting to atheism is “I’m not very religious” while joining in with the Easter service. So this cosy view of beneficent tolerant nurturing religiosity persists, free riding on undue respect for beliefs that if properly examined would be revealed as toxic to a truly caring, peaceful and equal society.