Thursday, March 1, 2012

How rude!

I've been dipping my toe into fundamentalist atheism over the last few days. We appear to be very cross indeed about fundamentalist religion. I rather fear that we are tarring all religious people with one messy brush. 

In the UK, children are generally taught a number of the major religions under the standard religious education syllabus: most of us believe that all religions express important truths. This does not mean that they are identical, or that any of them is 100% right in every utterance. All human knowledge is imperfect. 

And the imperfections can be exploited by "organisation men" to justify crusades, fatwas, jihads and pogroms. Jerry Pournelle's iron law of bureaucracy notes that the organisers always end up in control and the true believers always get outsmarted in the corridors of power. 

Clearly, there is a genuine problem: intolerance. Not just caused by "god" or religion (whatever that is: one thing makes this tricky is that we don't seem to be able to agree on a definition of religion (I'm no expert, but this article from our chums at Harvard seems to cover the ground in width if not depth)), but by any system of organised belief. There is an obvious and amusing fallacy in attempting to fight intolerance by refusing to tolerate it. This seems to be the general fundamentalist approach on all sides.

It is always fun to point at one another and prove how stupid they are. But if we want to move on and make the world a better place, we need to start with understanding. It's about growing up: moving on out of the playground and into the negotiating chamber. 
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.