Intelligent atheists (Jonathan Miller being probably the most articulate) often remark on the asymmetry between religious evangelism and the lack of any equivalent voice from the ‘opposing’ camp (by which, here, I mean atheists rather than satanists…). It is, after all, to build a compelling PR campaign on the strap-line “You know all that stuff which you believe…? Well, I don’t”.
It’s articles like this which illustrate how easily that asymmetry becomes the default. Here we have a pro-Christian politician arguing that “Half a century of corrosive and aggressive secularisation has created a selfish, superficial and materialistic culture amongst decision-makers and opinion-formers that is appropriately reflected in those we have elected to Parliament” and proposing a more overtly Christian political option as the solution.
In the absence of an atheist voice, there is no-one to counter the argument that religion provides the only basis for an ethical system – or, indeed, to argue that religion is often as badly flawed a basis as any other. One need only look as far as the current revelations about the Catholic Church in Ireland for an example of that.
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing that either religion or secularism has a moral monopoly. But as far as Alan Craig’s argument goes, I’d want, for instance, a little more evidence of how many of the ‘secular’ MPs he mentions are regular church-goers, or gave the oath of allegiance by swearing to God Almighty.
Here’s my prediction of what a little research would reveal:
– some people who claim to be religious act in immoral ways;
– some people who claim to be irreligious behave strictly morally;
– some of those who claim to be either sometimes behave well, and sometimes badly…
and I don’t think that’s good or bad – it’s just the way things are.
Here’s my more pessimistic prediction: if you elect someone to political office simply because they profess profound religious belief, and expect the outcome to be better than if you elect anyone else capable of getting to the point of being elected, don’t expect a radically different outcome.
I also think that some people are essentially benevolent, and would be so if they were Christian, agnostic, atheist, aspiritual or anywhere in between. Others aren’t, no matter what belief system they profess or deny.
By a strange quirk of timing, now is a good time to assert that William Heath is one of the former. He happens to be a practising Quaker. I’m profoundly happy for William that he has found that spiritual community which best reflects his own view and motivation – that doesn’t come to everyone. But I also happen to believe that “being a Quaker” is more or less incidental. William could have been an agnostic ditch-digger and still hold the same core values – albeit possibly for different reasons.
And there’s the nub, I suspect. I, for one, think that the moral question is one of how people act, rather than of why they act one way or another. If someone acts morally because they believe in the Easter Beagle, so be it. If someone acts evilly because they believe that’s what something in the Bible tells them to do, then again so be it. I remain unconvinced that the way to sort moral human beings from immoral or amoral ones is to ask them about their religious convictions.