CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Fuzzy Thinking on Religion

Aug 15, 2006

Agnostic and religion-basher Pamela Bone makes many claims in her opinion piece (Australian, 15 August 2006), a few of them right, most of them wrong or just plain confused. Her rambling tirade against religion paints with too broad a brush, and is guilty of a lack of nuance and precision.

First, the good stuff. She is quite right to suggest that we do not need religious vilification laws. And she is right to suggest that religion should be able to stand on its own merits, rationally debated in an open society.

In a pluralistic society, competing truth claims should be allowed to slug it out in the intellectual arena, and religious views should be debated and discussed. While most religions are based on faith, some, notably Christianity, are based on faith informed by reason. Thus Bone is right to suggest that religions be open to rational criticism and careful scrutiny.

But it is all down-hill from there on. She celebrates trends toward non-belief in the West, arguing that this is a good thing. Many would disagree. The last century has been the most secular in the history of the world, and it has also been the most bloody. All the major blood-letting was the direct result, not of religion, but of anti-religion. Be it Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, millions of people lost their lives in the name of atheism and secularism.

Bone however simply dismisses the killing fields of communism, by claiming communist ideology is “similar to a religious ideology”. That is like saying Bone’s ideology is similar to Archbishop George Pell’s ideology. Her argument does nothing to lessen the charge of secular blood-letting. But her comment does make the case that non-religious people and their beliefs can be just as zealously promoted as any religious belief can.

She then suggests that for religious people to raise the issue of communism is like saying “there is no point in curing tuberculosis because malaria kills more people”. No that is not the point. It is Bone who is trying to make the case that secularism makes for better, safer societies. But the evidence tell us just the opposite. The fact that religious people have killed others is deplorable, but in most religious traditions, such killing is seen as tangential to the faith, as an aberration of it.

But in secular ideologies like communism and fascism, mass murder is fully justified in terms of their own worldview. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, et. al., were all fully prepared to justify the killing of millions. It was not a perversion of their ideology, but the fulfilment of it.

By lumping all religions together, Bone betrays a great ignorance of religion. Most religious adherents do not strap “explosives to their bodies” and kill “as many infidels as possible.” Indeed, most Muslims do not do this. But in her hatred of all things religious, Bone is quite happy to judge people as a group. It is just such an inability to treat people as unique individuals that led to the horrible acts of genocide during the last century, be it Hitler treating people as an ethnic group, or Stalin treating people as an economic class.

Bone also betrays a gross ignorance of history. She argues, for example, that the “holy books” were written before ideas about human rights and modern science were in place. But she seems ignorant of the fact that it is the Judeo-Christian religious tradition in particular that gave birth to both the notion of human rights and modern science.

This case has been argued by many scholars, most recently in the many excellent studies by American sociologist Rodney Stark. He documents the many ways in which the greatness of Western culture is directly attributable to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Says Stark, “Christianity created Western Civilization.”

Almost all of the benefits of modern “prosperous, liberal democracies” as Bone puts it, are directly traceable to the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus her assertion that all the “healthiest and wealthiest countries in the world” are based on non-belief is anachronistic. She has got the carriage before the horse. It is religion that made the West healthy and wealthy, not the other way around.

And many social commentators are now wondering whether the West will long stand as we enter a post-Christian age. Societies bereft of religion have historically had a short and nasty shelf life. Historians and philosophers have noted the connection between a healthy society and religion. Will Durant put it this way: “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.”

De Tocqueville could say that “despotism may be able to do without faith, but democracy cannot”. Such remarks could be repeated at length.

The truth is, we are currently undergoing a grand social experiment to see what life is like when we reject God. This massive test is only recent, and the results are not fully in yet. The glorious triumph of atheism which Bone exalts in may instead spell the end of mankind and civilisation. Bone is simply being premature in her judgement here.

And if Bone is proved wrong, the results will not be good. It is easy for the secularists to tear down a society, but it takes ages for civilisation to arise. As T.S. Eliot once remarked, “If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.”

Or as Durant said: “From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day”. Many more sober commentators than Bone do not like what they see. The rising secularism is not good news, but bad news indeed. As G.K. Chesterton reminds us, “The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them. The Titans did not scale heaven; but they laid waste the world.”

If Bone had read more widely she would realise that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, for all their faults, have in many ways been a force for good in the world. By taking off her very tinted secularist glasses, she may find a world in disarray and breakdown, not because of religion, but because of religion’s enemies.

[1120 words]

15 Responses to Fuzzy Thinking on Religion

  • An amazing response Bill!!!
    I loved the following quote:“From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day”- a great choice.
    Be encouraged, as your not fighting the battle alone!

    Danii Rizzo, Melbourne

  • Bill,
    Well done on your erudite response to a very jaundiced woman pleading to be proved wrong (Bone). I must admit I didn’t know where to begin to comment on her article, such was the ignorance of her viewpoint. However, not knowing our Saviour makes it understandable. I, and others pray that she will find the Truth and be released from this burden of confusion
    Maintain the zeal, Bill
    Regards
    Shane Welsh, Tasmania 

  • Congratulations Bill on your article – very scholarly and well argued.
    Frank Bellet
    Petrie, Queensland

  • Well said Bill, congrats. Hope it gets published – but I’m not holding my breath.
    Another good quote is:
    “Civilizations more often die by committing suicide than by being murdered” – Toynbee

    Alan Barron, Geelong 

  • God bless you Bill. He has given you a gift for putting things in the right perspective. I trust your article WILL be printed and reach many other thinking people.

    Dawn McGregor, Buderim

  • Bill,
    Many thanks for your critique of Pamela Bone’s “Faith full of Folly”. She needs to ask herself, “am I sufficiently read?” Eighty percent of what you say should be known to Pamela before she got the idea to express this opinion.
    Stan Fishley, Melbourne 

  • Excellent article Bill, have prayed that it will be published in full.
    Alec and Glenda Witham, Warrnamboll Victoria

  • well done Bill, and properly rebutted. i have a friend, unbeliever, that thinks just as this leftist woman does, but this belief is quite common in these evil days, and only a few good men are doing something about it, alas. where is the church ???

    aymon fabbricotti

  • Bill a great response. I know that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour and nothing will shake me from that. Perhaps we should send Miss/Mrs Bone an Alpha course invite so she can meet real people that have hope and a future. We can only pray that God will be revealed in her life.
    Mike Renouf, Perth

  • Well done Bill on your response, My heart truly goes out to this “Lady” for her lack of knowledge on the view point of Religion. I know of a lot of humble,respectful, and loving Islamic people who would be appaled at the notion that they have to strap bombs to their body and blow themselves up in the name of “God”. The people who go to these lengths have been brainwashed and sadly fed a lie. I often think back to the “Kamikayze Pilots” who also performed this barbaric act for the Emperor of Japan in World War “2”. “Sad isn’t it”

    Rae Wallace Devonport

  • Bill – what an excellent response – your gift in this area is stunning. May it be accepted and go to print. Although Mrs. Bone may have alot of misinformation, obviously she is concerned about how ‘religion’ affects individuals and society. I wonder what type of presentation she personally has experienced of our wonderful God and Father, the One who gives ‘abundant life’ and loves us extravagently. Sadly, many times the image we have seen of God is a distorted on and one that I too once rejected. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is to represent Him well and live a life worthy of His Name.

    Diana Hallas, Canberra

  • What a brilliant & thoroughly logical article Bill. Pity the press censorship in many of our major newspapers precludes the publication of facts, such as those you have presented here.

    Peter Donald, Melbourne

  • Bill
    Your article Re Pamela Bone is a wonderful reply. We hope she does some more reading and thinking and ponders what life would be like if she lived in a truly atheistic society. We hope and pray we don’t find out

    Llew & Nan Mitchell, Lake Boga Vic

  • Excellent comments Bill.
    I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a “non-religious” person. Humanists like Bone may not have faith in God but this doesn’t mean that they are in any way non-religious. The secular humanist of today has his faith in evolution to explain his origin and the origin of the universe. Evolution is a religion to be sure, one that is believed with a blind faith that has credulous tendencies.
    No one is “secular” (without faith). As Christians we are not people of faith opposing people of reason – we are people of faith opposing people who have a false faith and reason is a weapon that favours us because our faith is true. Understanding this key principle also helps bring the so-called separation of church and state issue into it’s proper perspective.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • One good proof of leftist media bias is the fact that strident harridans like Pamela Bone have columns while a superior and better informed writer like Bill does not.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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