Thursday, February 05, 2009

On the parties of God

Occasionally I realise there's still a big chunk of Marxist in me. It wouldn't have to be that - you could go for Weber's 'disenchantment' maybe. Whichever - I still take the view that the parties of God are done for, the zeitgeist has dispensed with their services and they really should leave the world stage. I realise this isn't the popular view because they seem resurgent. But it is because their days are numbered that they are full of rage and fury; they know their time on this earth is short.

I'm not talking about religiosity per se or 'spirituality' - but the parties of God as political organisations.

I appreciate this sounds too determinist but their fatal flaw is their attitude to scientific inquiry and specifically their inability to harness technological change to the business of production and the improvement of human welfare.

Religious movements the world over are in a state of denial and are as a consequence shifting to the right.

This is what is behind the rehabilitation of four ultra-conservatives - including one Holocaust denier - by the present pontiff of Rome.

It is this denial that is behind the ultra-conservatism of the Islamists too. Their attitude to liberty and democracy is sometimes portrayed as 'irrational'. It isn't. It is a perfectly rational defence of their interests because it is in the absence of these that they flourish. When it is present, there is reason to think that they won't.

Both the doctrine of Papal Infallibility and the doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture - what we would now call 'fundamentalism' or 'scripturalism' - were 19th century responses to the onslaught of the Enlightenment. Neither of these claims to cognitive infallibility can withstand the spirit of scientific inquiry so wherever the latter is given some civic latitude, the former always and everywhere lose out.

This is one of the reasons why Oliver Kamm is wrong about the study of theology when he claims it isn't a branch of intellectual inquiry. Norm rightly rubbishes this here - but there's something else as well: both Mr Kamm and people like Richard Dawkins would be more favourably disposed to theology as an academic discipline if they had a better appreciation of how it functions in modern universities. Or more specifically, while I have no quantitative data at my disposal, anecdotal evidence would suggest that the average theology department produces at least as many converts to scepticism and atheism than the average biology department. Or maybe not - but they certainly aren't in the business of transmitting 'revealed truth' in the way Oliver Kamm implies.

Sorry - this didn't turn out anything like I intended. Didn't mean to get so overarching and prophetic. But the parties of God - along with all those who give them succor in the misguided view that they serve an 'anti-imperialist' or even progressive function - are on the wrong side of History. I know it doesn't seem like it but they are - and that is that.

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