Religion Under the Lens
Christopher Hitchens on Religion said...
god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, 2007), p4.
There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.
Joshua Fost on Religion Gone Bad said...
If Not God, Then What? (Clearhead Studios, Inc.: 2007), p. 198.
Needless to say, there is a long history of horrible events whose causes are or were almost entirely religious; without faith (i.e. belief without evidence) many of these conflicts may never have happened, or might at least have taken on a less violent form. Examples: Abortion clinic bombings; the American revolution; the Arab/Israeli conflict; the Aum Shinrikyo poisonings; Aztec religious sacrifices; the Branch Davidian conflict in Waco; the Catholic/Protestant conflict; the Heaven's Gate cult suicide; the Huguenots and the French Wars of Religion; the Inquisition; the Indian/Pakistani conflict; the Ku Klux Klan; the Sunni/Shi'ite conflicts in Iraq, the Tamil/Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka; the Thirty Years War; and witch trials.
"Is Religion Built on Lies", a debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan at Belief.net (March 2007).
The reason I find fundamentalism so troubling — whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim — is not just its willingness to use violence (in the Islamist manifestation). It is its inability to integrate doubt into faith, its resistance to human reason, its tendency to pride and exclusion, and its inability to accept mystery as the core reality of any religious life. You find it troubling, I think, purely because it upholds truths that cannot be proved empirically or even, in some respects, logically. In that sense, of course, I think you have no reason to dislike or oppose it any more than you would oppose my kind of faith. Your argument allows for no solid distinctions within faiths; my argument depends on such distinctions.
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 254.
There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men — somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then — who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they’ve earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor neighbours as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys — all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general’s favourite hound. ‘Why is my favourite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken — taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It’s a gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry.... ‘Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs.... ‘At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!... I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well — what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!
Cathy Young on the Culture War said...
"Faith vs. Reason: Is Religion a Boon to American Society, or a Bane?" at Reason Online (Nov. 21, 2006).
Both sides in the debate traffic in simplistic stereotypes. Anti religionists such as Harris assert that religion is dangerous because it has historically promoted violence and oppression — and, in the form of Muslim extremism, continues to do so today. Yet the greatest atrocities of the 20th century were committed by totalitarian states armed with ideologies that were either explicitly atheist (communism) or non religious (Nazism). What's more, in the past and at present, religious fanaticism has often served as a vehicle and a cover for other tribal allegiances, such as nationalism. ¶ Equally misguided, however, is the claim made by many champions of religion that secularists lack the will to combat evil because they are moral relativists who don't believe in good and evil anyway. Pat Tillman, the football player tragically killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan, was an atheist who joined the armed forces after Sept. 11 because he wanted to fight for his country against the barbarians who attacked it. Andrei Sakharov, a physicist and a secular humanist, stood up to the Soviet regime in the 1970s, at great risk to himself, in the name of human rights. ¶ A religion, like any other set of beliefs, can be used for good or bad. In America, some people used the Bible to justify slavery, but Christians were also in the forefront of the battle to abolish it. Any passionately held belief, whether or not it includes God, can make some people intolerant, closed-minded, unwilling to look at facts that contradict their dogma, and hateful toward those who disagree.
Evidence and Faith (Cambridge University Press: 2005), p. 3.
I kept thinking of the ancient Roman pictures of the keeper of doorways, Janus, the god of beginnings. He has two faces, one looking to the past, the other to the future... The Cambridge Platonists occupy an important middle ground in the history of ideas. They understood the power of modern science... and yet they worked in allegiance with an important Platonic philosophical and religious heritage spanning ancient, medieval, and Renaissance philosophy. They forged an extraordinary synthesis designed to incorporate modern science while retaining what they believed to be the best of Greek and Hebrew wisdom. Like Janus, the Cambridge Platonists invite us to adopt that double vision of looking both to the past and to the future... Some artists, scientists, and religious practitioners complain that philosophy of art, science, and religion utilize misleading pictures of the way art, science, and religion are actually practiced. For better or for worse, the Cambridge Platonists were philosophers of religion and, at the same time, committed to the practice of religion. They practiced the very thing they were studying and philosophically reflecting on, and in that respect the Cambridge Platonists were like artists or scientists working out a philosophy of art or science. They also thereby raise questions about the roles of detachment and religious commitment in the course of philosophical inquiry.
Evidence and Faith (Cambridge University Press: 2005), pp. 1-2.
Philosophy of religion is also a robust, important undertaking due to its breadth. Religious traditions are so comprehensive and all-encompassing that almost every domain of philosophy may be drawn upon in the philosophical exploration of their coherence, justification, and value. I can think of few areas of philosophy that lack religious implications. Any philosophical account of knowledge, values, reason, human nature, language, science, and the like will have a bearing on how one views God or the sacred; religious values and practices; the religious treatment of birth, history, and death; the varieties of religious experience; the relationship between science and religion; and other substantial terrain... ¶ Because it explores embedded social and personal practices, philosophy of religion is relevant to practical concerns; its subject matter is not all abstract theory. Given the vast percentage of the world population that is either aligned with religion or affected by it, philosophy of religion has a secure role in addressing people's values and commitments. A chief point of reference in much philosophy of religion revolves not around hypothetical, highly abstract thought experiments but around the shape ad content of living traditions. Because of this practical embeddedness, philosophy of religion involves issues of great political and cultural significance. Questions are raised about the relationship between religious and secular values; religious toleration and liberty; and the religious implications and duties concerning medicine, the economy, public art, education, sexual ethics, and environmental responsibility.
The End of Faith (Norton: Aug. 2004), pp. 18-19.
The only reason why anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought... The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt.
The Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), p. 154-5.
Throughout the academic world, non-Euclidean geometry was invoked to support a positivistic, anti-metaphysical temper of thought. A culture was assumed to be analogous to a geometry. Both were built on a few postulates chosen from an indefinite number of possibilities; both consisted of internally consistent, interrelated wholes; and both were immune to judgements about their truth or falsity in any ultimate sense. Just as different geometries could all be logically valid, it was argued, so any number of different cultural and ethical systems could all be logically valid. Thus non-Euclideanism became a metaphor for the rejection of all traditional deductive systems — particularly the moral and religious tradition of Christianity. This is not to say that non-Euclideanism is intrinsically anti-Christian or anti-religious. Yet it was invoked as a symbol to deny that Christianity has any claim to a superior or exclusive truth.
Bertrand Russell on Immortality said...
Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 108-09.
But in the present state of psychology and physiology, belief in immortality can, at any rate, claim no support from science, and such arguments as are possible on the subject point to the probable extinction of personality at death. We may regret the thought that we shall not survive, but is a comfort to think that all the persecutors and Jew-baiters and humbugs will not continue to exist for all eternity. We may be told that they would improve in time, but I doubt it.