Opinion: Et tu, James?

Recently, James Graham has called me a bigot on Lib Dem Voice. (gasp!) As James is a blogger whom I admire and respect – blogger of the year no less – I have been stung into writing a riposte to this scurrilous charge. It was in the context of yet another debate on religion and the problem of Islam, that James essentially accused me of tarring all religious believers with the same brush. According to the big man, “religions are ultimately what you make of them.” When pressed as to whether Marxism, say, is also ultimately what you make of it, James replied, “I would have thought that is self-evident.” Excuse me?

Let us get one thing straight: Marxism is not simply what you might choose to make of it. While the task of nailing down the principles of Marxism might not be entirely trivial, we can nevertheless be clear in the main about what Marxism does and does not entail. For instance, it is surely uncontroversial to assert that Marxism comprises a belief in the common ownership of property and the means of production (a terrible idea by the way). Now I suppose there is nothing to stop somebody from saying, “I’m a Marxist, though I don’t believe in the common ownership of property and the means of production.” But on the whole, I prefer the simpler, “I’m not a Marxist.” It’s brief and to the point, and has the compelling advantage of not stretching the meaning of words beyond the bounds of reason.

Likewise, we can be clear about what religious belief entails, and what its consequences might be. And yet whenever I assert that the claims of religion are false, I know that I am bound to be met with the stunning insight that there is no homogenous object called “religion,” that religion comprises many different strands and styles of belief (no shit Sherlock!), and that I am therefore making a sweeping, and indeed bigoted, generalisation. I am not. Having been raised a Catholic, and having observed religion in its many forms, I think I know roughly what the deal is, and it is this: That there exists a supernatural deity who exerts a causal influence upon the natural world though scripture, prophets, prayer, and miracles. He wishes us to praise him, obey him, and love him unceasingly. Essentially, this life is a test. If we get it right, then he will reward us in Heaven. Otherwise… you know what to expect.

This, I submit, is a reasonable definition of monotheistic religion which pretty much covers the faiths that are causing all the trouble at the present moment. Too broad a definition to be useful maybe? Not at all. Already we see some disturbing elements: Why, for instance, does God require constant praise and worship, more reminiscent of Stalin than of a “loving father”? Then there is the obvious scope for abuse when one is claiming to be in possession of a divine and unalterable revelation. Finally, there is the belief in an afterlife – the killer doctrine that, whichever way you cut it, has the effect of utterly diminishing the value of life on earth. And yet for some reason we continue to allow these simple tenets of faith, now largely debunked by science and philosophy, to impose their terrible burden upon humanity.

Why is it so hard for us to speak plainly about the absurdity of religious belief? Why is Nick Clegg already brown-nosing faith groups when he is barely out of the traps? Why is it quite beyond any of our politicians to draw a connection between belief in the “afterlife” and the practice of suicide bombing? Why, when the terrorists are patiently articulating their theology on homemade videos, do we search desperately for the “root causes” in order to exonerate the role of faith? Why are we constantly being assured that “Islam is a religion of peace,” when a cursory inspection of the Koran tells a completely different story? Why do we stay silent when millions of women worldwide suffer under the yoke of clerical oppression? Why are we still fiddling while the Middle East burns?

And why, in the face of all this carnage, do we imagine that an acceptable response is simply to water down the beliefs a bit and call ourselves “moderates”? Think how this might work in the political context. Suppose that the Liberal Democrat election manifesto contained a proposal to the effect that homosexuals should be put to death (as the Bible clearly stipulates in Leviticus 20:13). What would be an adequate restitution for allowing this hateful line into party policy? How about a spot of artful sophistry to patch things up? “Look, you really mustn’t take the manifesto so literally you know. It’s the interpretation which matters more than the actual words. Ultimately, it’s what you make of the policy that counts.” Happy now? In fact, nothing less than a total recantation would do, in the bid to salvage a political reputation which would in all likelihood be damaged beyond repair.

So please, at least on this occasion, spare me the mealy-mouthed justifications: that not all Christians take the Bible literally; that jihad is really about personal fulfilment, not the subjugation of infidels; that the struggle over the “Holy Land” has nothing to do with religion (there’s a clue in the name if you look closely); that it is important to distinguish between nice Christians, and nasty Christians; nice Muslims, and nasty Muslims; (and presumably nice Nazis, and nasty Nazis?) I’ve heard it all before, and frankly I’m not impressed. I know that you are nice – hey, some of my best friends are Christians! But your religious “moderation” – at once intellectually and theologically bankrupt – serves only (in the words of Sam Harris) to “provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.”

So my message to religious fundamentalists is … not a lot. There’s really no point in talking to you. To my nice moderate Christian friends: I beg you to find some honesty before the Armageddon so longed for by the aforementioned fruitcakes finally comes to pass. And to James, I say: Marxism is not just what you make of it, neither is religion, and calling a spade a donkey buys us precisely nothing.

* Laurence Boyce is a Lib Dem member and occasional contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Peter Bancroft 14th Jan '08 - 11:33pm

    Do we really have to have Lib Dem Voice used as a repeated platform for these bizarre views?

  • Peter Bancroft, why don’t you write something to Lib Dem Voice? I think you seem to have some very interesting views, and I’d rather read more about them than the endless whining of Laurence Boyce. It seems that LDV has a serious shortage of guest articles, when they publish staff like this.

  • Well, if Laurence’s views are bizarre, I’m happy to join him in Bizardom (bizarridge…?)

  • We must all be a bit cross eyed at the moment.
    Marxists don’t believe in religion.
    Even in todays China a person can get into a lot of trouble for preaching religion.

  • Paul Griffiths 15th Jan '08 - 7:49am

    “So my message to religious fundamentalists is … not a lot. There’s really no point in talking to you.”

    Religous fundamentalists and Mr Boyce seem to have this feature in common. Let’s move on.

  • 7 – It doesn’t raise the quality or the respect of the LDV, if it publishes complaints of certain individuals against others who said something about them in the comments thread as “Opinion” articles. Please let not LDV descend to a scene of showdown. If it happens in the comments thread, well, that probably can’t be helped much, but don’t let the quarrels contaminate the actual articles.

  • 13 – If the article was just a retort I would agree with you, but I think Laurence reaises some interesting points. To be honest, I’m slightly suprised at the tone of the comments here (maybe there is history with the author I am unaware of?). I think the relationship between politics and religion is both fascinating and important. And something which we should be prepared to talk about as a responsible political party.

    I think a number of commentators want to have things both ways. On the one hand they wish to allow religious individuals to pick and choose their own ‘interpretation’. Yet they also don’t want us to offend religious leadership. So we have to listen to the ‘Christian Community’ or the ‘Muslim Community’ as if there exists such homogenous defined communities.

    If we are accepting people’s individual right to be a ‘Christian’, a ‘Muslim’, a ‘Jew’ or a ‘Hindu’ by dint of their own interpretation and definition, then the ‘community’ we would lazily ascribe them too no longer has any resonance. If individuals have their own interpretation, then Bishops, Immams etc DO NOT speak on their behalf and they should have no higher status in a democracy than you or me. But we all know that they do.

    There is fascinating issue here which has been rolling on for centuries. And one it would serve us well to talk about.

    That said, one thing I must pick up Laurence on is his reference to Clegg’s alleged ‘brown nosing’. I think the story he has provided as evidence of this is a well balanced and responsible piece which says a hell of a lot that religious groups would not to want to hear, least of all on religious schools. I went to a Catholic primary school and as such spent the first decade of my life with only a passing awareness of other religions. This must not be how any children are educated in our country anymore.

  • 15 – If its that boring to you, just don’t read it.

  • Laurence’s views aren’t bizarre. Far from it, they’re as mainstream as can be.

    The Lib Dems could make substantial gains with a more strident stance on secularism. It’s most unlikely the other parties would be willing to follow. At least to begin with.

  • Laurence has given us quick and easy definitions both of Marxism and of (monotheistic) religion. There are points where I might want to quibble, but it is another word that seems to be in greater need of clarification.

    What do we mean by ‘secularism’? The word is often used, especially recently in Lib Dem blogs, but what exactly it entails is more difficult to pin down. If it means removing the historical privileges of the Christian faith in the political arena then I agree. Disestablish the Church of England? Yes. I am a Baptist Christian, and disestablishment has long been something Baptists have argued for … which is one reason for the historical link between Baptists (and other free churches) and the Liberal Party. In fact the first recorded argument in English for religious freedom for all (including those with whom we fundamentally disagree) was penned by Thomas Helwys, a Baptist minister in the early seventeenth century.

    Should people systematically be discriminated against (or towards) because of their faith or lack of faith? No. We want no more Test Acts or similar discriminatory legislation, be they establishing privilege for Christians, for other faith communities or for those who reject theism.

    Should religious language be allowed in the public arena, with people using religious language and justifications for or against particular policies? Of course! It is an aspect of freedom of speech. It might pursuade some and antagonise others, but it has to be allowed.

    Should Laurence and others be allowed to argue strongly against the beliefs and influence of religion(s)? Of course.

    Wherein lies the essence of ‘secularism’? Under some definitions I can be counted a supporter. Under other definitions, I am not.

  • LiberalHammer 15th Jan '08 - 2:02pm

    Laurence, I think that you are being a trifle simplistic here. Religion can, and does, inspire loonie to commit atrocities in the name of faith, and this seems to apply to the majority of religions, whether monotheistic or not.

    However, and I didn’t detect this from the article, religion – however spurious you may see it as being – can also inspire people to acts of great kindness and humanity.

    As no one will ever know whether there is an afterlife during their (physical) lifetime I think a little ‘live and let live’ should apply. Science will also never be able to prove what happened at creation, the human mind does not appear to be able to understand what happened before the Big Bang or when.

  • Thanks Laurence for clarifying your understanding of secularism as separation of church and state, and also for making it clear that you are going much further than advocating mere secularism in your argument.

    As a Christian, I am in favour of the separation of church and state. However, quite what separation of church and state entails in practice is in itself controversial and involves matters of interpretation where advocates of separation may disagree. And separating church and state is different from separating religion and politics. (Stephen L. Carter’s book “God’s Name in Vain: The Rights and Wrongs of Religion in Politics” addressing the situation in the USA is illuminating on this.)

    I am a manure and ice cream man. Ice cream is good for eating. Manure is good for fertilising. But mix them up and they become good for neither. Separating church and state actually helps maintain the integrity of both! But even with separation, religious convictions will continue to influence political decision-making. If a faith-commitment involves the whole of life, and not merely private religious practices, then what else could you expect? And, of course, if I understand Laurence correctly, it is precisely this influence that he considers to be so malign.

  • David Morton 15th Jan '08 - 6:58pm

    I read this carefully several times and am not clear what practical point is being made. Laurence doesn’t like religion and is clearly very angry about. That’s much I had gathered from previous discussions. There is no balanced discussion of the contribution that Religions have made to art, literature, social reform, architecture, political philosophy or indeed liberalism. Just a blanket condemnation of all fundamentalism. The idea that all believers aren’t fundamentalists is dismissed with a rhetorically referrence to “Nice Nazi’s”.

    I welcome the article being published at I don’t think it does laurences case much good but at heart its a prime example of the thoughtless, self reinforcing and blinkered fundamentalism that he seeks to critique in the first place.

  • One of Laurence’s key arguments is that the good that religion does is necessarily counterbalanced by the evil that it does. While it is possible that this may be true it is also possible that it isn’t, and as it is not really susceptible to proof one way or the other it isn’t much of an argument. What is objectively true (though I’m sorry, I don’t have the references) is that those who profess a religious belief give a higher proportion of their income to good causes and spend more of their time on voluntary work than those who do not have such a belief. I have made this argument before and Laurence dismisses it without making serious points to counter it.

  • David Morton 15th Jan '08 - 7:54pm

    Laurence, you are right I’m not really engaging with your arguement because it think your “Nice Nazi” comment really destroys, holes beneath the water line, the whole argument you are making. Its so cheap and offensive ( Remember Bonhoffer?) I just can’t be bothered.

    You previously published an article on here arguing that the party become a champion of secularism and that there was a political market to be cornered here. Thats a much more interesting line. Why don’t you dust that off and pad it out with some policy proposals. But at the moment you are just acting like a athiestic Ian Paisley.

  • 44. I would be most surprised if there was a positive correlation in most countries between greater income and religiosity: in fact both the Catholic church and Islam attract the majority of their adherents from the less well off. In Britain the C of E has tended to be ‘the Conservative Party at prayer’, but the Catholic and nonconformist churches have historically attracted the greater part of their support from those with less wealth.

  • Sure, religion is used by the ruling classes in third world countries to keep a grip on the masses, but I don’t think that invalidates what I am suggesting about this country (I don’t know about the USA). I am an atheist too, but I don’t think that allows me to look at the argument in a biased way, and the facts as I understand them (perhaps someone can prove me wrong) show that those with religious beliefs are more likely to be engaged with their communities in altruistic ways than those without.

  • Angus J Huck 16th Jan '08 - 1:07am

    Sorry, I haven’t had the time to plough all the way through this thread. There are so many other things I have to do (sleep being one of them).

    But I cannot let mention of Richard Dawkins pass without directing readers the following link:


    A trait which materialists of the Marxist persuasion and those who favour a market economy share is their fraudulent claim to stand for “science” and “reason”.

    Look at the link and see how “scientific” Dawkins is being here.

  • Meanwhile,at the Burning Bush- just in case


  • Angus J Huck 16th Jan '08 - 1:17pm

    Rob Knight said: “Certain actions are banned, we call these ‘crimes’. It doesn’t matter why someone does them, what matters is that we punish them for it when they do and, by so doing, we demonstrate society’s view of these actions.”

    Wrong. A crime is usally more than an action. Most crimes (and all crimes that are punishable by imprisonment) have a mens rea component. Crimes of strict liability, or quasi-crimes, may lead to a fine, but not a stain on one’s character.

    It most certainly DOES matter why someone does them. Crimes of specific intent can only be committed intentionally, while crimes of basic intent may be committed recklessly. So the “why” is of paramount importance.

    Conversely, ALL crimes must have an actus reus. I was taught at Sunday school that thinking of doing something naughty is just as wicked as doing something naughty, but English law has never recognised a pure thought crime.

    Female genital mutilation is contrary to section 18, Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which is a crime of specific intent. It is necessary to prove that the defendant intended to do the act, but his religious motive is no defence.

    Jomo Kenyatta regarded female genital mutilation as a precious symbol of African moral and racial superiority over Europeans. And it seems that Germaine Greer and others on the left who support female genital mutilation agree with this analysis. It is something that people with dark skins do for religious and cultural reasons, so it is not for secularists with white skins to criticise it. A similar rationale leads Greer and her fellow relativists to uphold the right of Moslems to murder Salman Rushdie.

  • “I am going to change the world”
    Well you have got your work cut out.In this part of the world, S E Asia, most people cannot conceive of a person NOT having a religion.
    Outside of Europe religion is on the increase.China will be a bastion of Christianity by the end of this century.

  • Let’s say the Lib Dems come out with a commitment to say, phase out (rather than abolish) state-funded religious education. Over a period of 20 years. That’s the time that the Church of England has left, if current trends continue. So it’ll have to happen anyway.

    In Scotland too, it would hardly break the bank to pull plug on the absurdity of ‘joint campuses’.

    It’ll create clear water between the Lib Dems and the other parties. It may seem populist and seedy, but how long can we pretend that the UK is something it is not?

  • Secularism is non-sectarian (ie no favorites, no prescriptive pronouncements).

    Secularism does not (as Laurence would have it) equate to the establishment of a hegemonic atheistic sect within the state.

    Returning to the article, I think it would have been helpful to be a bit more generous in the definitions Laurence gave.

  • Laurence, you want to be clear about what religious belief entails – you may have some thoughts about roughly what it means, but is that everything? Do you speak for everyone who holds such beliefs, despite not holding them yourself? I don’t think so, I don’t think you can, and nor do I think what you claim to be a reasonable definition is satisfactory in the slightest.

    It just doesn’t help your position to back up claims to promote secularism on the one hand by delving into the fray and advocating atheist sectarianism on the other.

    If you want other people to recognise that you distinguish between the two as seperate, then I suggest you don’t link them.

    Anyway secularism means more than just seperation of church and state, it means seperation of all organs of state from government.

    If we look at Pakistan or Venezuela, the constitutional problems there are caused by the head of state also being the head of the military. The wider issue arises from questions about whether any action undertaken by the state is in the general interest or in the interest of the General – it’s a matter of precedence. If we go on to look at various presidential systems, confusion is caused by the head of government also being the head of state. In Kenya currently the conflict is being driven by claims of tribal interest overriding the national interest (let’s leave aside US ructions and the mainly external problems they cause).

    In any case where any such confusion arises it is problematic because intellectual concepts of legitimacy are challenged by the non-inclusivity of the decision-making process involved (ie in whose interests is it?). It’s why elections need to be both free and fair.

    It is quite simple – if you want to maintain perception that you are a good judge, you cannot be seen to be partial: partisanship is acceptable only where accusations of prejudice can be dismissed.

    If a state religion is a matter for public discussion it must be a matter for everyone, so there is no way you can be clear about any definitions of it or exactly what it may entail, whereas if it is a personal subject there is reason for you to raise it in the first place?

  • Addressing the issue of secularism in practise, it means whatever you want it to mean in the specific instance, thereby freeing you from dogmatic adherence to any doctrine.

    Re: state education. Working from first principles it is hard to come to any definitive conclusion about what curriculum the state should formally advocate, other than everything. So, if the market dictates that there is enough demand for any type of school, be it baha’i or ba’athist, then, provided you have the ability to choose to reject that school for your kids and provided your curriculum is met, what is the problem? The challenge is to make sure the balance between supply and demand is met.

    Faith schools aren’t a problem in themselves, the issue is about state funding and the level of control over what goes into the curriculum being taught in them – the same as with comprehensives.

    The questions about the curriculum stem from the knock-on that this has on the effectiveness of society to satisfy public demands (ie skills for life and employment), which itself is a demonstration of the link between government policy as enacted by the most popular party. Education policy is on the agenda because the social and economic problems of inequality real and relative poverty are increasingly evident around us.

    Are faith (sectarian) schools going to solve the secular dilemma? Well, I’d say that they do form part of the solution, but piecemeal they will only exacerbate it. As a liberal, I’d argue that the state should either support all types of school, or all types of school should be private enterprises.

    The way I see it, the inadequacies of state education reflects negatively on the present party of government and is another reason to vote against them. Labour is failing to make the link between the education which sections of society want and the education society as a whole needs.

    If freedom means anything, it must mean faith in some kind of karma!

  • Going back to the article, Marxism is a term that can be applied to many fields as it refers to a development of the dialectic method of analysis, not any particular conclusion that may be drawn from it.

    So, I agree with James, yes, it is whatever you make of it.

    Laurence, I’m afraid that you are overlooking the element of active participation of any individual within any system. If you choose to passive acceptance of imposed sterile structures upon yourself, how do you make claims for freedom?

  • @100 – disallowing religion is one thing, but actually removing it is another matter (so now prohibition is liberal?). And children may be free to choose, but again that is different from making an informed decision – being brainwashed is just the other side of the same coin as having limited information on which to base a decision (is Laurence reading?).

    There is an issue here about distinguishing between children and adults as unequal beings which is reflected in social expectations with corresponding rights and responsibilities. For when it comes to education needs, no individual is simply a blank canvass for us or the state to project our own ideals or requirements onto – that comes later and is called training.

    @101 – Well, the current situation seems to be providing a fudge that attempts to appease all, but is failing to completely satisfy any.

    To pronounce upon which schools are a good idea and which aren’t, especially in the abstract, is judgemental and represents a preconcieved notion of what is best.

    The way I see it the shame of the current system is in the labelling of some as ‘failing’, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as resourcing drops and the associated stigma has an impact on the pupil intake – just as no pupil need ever ‘fail’, since any ‘failing’ pupil ‘can do better’, this is a measure that could and should be applied equally to institutions in similar situations.

    Pandering to natural constituencies in order to gain a quick investment fix is an admission of a general failure of Labour’s education policy (which also hints at their true budgetary priorities).

    As for inference that schools (faith-based or otherwise) could be anything other than divisive, well can I ask, how else would you manage to make any sort of comparison? If you wanted to have a rugby match, would you have everybody picked on the same team?

  • Laurence, you are trying to have your cake and eat it.

    The problem in this country’s education system is not the introduction of faith schools (though these do present some indirect problems), but the situation where state education is failing large numbers of those in the system so that faith schools have come to be seen and promoted as part of the solution.

    This is exactly the same as the way the state has failed to set a good example with the values it promotes in a wider context, so that the hope offered by religion is seen as a positive and liberating alternative to state agency in society.

    Basically I mean that if the state were succeeding there would be no need for religion, as the aspirations of political idealism were already being met. However, as we haven’t yet got to this stage (and it isn’t something that is advisable to force presumption of), I don’t think you are being helpful in trying to crush the dreams of anyone who wishes for a better world, however they may wish to formulate or express their beliefs (a question of your tolerance of diversity, perhaps?).

    It strikes me as particularly insensitive and arrogant to assume there is nothing to learn from people who think differently and/or have a different approach to understanding the world around us, whether you have either specific or general disagreements with someone on any particular topic. Surely in order to move forward it makes more sense to be seeking common cause where possible with all groups with which we have any agreement rather than blocking progress until we have it all on our own terms.

    I take it as an admission of failure on behalf of our current government’s education policy that they accept the argument for faith schools, so I don’t understand why you are arguing for the status quo ante. Maybe your view would be more nuanced by incorporating the urgency of your own childrens experience, had you any.

  • Things can only get better.... 25th Jan '08 - 10:17pm

    Oh no, Boycie is inflicting his monologue diatribes on a grateful nation.. again..



  • Laurence, you ask earlier in the thread why people don’t engage properly with your argument.

    Perhaps it is because you express yourself with the dogma of a member of the Committee of Public Safety. There is an intolerance and zeal in your tone which is reminiscent of the anti-religious neo-religions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

    I do not care on any given point whether you are right or wrong about religion, because your liberalism is hard to find while your obsessive intolerance is all too plain.

  • Laurence,

    Your tone cannot be ignored. My argument with you is that you seem intolerant, illiberal and unpleasant to read, regardless of your points.

    Your zeal is that of a religious fanatic, convinced of your own truth. That you do it in the name of anti-religion does not make it any more attractive – even to a very committed atheist.

  • I’m sure you’re flattered by all this attention Laurence, but I’m not sure that you’re actually helping your stated cause by keeping up the pretence of being open and claiming to want debate when you have already made up your mind and won’t accept any deviation from your own conclusions from anybody else.

    You say:
    “I can learn all sorts of things from all sorts of people. I know that. But what of the religious teachings themselves? I ask again: what can I learn from religion that is not either platitudinously obvious or downright false? Just one thing?…”

    Either you’re not really giving much thought to your ideas, or you’re not reading through what you write: you can’t learn what you already know, but you can revise and expand your understanding, gaining a deeper and more thorough perspective upon truth. There are inumerable forms of analysis by which any example can be used to grow one’s mind, so asking for specific pointers is a waste of time and apears to be a childlike attempt to set a trap for anyone who may wish to attempt to defend an opposing position – perhaps instead you’d like to provide a starting point for any discussion rather than rubbishing any practise in the first place.

    It strikes me that, from the outset, you have attempted to create bound definitions (however loose) by which to impose the assumptions of your viewpoint, which rather sets a precondition of limiting the possibility that you may have something to learn, so, I must question your methodology. Instead of generously offering your knowledge into the mix in the hope that a new and improved position may become universally apparent, you selfishly continue to slap down those who would otherwise wish to help you, revelling in some kind of personal quest for self-affirmation and glorification, when by assuming the mantle of a default position you are really subsuming your own individual potential, which I find quite pitiable: you could do so much better.

    As for an 100% dependence on scientific method for appreciation of knowledge, this is a worrying admission. Can I point you in the direction of Emmanuel Levinas as a writer and thinker who may be able to give you some enlightenment on how comprehension of Otherness (ie God in traditional terms, objectivity/truth in more modern times) creates a basis for ethics by setting limits on metaphysics. The collection of essays ‘Alterity and Transcendence’ is a good place to start and I heartily recommend it.

    For someone with an obvious passion for politics I can only remark on how you seem to lack the ability to see the world through the eyes of another. I know it is a fun game to play devil’s advocate (and it is the only way to participate avoiding vulnerability), but one cannot continue ad infinitum without falling into an endless black-hole where everything becomes alienated and depersonalised.

    There is a major concern here, because the loss of values (which is something we currently experience day-to-day in the UK, at least according to some commentators) leads to a desperate pursuit of purpose, and an exaggeration of psychological trauma on a wide scale when this pursuit is percieved to fail. At a political level the loss of values is often viewed as the cause of social incohesion and breakdown, exemplified by many random and seemingly unrelated instances of serious crimes or events (look at any daily news headlines for all the shock and scandal you could wish for as examples) that do indeed express ‘the mood of the nation’ as well as describe aspects of various forms of culture.

    Anyway, I digress, this is a stage of normal development processes which shows many correlations between individual and societal growth and usually presages a new transition, but we all take a view on change, how to achieve it and what form is disirable – that’s what we’re here for after all.

    If you need such an epiphany (and it certainly sounds like it to me), then I suggest that for you it would help to stop rejecting the possibility of falling in love because you still feel the impact of previous rejection. The responsibility and wisdom that accompanies love is one that anyone who has experienced it will be able to explain, and it will also offer you the chance to act on your information by making a real choice on whether to send any subsequent children to a faith school or not.

    To my mind Levinas’ description of the cognitive link between wisdom and love is a serious and positive addition to the liberal tradition that has many practical applications in politics.

  • James Graham 27th Jan '08 - 2:38pm

    I’ve responded to this article (much later than planned) over on my blog.

  • Laurence, the more you write, the more you sound like a communist. The aims might be similar to those of liberalism, but the methods are quite different, so if this is the case then it is no surprise you are having the effect you do.

  • Dennis the Menace... 27th Jan '08 - 7:09pm

    Crikey, Is this bloody thread still running ? It has been resurrected. Although I will probably catch a b*!!*cking from Boycie for calling it that…

    Shouldn’t these threads be closed off after a week so that we aren’t exposed to the same regurgitated tedium week after week?

    Just a thought…

  • Don’t conflate all your antagonists into one, Laurence. Anyway I only said you sounded like a commie. You’re entitled to your opinions, if we can agree to disagree.
    To be fair, in theory (and I can see you only have theoretical experience of faith schools) I can well understand the attraction of communism as a panacea, but it is better suited to the more elitist circles of the academic coffee table discussion as it doesn’t withstand contact or interaction with the real world, much like your revered Dawkins, in fact.

  • Laurence (128), any particular ideology that is wrong is wrong because it is illogical, so it is no ideology. Likewise, your argument is flawed because it uses conflicting logic and assertion – therefore it is only an opinion easily dismissed (although by the length of this thread, much grudgingly).

    Quickly, one be one:
    Does 14 years of Catholic school qualify you to pontificate about all present versions of faith schools??
    One may believe one’s mission to be noble and heroic, but nothing in that stops you from being vile and having a pernicious influence.
    And while you may find it hard to ignore the difference between religions, do you also see the difference within each – if you take any congregated audience then you will be hard pushed to find two people who agree on everything if you listen to them rather than their preacher.
    Does the traditional flaw of polls also need to be regutgitated here? You are presenting Master Purnell’s case that there is such a thing as ideological neutrality, which is a load of old rot, and to which the Martin Luther quote can also be applied quite handily.

    Simply, there are no bad ideas, only ideas – some of which cohere while the rest fall apart as their consequences conflict.
    Without spiritual discipline there is no ethics, and without any mental discipline you can build no argument, as you haven’t – you have only assumed a default position, which you are defending tooth and nail.
    This equates with prejudice, not necessarily wrong in practice, but wrong in principle – I don’t necessarily disagree with your conclusion, but by your method there is no way I can ascertain it’s validity.

    Whether I or anyone else agrees with you, or not, Laurence, simply isn’t relevant to this discussion. This is about standards and how to raise them, because I don’t see how anybody (you, me or a fundamentalist) can improve any situation by dragging others down to their own level.

    Calling someone a bigot is wrong, as is trying to destroy buildings or lives or belief systems, because this undermines the people and institutions that support us as a whole. You might wish them to fail and fall, but you are wasting your time if you actively pursue this cause.

  • “[Sam] Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism in an attempt to provide a truly modern foundation for our ethics and our search for spiritual experience.”

    This made me laugh: he’s a New Age polemicist, he’s his own God!

  • Dennis the Menace... 28th Jan '08 - 6:33pm

    Boycie, go and take your ‘argument with your shadow’ over to Rupa Huq’s excellent blog – she’ll soon put you right.

    And it will give us a bit of peace and quiet over here…


  • Laurence, it is short-sighted and dangerous to concentrate on the negative aspects of religious institutions as a divisive element in society.

    Institutions provide the glue to society by giving individuals values to measure themselves by and raise us all out of the swamp of inhumanity.

    Without the building blocks of group identity to create order in life we are left with incohesion and violence, so the neglected consequence of attacks on organised structures actually provides a form of intellectual support for the random attacks of gang violence and criminality which many of us witness and read about ocurring on inner-city streets with increasing regularity.

    It is a simple conceit of the complacent middle-classes that the vacuum of values can be filled without any authority other than that of the gun or knife, so criticising all establishments because you are educated and have other things to involve yourself in fails to address the wilderness that society’s underclasses exist in and the chaos and unpredictability of the social problems that are inherent in it where even the most basic of institutions (ie religions) fail to reach.

    I suggest, Laurence, that your prejudiced generalisations about Islam, in particular with relation to women, would benefit by learning about the diversity that exists, such as regarding the secular Alevis of Turkey and the Balkan Bektashis.

    Unless you can at least acknowledge the importance of religion then you are offering an open goal to conservatives the world over – from David Cameron to Moqtadr al-Sadr – to provide an analysis that answers questions of social breakdown. But I guess you find it easy to promulgate your ignorance far away from the frontline.

    You make the grossest of category mistakes in attempting to classify and outlaw religion on the basis that ‘it’ is ideology, and a false one at that.

    You also compound your error by distinguishing your own analytical method by it’s godlessness – even you (as I recall) cite the destruction of the WTC as ‘undeniable proof’ of the inherent evil of religion, which is an interpretation of an atheist miracle as awesome as any biblical prophecy made real!

  • Martin Land 29th Jan '08 - 9:45pm

    I don’t know if Mr Boyce is a bigot or not; but he is certainly a bore.

  • Laurence, disbelief is fine and disestablishment is something I support, but dissolution is a step too far.

    It is easy to get carried away by concentrating on the implications of church iconography and other things with which you personally don’t accept, but there is nothing in the substance of religion that is inherently evil. Power, now that is something else.

    Failure to recognise how individual belief changes over time shows an inability to learn and a large dollop of immaturity – you are clearly stuck by your fixation that the world revolves around you and must conform to your expectations, so maybe you should apply to be the next infallible pope as the holy representative on Earth and see where you get to.

    Freedom of religion usually encompasses freedom to believe so it is a bit of a shock to find a self-describing liberal promoting repression of this or any kind. I think you’d be better served learning a bit of voluntary self-restraint to become a fully responsible adult.

    For the record, I’m all for giving one’s opinion on the basis that you can moderate yourself and reform is always possible (and aren’t all religious communions a product of previous reforms aiming at improvements?), but nitpicking different concepts of ‘truth’ is a futile occupation which diverts from the more important practical issues like the disorder on our doorsteps that I mentioned and you seem unconcerned by, maybe even quietly relishing.

    If your obviously unresolved issues continue to cause you anxiety I can guarantee you your local priest has an ever-open ear to the humble, even disbelievers like your good self, and you will definitely be offered forgiveness as well as sincere pastoral advice to help you find some inner peace and harmony – no sheep is lost forever, however prodigal – good luck!

  • Laurence, when I use the word ‘belief’ you reply with the word ‘god’ – you are failing to distinguish between subject and object: I await your responses with much interest, though all I read are dodges.

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • Telephony Twat 31st Jan '08 - 10:53pm

    Message for the reader ?

    4 of the last 6 posts on this thread have been by the writer – there are no readers..

    Message for the writer – take this bilge off to your own blog so you can bore for England without detaining anyone else.


  • Question for the writer: I’ve got some concentrated squash in the cupboard, it turns water into a remarkably tasty fruit-flavoured drink – do you want me to tell you how it works, or do you want to preserve the mystery?

  • On yer blog Laurence!
    This is all Dorkins stuff.

  • Dawkins is evidently unaware of the fact that almost all forest on this planet is either secondary growth or managed primary growth.

    Tall trees are encouraged because they provide a canopy that supports the growth of berry-bearing plants, or under-storey trees like hazel that can be coppiced.

  • http://www.jesusandmo.net/

    Essential reading for all….

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