We need to talk about god

We need to talk about god

Islamists justify the brutality of their actions by citing the Quran that explicitly sanctions and even mandates many of their atrocities against non-Muslims (or more specifically, non-Sunni Muslims). Our response in the non Muslim world has been to claim that their literal interpretation of religious texts should be modified in the same way that Christianity has quietly abandoned much of the barbarity than can be found in the Old Testament.

This approach raises several problems as Islamists will inevitably challenge the authority of any non-Muslim to interfere in Islamic doctrine and most importantly because it measures one religious ideology against another and helps to validate the notion that religion per se is a natural component of 21st century society. What is required is the total debunking of all religious belief and that means we need to talk about God. Most belief in God is derived from belief in a particular religion as very few people believe in God from outside of religious conviction. Of course some people have a vague notion of there being something unknown or even unknowable outside ourselves, or that they have feelings that they describe as spiritual.

Life without God

In the UK (in common with much of Europe and Australia/NZ) religion plays little part in daily life even for those with “spiritual” leanings, the exception being within immigrant communities in these countries. However religion does play a significant role in the institutions of the State and for the UK at least in education (see previous post). Many public ceremonies include a religious element; prayers, hymns, attendance of the clergy and within our Constitution the monarch is head of the Church of England that is also the “official” religion of the UK. Religion is still a part of education with a daily “act of worship” required in every State school. Religious education is part of our curriculum and treats all religious beliefs as requiring serious study without submitting any to rational scrutiny.

So any examination of the existence of God is absent from political and educational discourse, instead we are assumed to accept that he (and it is invariably he) exists and that any discussion should be around the nature of God and how different religions interpret his commands. At which point we return to the original flaw that is the comparative merits of competing religions rather than the rejection of all on the grounds that supernatural fantasies should play no part in a modern society.

The case against God is overwhelming and well documented in books like The God Delusion but prior to a scientific explanation for phenomena when superstition was endemic it was perfectly natural for our distant ancestors to believe in creation myths and a life beyond death as their lives were powerless, brutal and short but today there is no excuse to maintain this delusion.

The atrocities perpetrated in the name of Islam cannot be overcome by military, economic or diplomatic means, they must eventually be argued out of existence using the power of reason. That means undermining belief in the pre-ordained and the supernatural, exposing religious texts as fabrications and offering an evidenced based explanation for all that religion, including Islam, once sought to explain.

The origin of morality

Psychologist Steven Pinker in a TED debate with philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein who argues that reason is the key driver of human moral progress. This is a wonderful debate with brilliant animations but it ignores the single most important fact that evolution not philosophy is the primary driver of moral progress.

Morality and the family

The family, although primarily an evolutionary adaptation, is a principal provider of stability and continuity as three or four generations of consanguineous individuals typically coexist. This is reinforced with the addition of relatives by marriage, the extended family, the inheritance of hard-wired memories in the form of photographs and artefacts belonging to our ancestors and also by the use of the family name. The family group is the basic building block of all human societies, no matter where in the world you were born and whatever your economic circumstances. It provides the security and stability necessary for the next generation to flourish. We are programmed to love and care for our children (or they would not survive) and in return they love us. Many of the most significant components of human behaviour like empathy, altruism and tolerance, are acquired and then constantly reinforced within the family.

It is from within this family setting that we first develop a moral awareness and concepts like fairness and justice. We have developed institutions of government and civil society that recognise fairness as a necessary component and we have created laws that prohibit discrimination and guarantee rights. It is reason that enables us to understand the origin of morality, but it is not the cause.