Friday, 1 February 2013

The poverty of faith

I live in Otago in the South Island of New Zealand.  We have a reasonably good local newspaper, The Otago Daily Times, that informs us of local, national and world issues in decreasing levels of detail.  On 1 February it published an opinion piece from a local resident called Ivan Grindlay entitled
No room for fantasy if you understand dynamics of God's plan.  Mr Grindlay is an elder at the Caversham Community Church. His article was a summary of a bizarre theology that told of God's intention for humanity, its perversion by the "defection" of Adam, and an ultimate resolution as the Second Coming brings the nation of Israel back into the Christian fold.  It wasn't clear whether this was Mr Grindlay's personal theology or that of the Caversham Community Church. At any rate this world-view cuts off its adherents from the understanding that we now have about the natural world.  The explanation of our world and the huge cosmos in which it is situated is grander by far than the explanations in Mr Grindlay's theology. Many readers must have smiled rather sadly that such arbitrary fantasies still hold the minds of some people in thrall.

Perhaps among the smilers will be found some members of mainstream religious beliefs. Good Christian folk who regularly attend their church, recite the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed, engaged in good works to support their own community and possibly communities overseas. Ladies and Gentlemen of these benign religious persuasions you are complicit in Mr Grindlay's ignorance.  Your own supernatural beliefs are the ambient culture that nurtures Mr Grindlay's less mainstream opinons. While you, through a mental contortion in which you cherry-pick those pieces of scripture that are convenient to believe, have access to the understanding of our wonderful universe (biology and the unity of all life because of the DNA molecule, physics and the mathematical explanation of nature's laws, astronomy and the workings of a cosmos now unimaginably larger than ever envisioned in religious tracts) you are doing more credulous folk a grave disservice. Shame on you.

Mr Grindlay has chosen a certain portion of scripture on which to found his world-view. Anglican Christians choose another portion while Roman-Catholics choose yet another (and even this ignores the schisms within these broad churches). Still another portion is seized on by Sunni Moslems, and again another by Shi'a Moslems. And then there are Jews, Hindus and many other groups each elevating certain historical writings to the status of divine revelation.

I called Mr Grindlay's fantasy an arbitrary one in my first paragraph. Indeed it is arbitrary. But so are the fantasies of every other religion. What distinguishes them from the Mr Grindlay fantasy is that they have more adherents and with numbers come respectability. But all of them to one degree or another prevent their followers from truly appreciating the world we live in - the only one we will ever have.

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