Faith is not a Virtue

What was that we were just saying about Thought for the Day? Thought for the Day and the kind of emetic bullshit offered up there by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks? Who is, rumour has it, rather pompous, and a tad bossy. Now there’s a surprise.

Yes, Thought for the Day, we were talking about. So was Simon Blackburn in a lecture for the British Humanist Association a few years ago.

The debate in this country, and still more in the United States, too often aligns itself around a simple polarity. Are we to be religious? In that case, it is assumed, there are real truths, real standards, real values which we can use to guide our own behaviour and that of others. Or, are we to be atheists or agnostics? In that case, it is again assumed, there are no real truths or standards or values, and we fall prey to a variety of ailments: materialism, cynicism, nihilism, relativism. There is almost nothing that is right about this way of drawing up the issue, and the philosophical tradition has abundant resources to show that there is almost nothing right about it. Yet this tradition seldom gets its voice heard. It is not allowed on Thought for the Day, where bishops and rabbis and mullahs are given their daily, publicly-subsidized, advertising time.

It shouldn’t be called thought for the day at all, should it – not if real thought is actually ruled out. It should be called religious musing for the day.

Blackburn says a lot of good things in that lecture. He seems to have a habit of doing that, doesn’t he. Several people picked up that comment I wrote about ‘Religion and Respect’ the other day, and read and then wrote admiringly about R and R themselves – P Z at Pharyngula for instance. They find the article as target-hitting as I do.

I’ll just offer a brief sample of the good things for now, because I have to run off.

The first and all too often the last virtue of any of the monotheistic religions is faith, because it is faith that holds the flock together, and defines Us, inside, against Them, outside. But faith is not a virtue. Faith is credulity: the condition of believing things for which there is no reason. It is a vice, and it inevitably encourages other vices, including hypocrisy and fanaticism. It needs to be said, loudly, that it makes no more sense to talk of faith-based schools or faith-based education than it does to talk of superstition-based science or terror-based debate.

Yeah!! How many times have I said that, I wonder – faith is not a virtue. If I’ve said that once, I’ve said it several times. There’s another sweatshirt and bumper sticker and coffee mug saying for us – Chris put in a request for ‘Rootless Cosmopolitans’ a couple of days ago, which I strongly second; let’s add ‘Faith is Not a Virtue.’

Faith is by its essence the enemy of education, which teaches people to base beliefs on reason and on reason alone.

Precisely. Well that takes us all the way to page two – and I have to go. Read on.

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