The notion Lord Rees so casually endorses
Nick Cohen is not unduly impressed by the Templeton Foundation.
Initially, it made no secret of its admiration for clerical hucksters and dispensed prizes to the evangelical showman Billy Graham and Mother Teresa, who sought to wallow in Calcuttan poverty rather than end it. Now it has moved upmarket and seeks to reward intellectuals who allow religion to scrape an acquaintance with science; who imply, however vaguely, that evidence-based research and ancient fable are compatible.
That’s the one. I point this out because the gnu-haters have been so energetically defending it in the past few days – I want to underline the fact that Nick is not an ally in that project.
Rees is not, Nick points out, actually religious.
The religious nevertheless showered him with money because he is a symptomatic figure of our tongue-biting age. Like millions who should know better, Rees is not religious himself but “respects” religion and wants it to live in “peaceful co-existence” with it.
Which is the difference between gnu atheists and the other kind – even they “respect” religion, at least in the sense that they would far rather tell rude whoppers about us every few days than say a harsh syllable about religion.
…the respect the secular give too freely involves darker concessions. It prevents an honest confrontation with radical Islam or any other variant of poor world religious extremism and a proper solidarity with extremism’s victims. “I don’t want to force Muslims to choose between God and Darwin,” Rees says, forgetting that scientists “force” no one to choose Darwin, while theocracies force whole populations to bow to their gods. So cloying is the deference that few notice how the demand for “respect” gives away the shallowness of contemporary religious thought.
In the past, the faithful did not accuse their critics of mere bad manners. Charges of blasphemy and heresy were once like accusations of libel. The sinner had sought to spread falsehoods against the true religion, which his prosecutors exposed in court.
And truth was no defense.
…the notion Lord Rees so casually endorses – that you must respect the privacy of ideologies that mandate violence, the subjugation of women and the persecution of homosexuals and treat them as if they were beyond criticism and scientific refutation – is the most cowardly evasion of intellectual duty of our day.
I’m reading a draft of Nick’s next book, by the way. It’s way good.