27 September 2011

Blackford on how religion disparages the good things in life

Earlier this month Russell Blackford participated in a debate organised by Intelligence Squared Australia, with the motion ‘Atheists are wrong’. Blackford along with Jane Caro and Tamas Pataki made up the ‘against’ team, which won the debate (insert smug smile here). In a recent blog post, Blackford comments on how the debate arguments of Tracey Rowland – who was for the motion – reflect a common characteristic of religion: its propensity to “[do] dirt on everything good in life”. Whether it’s social relationships, politics, trade or sex, religion preaches that without God, these things lose their value, or become corrupted. As Rowland, informed by her Catholicism, sees it:

Sexual relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become mutual manipulation; political relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become brutal power; and market relations hollowed out into their material shell give us consumerism and status anxiety.

Blackford disagrees. The presence or absence of a supernatural divinity is irrelevant to the goodness or badness of things like politics or sex. In fact, the religionist insistence that their goodness depends on the existence of a supernatural divinity belittles their inherent worth, as Blackford argues:

Religionists cannot explain how the supernatural makes things that are not otherwise good become so, or how good things are any less so in the absence of some sort of supernatural power. No one has ever shown how that is a coherent way of thinking about the issues. If something has the properties that are required to satisfy certain human needs, desires, interests, etc., then we are quite entitled to judge it as "good" ... whether a supernatural power, such as God, exists or not.

The sort of ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims made by Rowland and her sky-fairyist ilk are rooted in the same emotive soil that feeds anti-scientific criticisms accusing science of ‘disenchanting’ the world. According to its detractors, science sucks the fuzzy-wuzzy, warm gooey caramel centre out of things like love, beauty and ‘spirituality’ (an ambiguous term) with its cold, unromantic, materialist ideology. What tosh. If any ideology is sucking the life-affirming goodness out of human preoccupations, it’s religion, with its perverse delight in seeing corruption, shame and taint in what are actually natural, pleasurable and even beneficial aspects of our humanity.

Blackford rightly asserts that “the religious mind thinks little of human pleasure and desire, and so disparages ordinary kinds of goodness.”

Religion is not the root of all evil, but it is far from being the source of ordinary goodness in our lives. On the contrary, it is an enemy of ordinary goodness. We can lead good and fruitful lives without God or any belief in the supernatural, and that's what I suggest we all do. Life without God is not thereby way diminished or hollowed out. That's an unsustainable claim. It is pathological to think of the world that way.

Quite so.


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