The place in-between



Just to say a little something on religion, as it’s Christmas. I’m an atheist who believes in freedom to believe. I would never pinpoint religion as wrong.

I study belief, hope as well as existence and truth, and lots of other interesting things as a philosopher. Yet I am more than a little jealous of those with religious faith, whether Pagan, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim, as it would be a very hopeful thing to have in one’s heart.

There are all kinds of amazing things about world religions, not just the hateful acts reported in the press. There’s a richness and resilience in that diversity. Extremism (differing from radicalism, I would argue), in any form is a problem and so is delusion.

Delusional behaviour is an unpredictable scourge of our time. Delusional behaviour is not restricted to individual extremists of religious faith. It can hail from civil governments, security analysts, corporate board members and even police departments too, it seems.

Most religious texts are peaceful, inclusive, tolerant. But we need to remember they were written pretty early on in human pastoral history during significant times of unrest and brutality. Tradition and reverence to founding prophets means these scripts tend not to be updated. But if these founding ‘fathers and mothers’ (mostly fathers), lived today, they might have adapted their work.

If there’s one section of religious text taken out of context in order to set one group against another, there’ll be three more which bring them back together. Cultures and dominant groups within those cultures (hierarchies of power) tend to corrupt religions by skewing and interpreting these ancient scriptures to fit their own world view. This often will be proven by going back to the original text.

Philosophy is not religion, however, and began in response to theistic or polytheistic dominance. Early philosophers did not accept the status quo and they asked ‘who are we and what is nature’ if we/it is not deemed by God or the gods? There was a bravery in this act of defiance towards theocracies. Radical, I would argue. It has spurred all kinds of amazing human endeavours in philosophy and the sciences.

But to be an extreme scientific materialist is as misguided as being an extreme theistic idealist. One excludes the other across an inflexible void. Yet it is the void which offers most scope for imagination. And it’s this place in-between where there is room for all creeds and compassionate thought in this beautiful, mystifying and diverse world.

Let’s cherish it.

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