There’s a stupid new meme kicking around. I saw it a few days ago – last week sometime, I think – in some newspaper ramble about poor persecuted religion. I nearly mentioned it then, but it was a small point, and I didn’t end up getting to it. But it needs to be stamped out – because it is so stupid and back to front and deceitful. And typical in that. It’s one of the favourite tactics of religious whiners, turning things upside down so that they get to accuse rationalists of the faults and flaws and feeblenesses that really belong to religionists. Like the deadeningly familiar ‘[insert non-religious idea here] is just another religion’ ploy. The new one turns up in yesterday’s Letters to the Times. A police chaplain, Reverend Bob Green (there’s something risible in that – Reverend Bob – thoughts of Blackadder are hard to suppress), is the whiner this time.
While only 10 per cent attend church in the UK, 70 per cent consider themselves Christians, according to the 2001 census. It could be said that the former are spiritual Christians and the latter cultural Christians, but both categories, I hope, would want to confront the secularists’ agenda of dumbing down faith in whatever shape or form it manifests itself.
There it is. The idea that criticism of and resistance to ‘faith’ is an agenda of ‘dumbing down’. Okay – how do you ‘dumb down’ ‘faith’? That’s a serious question. It seems to me to be a complete, brazen oxymoron. ‘Faith’ is already dumbed down, of its nature. ‘Faith’ – in the sense meant here, in the sense the Rev is using, which is a euphemism for religion – is simply another word for dumbing down – for believing something in the absence of good evidence. Now…that’s not always a bad thing, as the fans of both ‘faith’ and religion love to point out. Having faith in people, for instance, even in the absence of good evidence that the people deserve it, can be a very good thing, sometimes the best thing. (Other times not. It all depends.) Having faith in people in general, in the world, in the future, in hope, in progress, and the like, all can be good things (or not – it depends). But in the particular sense in which the Rev means it, it entails belief in the truth-claims of religion in the absence of good evidence. Those truth-claims are mostly quite preposterous – Jesus didn’t really die, he was resurrected, he is God and also God’s son, God is omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent – you know the preposterous bits I mean. So it is absurd, and deceptive, and less than honest, to call the ‘secularists’ agenda’ ‘dumbing down’. Down from where? Where is there to go down from? What is the lofty point of intellectual mountaineering that ‘faith’ has established and secularists want to descend from? What can Rev Bob possibly mean by ‘dumbing down’? Anything? Anything at all? Even so much as a shred of anything? I have to wonder.