Mush. Most people can’t seem to think or talk about this subject without resorting to mush. To inaccurate assumptions and woolly language and category mistakes and undefined terms that need defining. To mush.
Editing it today – 33 years later under the same title – is the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, Stephen Bates. He defends it enthusiastically. He said: “I am by no means averse to including humanist or secularist writers but I tell all would-be contributors that the column is intended, in my opinion, to be a space for non-polemical or philosophical reflection. This means not attacking the beliefs of others. In my experience, humanists and atheists find this very difficult…”
Well maybe that’s because they’re profoundly puzzled by the idea that philosophical ‘reflection’ ‘means’ not attacking the beliefs of others. Oh yeah? Ever talked to or read any philosophers has he? But that’s where the mush comes in. He probably has some special – i.e. mushy – meaning for ‘philosophical reflection’ in mind. That it means just kind of dozily dreamily driftily pondering this and that, with one’s eyes unfocused and mouth hanging open and a little bit of drool trailing down one’s chin. He also no doubt has a special meaning for the word ‘attack’ by which it means point out the great gaping holes in someone’s ‘reasoning’ or ‘argument’. And a special meaning for ‘beliefs’ by which it means that which must never be questioned unless of course it is the ‘beliefs’ of non-theists in which case of course anything at all may be said however dishonest.
Even more, the mushy idea throughout the piece is that religion and non-religion are the same sort of thing, in the same way that ginger ice cream and coffee ice cream are the same kind of thing. The truth of course is rather that religion is a set of badly-warranted ideas while non-religion is abstinence from that particular set of badly-warranted ideas, so that in fact they are opposites rather than two flavours of the same kind of thing. So all the way through there is this silly assumption that atheists have no business saying religion is epistemically feeble.
Who qualifies to speak from this small platform is, in the end, he points out, a matter for the editor. The editor, when I asked him about this, said he believed there was still a good argument for preserving Face to Faith as, to use his term, “a protected space”.
Right. A protected space. Protected from what? From the bad mean people who ask what all this is based on? From cruel heartless people who ask what the evidence is? From savage unfeeling people who ask who designed the designer then? Or just from the winds and turmoil of the everyday world? But either way, why is a ‘protected space’ considered necessary or useful or a good idea? Why should religion be protected? Why shouldn’t it be expected to take care of itself by this time? Why does it need Guardian editors bending over it and tucking it in and telling it not to fret? (Not to mention allowing it to talk unmitigated drivel week in and week out.)
Well, I don’t suppose the Guardian will answer those questions, but I would love to know.