Madeleine Bunting, the Graun‘s regular god-squaddist serves up a typical mix of sanctimony, hypocrisy, misreprestation and non sequiturs in her offering for Holy Week.
As usual, she suggests that the so-called “New Atheists” like Dawkins and (Christopher) Hitchens are the mirror image of religious fundamentalists in their bogoted certainty, and once again she puts forward the banal proposition that religion can contain some useful insights into the human condition, as though that was a revelation that the closed mind of Richard Dawkins is unable to comprehend (has she actually read any of Dawkins’ work, one wonders?)
But there is one new and refreshing element to this latest Bunting banality-fest: the admission that there is no intellectual case for religious belief. I have been struck many times over the years by the complete absence of any intellectual case for the existence of god (as opposed to utilitarian arguments about the alleged personal and social benefits of faith) in anything Bunty has ever written (that I’ve read, anyway). Now she comes clean. Not only does she not have any intellectual case, but she is positively opposed to it. Citing with approval the ex-nun turned “historian of religion” Karen Armstrong and the anti-enlightenment “philosopher” John Gray, Bunty states: “Armstrong and Gray…pinpoint a key mistake. Belief came to be understood in western Christianity as a proposition at which you arrive intellectually, but Armstrong argues that this has been a profound misunderstanding that, in recent decades, has infected other faiths. What ‘belief’ used to mean, and still does in some traditions, is the idea of ‘love’, ‘commitment’, loyalty': saying you believe in Jesus or God or Allah is a staement of commitment. Faith is not supposed to be about signing up to a set of propositions but practising a set of principles. Faith is something you do, and you learn by practice, not by studying a manual, argues Armstrong.”
Or as Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”