Doing Semantics

On the back of the release of the report ‘Doing God: A future for faith in the public square‘ by the Theos ‘think-tank’, AC Grayling not only describes the report as ‘confused’ – discursive, meandering, sophistic, would all have been equally valid adjectives – but also gives the authors a well-deserved lesson in semantics.

Needless to say, this is required reading.

I may comment more fully on the report, myself, if and when I can find any meaningul content, however I cannot pass up the opportunity to highlight on passage that I found of particular interest in its section on ‘identity politics’…

It should not need saying (but, again, regrettably will) that treating religious groups as valid participants within the identity debates to which modern politics is gravitating does not mean failing to scrutinise or criticise them. Indeed, it means the very opposite. If religious groups wish to participate in this area of the public square, they must be willing to defend themselves without recourse to sectarian or inscrutable reasons. They must be self-critical and willing to utilise (if also challenge) public reason. That is the price of admission. It is precisely inclusion of this nature that is likely to qualify any extreme positions. If you have to argue your case and negotiate in the public realm, you are obliged to work with the standards and assumptions of people who don’t share your convictions; and this can (challengingly) extend the conversation on both sides.

Given that this report has the backing of both Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, and advocates that religious groups seeking to engage in wider political debate and discourse must be ‘willing to defend themselves [and, by extensions their opinions] without recourse to sectarian or inscrutable reasons’; can we now assume from this that, in the ongoing debate on equality legislation that provides for equal treatment for the gay community in regards to the provision of good and services, both Churches will now be dropping their inscrutable and sectarian demands for exemptions to the legislation on grounds of religious belief, which are based solely on the content of a 1700 year old collection of myths and folk tales and not on rational argument or public reason?

Also on Comment is Free, is a rather strange article by Andrew Brown, entitled ‘Why God Needs Heretics’ in which he spends a considerable amount of time exploring the idea that ‘religion and science don’t mix’ to no great conclusion before offering up the view that:

The fact that there is no rational basis for choosing between gods is precisely what makes them such a good way to decide political questions. Arguing about the kinds of things that cannot by their nature be decided or susceptible to proof is much the best way to ensure that what is really being measured is something else: political power, debating skill, or determination.

So it is not irrational for religion to spread in the modern world and why we can expect it to spread still more. If theological disputes gain popularity as a way of fighting over resources at a time of political change, this is going to be a good century for religious correspondents. Even the Church of England might revive — as a way of expressing an English identity that was firmly anti-Islamic.

In short, forget any aspirations to logic, reason and rationality and embrace religious nationalism, irrationalism and Sophism as the dominant political philosophies of the 21st Century.

So, if it weren’t for that bastard Plato and his strange notions of logic and reason, everything would be hunky dory, or if not, then at least it would keep religious correspondents in a job for life.
(At the time of writing, I find myself still trying to decide whether this last article is an artfully contructed, if wholly abstruse, piece of satire on the author’s part or whether he simply had a column to fill and banged out the first piece of confused old tosh he could come up with in order to get a paycheck).

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