That’s Michael Coulter, production editor for The Sunday Age. Commenter mrcreosote left a link to a magnificent essay by Coulter in in my post of two days ago. It’s so good I felt it deserved a post of its own. Let’s have a look.
MOST weeks I read The Sunday Age’s Faith column, out of professional duty. Most weeks I am left perplexed, unable to reconcile what I am reading with anything I see around me.
What I see is a world slowly tearing itself apart for the sake of one faith or another. A world where an extreme faction of Islam wishes to put me and mine to the sword for my unbelief, and to shackle half the world for the crime of being born female. A world where an extreme faction of Christianity wants to throw away science for the sake of millenniums-old superstitions, and is prepared to kill in the name of life. A world where an extreme faction of Hinduism wishes to religiously purify India. A world where people are unashamedly trying to fulfil the biblical conditions for Armageddon.
Moderates say that these factions are perversions of faith, but that too jars with what I know of the past: that it took until the 20th century for humans to devise a secular philosophy, in the form of communism, to rival faith’s destructive power. From the Egyptians enslaving the Israelites to Nero lighting the streets with burning Christians, from the slaughter of the Crusades to the bloodbath of India’s Partition, violence and religion have always gone hand in hand. And the record of societies governed by religious law, from the Aztecs to the Taliban, tells us that theocracy is a synonym for barbarity.
Science/religion discussions look a lot different depending on whether they are held inside or outside of academe. I don’t recognize religion as it is so often presented by humanities professors. The world in which science and religion coexist peacefully, where religious faith has nothing to do with empirical claims about the world, and where God is an abstract concept as opposed to the actual creator of the universe, is not the world I experience in my day-to-day life. It’s not the world I read about in the newspaper or hear about on television. It’s not the world described to me by my religious friends and acquaintances when I ask them about their faith.
But people like Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong act like they’re the ones who really understand what religion is all about, while amateurs like Dawkins and Hitchens are flogging dead horses and straw men. I think Coulter does a nice job of skewering this view.
It’s a puzzling thing about religion that its words, which generally urge us to bolster our better natures and remedy our faults, so rarely match its actions. It seems to me that while an individual’s faith can be a profound personal journey that might even make them a better person, a society’s faith is akin to mass psychosis. History suggests that the killers were always the truest believers, and that notions of tolerance, peace and enlightenment come from those who question the orthodoxy.
Paragraph after paragraph of this! Great stuff. Here’s one more excerpt:
Because make no mistake, we live in a world of wonders. The sound of a wave breaking on a beach, the green of a forest, that we can see and hear and appreciate these things … these are all true marvels, and no less so for the fact we can now understand how it happens. As someone wise once said, the garden is quite good enough without having to invent fairies at the bottom of it.
The question I can’t escape is why so many people clearly prefer the realm of faith, the realm of the Inquisition and of violent jihad, to the realm of thought. What does faith provide them with that reality does not? If it is the comfort of a benevolent power guiding and protecting them, how do they square that with the horror and squalor that still infest the world? Or if it’s a desire for mystery, isn’t the contemplation of the natural forces that conspired to put us here enough?
I wish I had written his essay. Go read the rest of it.