10 April 2007

Atheism As Elitism.

Charles Moore on that "Better Off Without Relgion?" debate:

And yet the Dawkinses and Graylings, the Hitchenses and the Parrises, seem somehow to be missing the point. What they say is dry and unnourishing. I think one reason for this lies in their underlying conception of what it is to be human - they think that the highest quality is to be clever.

I hasten to say that I am not arguing against cleverness. Intelligence is a great gift, and should be cultivated, if possessed, by all possible means. All these atheist thinkers I have mentioned are conscious of possessing big, bulging brains and I share their admiration for them. They are the mental equivalent of bronzed body-builders on the beach, kicking sand in the face of us seven-stone weaklings.

But what are we to make of Richard Dawkins's point, in The God Delusion, that Mensa, the society for people with high IQs, has published an article concluding that, of 43 studies of the relationship between intelligence and religious belief since 1927, all but four have found an inverse relation? Or of his statistic that only 3.3 per cent of the Fellows of the Royal Society believe that a personal God exists?

You probably know some people with high IQs. You may even have met members of the Royal Society. Does it strike you, brilliant though they are, that they have a deeper understanding of truth, beauty and all that you need to know about life than the rest of us?

Dawkins also tells us that "there are very few atheists in prison". He suggests that "atheism is correlated with higher education, intelligence or reflectiveness, which might counteract criminal impulses".

What begins to emerge - and it lurked strongly behind the anti-religion side of the Intelligence Squared debate - is the idea that atheism is an elite state, a superior order of being, a plane of enlightenment denied to thickoes.

This seems to me to present certain problems. A religious faith is not, primarily, a set of propositions, although it will contain such propositions and must use all human intellectual resources to understand and explain them. It is a belief about what governs the whole of life, indeed the whole existence of everything.

It therefore matters not only how we reason, but how we feel, how we act towards others, how we speak, sing, dance, laugh, cry, eat and wash, how we die, how we pray and how we love.

Does anything in our actual human experience tell us that clever people do these things better than anyone else? It is surely what people call "clever-silly" to argue that they do. In fact, in all this I hear the voices of a university high table - and almost invariably male voices at that - proving something to their own satisfaction while other people cook the lunch.

The Victorian Prime Minister Lord Salisbury once criticised Roman Catholicism for being "an excellent religion for peasants and women". But what sort of a religion would it be which was not excellent for peasants or women (who made up about 90 per cent of the world's population in Salisbury's day)?

And what sort of a belief system is it that asserts the superiority of Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, over the woman who toils in paddy fields, or the child who begs in the dirt, or the prisoner in his chains?

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are just as distasteful for Richard Dawkins as for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because they subvert the idea that man is at his greatest when he is most strong, masterful and clever: " 'Tis the old history - Truth without a home, Despised and slain; then, rising from the tomb."

Here's the whole thing.
 

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