8 June 2014

Self-indulgent Clap-trap

The BBC is a great institution, but they don't half throw up some guff.  I can't fault the fact that it allows opinion of all sorts, for what else should we expect from a public service?  A chance for free speech certainly, so it's nice to know that it operates a pretty inclusive ethos.  How else could something like the article below turn up on its website?

I was struggling to pin this feller's oeuvre down on the first read, not just due to my escalating agitation at the content, but also because he keeps his powder completely dry till near the end of the article, at which point he (figuratively) throws his cards on the table with (I like to imagine) a knowing look that screams 'you weren't expecting that were you son!'  Or something like that anyway.

There are some things in the article that annoy me, not least the suggestion that humanism is in some way narrow and introverted whereas religion gives its adherents a greater sense their place in the universe.  Humanism, in rejecting the religious, is stepping away from the sort of solipsism that typifies religious belief. How can humanism be banded together with, say, christianity, a religion that believes God himself had to die to save each one of us?  That's as self-centred as anything I can imagine really, that a creator god can only save his own creation by offering himself for it.  Compare that to humanism: I can't think of anything inward, self-centred or ignorant in trying to ensure humans treat other humans with the sort of respect each would expect for him- or her-self.  That's pretty progressive in my view. It's The Golden Rule.  Even Jesus promoted it in one of his less fiery moments, but it's as old as society.  Humanism is also - in my experience - often driven by a realisation that, in the absence of the divine as sold by religion, we only have this one life to live, and as such we should live it to best effect for those around us, eliminating suffering and pain.  That viewpoint in itself is also tempered by the knowledge of our ridiculously improbable existence in a beautiful but incredibly dangerous cosmos.  One chance - live it well.  Realism, betterment, togetherness: you don't get that in religion too often, or at least you get the togetherness, but not necessarily the other two, and even that togetherness exists only within the context of whatever denomination you happen to find yourself (more often than not) born into, as opposed to a great religious whole, operating together in harmony.

Anyway, the gist of the article is that the 'spiritual but not religious' outlook of some westerners is a form of pick-and-mix meant to satisfy an individual's needs, which he rightly scoffs. He scoffs for the wrong reason though, before falling on his own sword by accident. It turns out that our man is trying to promote religion without spirituality as a means to promote togetherness.  You can read it through to make your own decision as to why he feels this is better than being religious AND spiritual or being a humanist, but then he plays his ace by revealing himself to be a Quaker.  Now, short of going the whole hog and turning Unitarian, being a Quaker is pretty much the pick-and-mix classic, such is the breadth of what they use for instruction and contemplation.

I can't disagree with the benefit of the togetherness such groups offer, whether it's an inclusive bunch like the Quakers or the exclusivity of, say, Judaism: being part of a crowd is a great way of feeling exactly what evolution and the group dynamic intended us to feel, but the suggestion that without religion such opportunities wouldn't be available just stinks.  Quite simply, religion has had a stranglehold for so long that it is almost a default setting, people turning to (for instance) 'the church' as an extension of community, etc.  For centuries, religion has been the ONLY readily available route to the sort of community the writer of the article promotes, but times have changed.  The more society progresses, the more it frees itself from the controlling forces of religion, the more it opens up other avenues and options.  Does the writer think that a humanist meeting offers none of the benefits of a church group?  If so, why not? And, in mocking the 'spiritual but not religious' crowd but then going on to suggest people have a go at reading religious texts with each other and spending time in contemplation together with those same people, does he not realise he's offering just another form of nebulous spirituality, not necessarily 'religion'?

And anyway, to pick up another point, what is religion without spirituality?  Surely that's just rules and/or philosophy.  That's not a bad thing, but to what end is it employed?  What if we can demonstrate a moral high-ground when comparing what humanity offers over what, say, the bible or koran can offer?  What if our philosophy has superceded the bronze age traditions of those books? 

Anyway, I'm still confused by what the guy is trying to sell here, other than Quakerism. 

No comments:

Post a Comment