Originally published on nzherald.com
on Wednesday Aug 7, 2013
Strange how some people are so fearful of religion. Nowadays it’s everywhere. A week or so back London officials banned the use of the phrase “in sickness and in health” in civil registry wedding vows as “too religious”.
Then, here, it was prayers in schools – to expunge these we would have to drop the National Anthem. And every day I hear passionate prayers from the most irreligious – all it takes is a finger caught in a door. Now it is the Bible in schools.
Why the fuss? Herald on Sunday columnist Paul Little asserts that religion amounts to “an intellectual transit lounge where the shackles of reason are thrown off and replaced with the loose fitting robes of superstition”. David Hines, “Rationalist”, is stuck in a time warp, still choking on Crusades and Inquisitions. Both are caricatures that fall little short of bigotry.
If rationalism means, as my dictionary states, “reliance on reason as the best guide for belief and action” then I am a Christian rationalist. And so are many of my Christian colleagues and friends. Indeed I would expand “reason” to read “reason and evidence”.
I am an orthodox Christian because of reason and evidence. I see no “shackles” piled up outside the door of my church each Sunday.
Does it not occur to these gentlemen, and so many others like them, that the institution that gave us modern empirical science is actually rather likely to engage with the mind?
Now in fairness I think we should be allowed to inspect Rationalist websites. What does one find? No end of bigotry, abuse and hatred of all things religious.
There is an issue about Crusades and Inquisitions and it’s this: People in the church have always distinguished between the church political and the church pious.
Of course the church political has lost its way from time to time. Look at any regime where accountability has been mislaid. But also time and again the church pious has pulled it back to its roots and reformed its practice. What are those roots? They are the Bible.
The Bible has to be read rationally as I have suggested and in the totality of its teaching. That core teaching lies at the heart of our institutions of democracy, freedom and justice, our understanding of the inviolability of human dignity, our very understanding of “the Western way of life”. Any denial of this is just modern-day medieval book burning.
So why would it not be taught in schools? If we want facts, data, evidence, archaeology – then all that can be provided. It forms part of my daily study.
And here’s the rub. All this data is actually substantial and requires a great deal of study to critically assimilate. I find people are simply unaware of the sheer quantity that is available.
Can we find the teachers who can teach this? That remains a challenge. I’m sure that in practice there are good examples and poor examples and, like all teaching, it requires excellent training.
It would be futile to attempt to remove religious terms from secular discourse. Here are some rather clumsy but illustrative few paragraphs:
There’s a fly in the ointment. It’s a sign of the times that politically correct busybodies, who are a complete law unto themselves, try to force us to set our house in order. Faith is the scapegoat. Religion, we are told, is the root of all evil, a thorn in the flesh for society which is wallowing in the mire of medieval beliefs. We need the patience of Job. How can we hold our peace? The PC powers that be, self-professed salt of the earth, have seen the light and seek to redeem us lost sheep from the howling wilderness of faith and bring us safe and sound back to sterile secularism. At the eleventh hour they hope to rescue us by the skin of our teeth.
Of course each of these phrases were introduced to the English language from the Bible.
Point made? Our historical religion lies doggedly at the heart of all our culture – our language, our institutions, even our science. Seems like there’s plenty to teach in schools.
Dr Jeff Tallon is a physicist specialising in superconductivity.