Here is another installment in the on-going story of religious people demanding immunity from criticism for religion and religious people. This one is more irritating than most because so full of heavy-handed sneering (I like my sneering to be done with a light touch, thank you). Chattering classes, bien pensants, choking on their ciabatta – alliterative but crude. And then there’s the ever-popular rhetorical move of deciding what people’s motives are.
Why is baiting Christians a sport among the so-called bien pensants? Because the bien pensants most enjoy and benefit from the status quo, and sense, in the Christian, a subversive element who seeks to destroy their lifestyle.
Err – no. I for one don’t ‘bait’ Christians, but I do criticise religion and religious arguments, and perhaps to Odone that is indeed ‘baiting’. But either way, I don’t do it because I sense in the Christian a ‘subversive element’ – not in the sense in which she means, the sense she elaborates in the article. No, I do it partly because of this very matter of demanding special treatment, and partly because religious people have a bad habit of overlooking the fact that their religions make truth claims about the world that don’t happen to be well-founded or based on evidence. So in that sense, yes, Christians are subversive: they subvert the value of reason and evidence. But that’s not what Odone means.
We believe in authority. In an era that prizes individual freedom, Christians believe in a supreme being who dictates our words and deeds. To modern ears, the concept sounds outrageously autocratic. From when to die to when to give birth, from whom to have sex with, to how to spend their money, the chatteratis believe they should enjoy unlimited freedom. But for the Christian, freedom is not an end in itself.
The concept sounds more than outrageously autocratic – it sounds factually mistaken. Who is this supreme being and how do you know what it has dictated respecting our words and deeds? As far as I know, the only source of this knowledge is a book that was written over a period of a thousand years or so, two thousand years ago. With all due respect, I don’t consider that a very good piece of evidence, and I’m not the only one. That’s why I don’t think religion should be immune from criticism, not because it might force me to give my ciabatta away to the poor or stop being a moral relativist.
Odone does have one point, that Muslims (she says ‘and Jews’, but that’s not entirely true these days) have greater immunity from criticism (or ‘baiting’) than Christians do. I’ll grant her that. But I think the solution is to say that all religions have it wrong, not to say that they all have it right.