Rational religion

December 21, 2007

Many religious believers do express their faith in the intolerant ways Sally Feldman illustrates (Columnist, December 14), but when she summarises that “all too often it’s religion that contradicts democratic principles” she implies that all religious belief is of this type. By selective use of examples in this way, one could just as easily show that all mathematicians are Greeks or all surgeons are Nazis.

To judge from her article, Feldman belongs to the school of thought that defines religion in that 19th-century manner beloved of the successors to Marx and Huxley: a distinct, self-contained social phenomenon characterised by a commitment to non-rational beliefs and unwilling to compromise. Since the late 19th century, there has been an alliance of opposites in which atheist campaigners, seeking to establish a God-free but complete account of reality, depict religion in general as a single consistent and anti-rational phenomenon while countercultural religious fundamentalists who despise secular learning agree with them.

The opposites feed off each other, denouncing each other as wrong but agreeing in discounting the majority whose views include both rationality and religious beliefs. Feldman gives us no hint that most religious believers are just as horrified as she is by the religious intolerance she describes, nor indeed that the democratic principles she rightly seeks to uphold were first hammered out in the debate about how to serve God.

Jonathan Clatworthy, General secretary Modern Churchpeople’s Union.

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