I have been amused – somewhat – by the recent encounter between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a frequent writer on atheism, Christopher Hitchens, on the resolution: “Be It Resolved that Religion is a Force for Good in the World.” Part of the Munk Debates, it took placed on Friday, November 26th at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
I heard some of it on CBC the other day, and enough of it to feel comfortable with my view that Blair’s position is a sham, while befitting him as well as any of his previous untenable positions similarly devoid of true substance during his life as a politician, but nevertheless staunchly defended by him. Well, there is his view on the invasion of Iraq – and repeated consistently right up to the present moment, in that the invasion was “absolutely the right thing to do”, etc.
I must admit, not having a particular favorable view of Blair as a result of his political life – slick, if not oily, are the words that come to my mind – I am immediately suspicious of what he says, and why he would say them. Now knowing that his earnings since leaving Downing Street and hitting the lecture circuit are calculated to have topped £12 million, and in 2008 that figure represented more than six times his previous lifetime income, it is clear that his most outstanding skill is to speak convincingly about matters he is absolutely wrong about while claiming them to be absolutely true, and getting lots of money for it. In particular, his always somewhat evangelical speaking style has suited him well – and especially now, when he is trying to claim that religion isn’t the scourge that some of us make it out to be, and that it is a force of good in the world.
Christopher Hitchens does his usual good job of dispelling the metaphysical fog around religion, and exposing it for what it really is: an irrational state of mind too often met with deadly consequences, particularly between those who have competing versions of it. And as history has shown to those who are free to see this for themselves: the human race would be better of without it. This, of course, is a view to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.
Blair, on the other hand, is grasping at straws while trying keep his head above the usual quagmire of religious conundrums. He claims that, while religion has done bad things, such acts – atrocities, etc. – have been committed by non-religious folks as well, and can therefore not be blamed on religion exclusively – (Hitchens doesn’t claim that, BTW) – but that in many instances people have been driven or inspired to do good things because of their religious beliefs. Therefore “Religion is a Force for Good in the World”, according to Blair. Hitchens then goes on to show that people have done good and noble things without being religious – therefore, you can’t be sure that it when good and noble acts are committed they were part of a sense of common humanity that people were tapped into.
So, the bottom line for me would be the fact that while we would experience good acts and bad acts with and without religion, doing away with religion would remove an historically significant source of death and destruction in the world. And as I have claimed a number of times in earlier posts, one might claim that these kinds of actions have nothing to do with the religious beliefs themselves – and that they are misused when wielded as weapons of murder and destruction. No – it is precisely the unsubstantiated and irrational nature of these beliefs that allows them to be used in this manner. When you think you have the creator and eternity on your side – all your actions are justified; you cannot be wrong! Until we shake off the influence of these dangerous beliefs, our species will continue to be murdered for them.
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. (Steven Weinberg, 1999)