When was this thing last renewed?

Andrew Anthony zeroes in on the problem.

All the subclauses in the world can’t disguise the intention that underpins these positions. In seeking to incorporate a disputed deity’s authority (which, by the way, it is blasphemous to question) into the common law, and by challenging the principle of equality under the law, Dr Williams launched a strategic attack on secularism.

A disputed deity’s authority. Just so. And it’s not only the deity that is disputed, it is also that deity’s authority, and the content of the resulting commands, and above all how and if anyone knows any of this. This is the theist four-step I talked about last year. We tend to think there’s just one step – believe in God or not – but in fact there are at least four, and it’s the whole package that is both so coercive and so weak as a matter of knowledge. It’s coercive because the package is: there is a God, it is all-good and all-powerful, it has told us how to be good, we know those three things beyond a shadow of a doubt. That’s coercive because (if it’s true, which of course it isn’t) it closes off the exits. It’s weak as a matter of knowledge because we don’t know any one of the four, much less all of them – yet that doesn’t get pointed out all that often. The archbishop can talk about a covenant with the divine and no one says like a rude eight-year-old ‘How do you know?’ But it is a real question. How does he know? The answer of course is that he doesn’t – but because no one says so, he gets to go on pretending he does.

The archbishop says says there is a ‘covenant between the divine and the human’. Well, is there? How does he know? There is no evidence of such a covenant. There is no crumbly old bit of parchment in the British Museum with God’s signature on it. There’s no anything – there’s only a chain of assertions going back many hundreds of years. Well that doesn’t count, especially in such a momentous matter as this. If there were a covenant – would this God make it once, five thousand years ago or thereabouts, and then never again? Leaving no trace? Is this God so thick that it doesn’t know that humans can forge documents and invent stories? If God really wanted to make a covenant with the human, wouldn’t it make some arrangement for succeeding generations to have genuine, valid knowledge of said covenant? God didn’t do that. God apparently expected us all to be as credulous as newborn babies about this one thing – and most of us have obliged, but maybe it’s getting to be just about time to stop being quite such easy marks. When the archbishop talks as if he has reliable knowledge of this covenant between the divine and the human, he is playing a con game.

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