Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TCS Daily - A Question of Religion

TCS Daily - A Question of Religion:
"Some years ago I was asked a question that has haunted me. It came during a telephone conversation I had with a young man whose Internet book club has selected one of my books to read. The young man wanted to find out more about me, and he began asking what I thought about various subjects. Finally, hesitantly, he said, 'Would you mind if I asked you a very personal question?' How personal, I wondered briefly, but gave my consent anyway. His question was, 'Are you for or against religion?'

I have lost a clear recollection of my reply, but I recall being shocked at the radical and remorseless either/or with which I had been confronted: Either a person is for religion, or a person is against it. ..."
Harris makes the point here that much depends on what you are thinking about when you ask the question. The question, asked in a political debate, might be a trap -- sort of like "when did you stop beating your wife?" In this context, it seems to have been nothing more than a novice reporter trying to get a handle on who Lee Harris was.

Was Harris in favor of the blood-thirsty religions that practiced human sacrifice? Or the French Huguenots of Le Chambon who protected Jews during the Nazi occupation? He asks rhetorically whether atheists might also come to the same realization that saving Jews from Nazi extermination was the right thing to do. He answers his own question in the affirmative, but then asks whether they would have the moral imperative to lay their own lives on the line. Perhaps.

But those who believe in God could also be presumed to have some knowledge of what the Lord requires -- and that does not include turning one's back in the face of evil.

Along the way, Lee Harris quotes Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog") who is also known as the man who coined the word "agonostic". Huxley's writings showed an admiration for those whose faith led them to do good things, and was unwilling to condemn all religion for the shortcomings of a few.

Harris' points are well summarized in this statement:
"... The villagers of La Chambon were collectively committed to carrying out the highest Biblical ideal, even if it meant their personal extinction. They were prepared to defy a despotism far more hideous than that of the European middle ages. They remind us that the simplistic "for or against" approach to religion inevitably obscures the startling differences between the various religions of mankind, between those religions that demand human sacrifice to appease a blood-thirsty god, and those that have inspired self-sacrifice in the name of a better world."
It is refreshing to know that not all people have bought into the "moral equivalency" of all religion, and are willing to acknowledge that some belief systems inherently lead to good moral choices.

No comments: