Monday, January 01, 2007

Humanity is keeping the faith, despite its doubters

The Herald: Humanity is keeping the faith, despite its doubters
"This was supposed to be the era when it would disappear, laughed out of sight, drowned under the weight of its own absurdity. It would be exposed as a sham, a con trick; it would also be shown to be responsible for most of the evils of the world.

It's religion I'm talking about. But far from lying still in its grave, the corpse is walking around, creating mayhem and misery while also bringing consolation and delight. Institutional religion may be faltering in western Europe, but it is flourishing in many other parts of the world. How can this be?..."
Here is a perspective from Ron Ferguson about the persistence of religion in the face a concerted attempt by many to destroy people's faith. Ferguson points out that, while many evil things are done in the name of religion, so is much that is good.

The "new atheists" typified by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and others worldwide tend to view religion as a disease organism that must be eradicated for the sake of humankind. Ferguson notes that these people characterize themselves as the "Brights".
"...No theologian would defend some of the things that go on in the name of Christianity. In fact, some of the most searing critiques come from theologians. (But the Olympian Professor Dawkins sees no need to read theology.) One searches The God Delusion in vain for full and generous acknowledgement of the fact that most parish churches are not full of raging terrorists or hate-filled zealots, or of the reality that down through the ages churches have built hospitals and schools, and have nurtured and supported vast amounts of caring work. ..."
This is something that is not always considered by those who would destroy people's faith in the name of saving humanity. And Ferguson presents another thing that should be acknowledged:
"...The mass murderers of the twentieth century - Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao - were atheists. Are we to conclude that atheism is dangerous? Science has given us eugenics and weapons of mass destruction. Do we, therefore, insist that scientists are evil? The Brights can't have this argument both ways. ..."
Ferguson answers his initial question "How can this be?" that religion persists in the face of the attacks against it by these words:
"...Why does religion persist into the year 2007? Because humanity persists, that's why. Religions are human creations and, therefore, constantly in need of reformation. Their ancient scriptures contain glories, but also toxic texts. (That's why Dawkins prefers dealing with fundamentalists.)

But the truly interesting question is whether religions are responding to something real or not. As creatures facing our own mortality, we rightly ask about the significance of our lives, about whether there is an eternal dimension to our living, and about the possibility of life beyond physical death. Any answers inevitably will be provisional and trembling; but thank the Lord that the dogmas of belligerent Brights and bombastic believers are not the only choices to be made."
I'm not sure what Ferguson's connection with religion is, but he sounds fairly reformed here. I imagine I could find points of disagreement with him, but his analysis of the manner in which the "Brights" try to convince others that their faith is a sham and actually harmful is well-reasoned. I am glad his voice is heard.


Gruntled said...

I would like one more sentence from Ferguson on whether he thinks the religion we create really is responding to something real -- that is, to God -- or is just a psychological confidence trick we play on ourselves. That is the crucial issue that separates him from Dawkins in the end.

Denis Hancock said...

I noticed too, that this "truly interesting question" was not one that he explicitly answered...

I would be reluctant to say this is the only thing setting him apart from Dawkins -- even if Ferguson were an atheist he would be in a different category, due to his willingness to see the good in religion.

I did a Google search on Ferguson (search terms: "Ron Ferguson" Herald) and found an earlier column titled More To Christmas Than A Bland Corporate Christ. He comes across as somewhat left-of-center person whose theology is difficult to quibble with.

He has been associated in the past with the Iona Community. After looking at their website it seems that the Iona Community is what the Witherspoon Society could be, if they paid more attention to theology.

He is also associated in some way with the Church of Scotland, possibly as a minister or former minister.