Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Journal Entry #23 - 3/6/12

So I just finished watching the first forty minutes of a 2010 debate between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and renowned writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens. I have been giving in to persuasion recently that I really don't know enough about various atheist positions to really understand their viewpoints very well. It's a heated issue, but the highly viewed debate (it's more than two hours long and still has almost 250,000 views) was very well organized. The topic, "Is religion a force for good in the world?", is the central question that many individuals argue very passionately about. I say individuals because it is probably true that most people don't go around thinking about the question all day. Nevertheless, in the United Kingdom especially, the debate about religion among thinking people is especially strong. It was interesting to notice the makeup of the crowd in the audience. The debate was held in Toronto, Canada, and 57% of audience members actually disagreed with the premise of the debate. That's interesting given only about seventeen percent of Canadians consider themselves of no religion, according to the 2001 census. That the crowd generally agreed with Christopher Hitchens arguments was abundantly clear in the amount of cheering and applause that he received. Listening to Christopher Hitchens speak, I got the feeling that many who agree with or sympathize with atheist or agnostic positions are pragmatists. They don't fancy themselves people who oppose being good or promoting effective change in society. It seemed, however, that Hitchens was convinced of the role that government has in intervening in society in positive ways. In contrast, Tony Blair praised the work of many thousands of religious based organizations for their charitable work and involvement in countries around the world. Blair made the point that many who are religious are extremely motivated by their faith to give, and that that motivation stemming from their religious beliefs is crucial evidence that religion is a positive force in the world. At the same time, Hitchens makes the point that some of the most violent (if not the most violent) regions of the world are continually in conflict because of conflicts based on religious grounds. He points especially to the conflict in Palestine and the Middle East to support this statement.

In all, I would estimate that most people agree that religious teachings motivate many people to do good things. I would also suppose that a majority or at least a plurality of organizations that exist in the world whose sole purpose is to promote the welfare of other people have some sort of religious foundation. I would love to see the actual statistic for that actually. On the other hand, as Hitchens said, I would say that almost everyone would agree with the statement that people know what is right and wrong without religion having to tell them. I would really like know how publicized statements critical of religion are in the United Kingdom. If statements critical of religion and religious belief are common in the public conversations in the United Kingdom, could it be that the entire nation has shifted away from religious affiliation as a result? In Britain, as perhaps in any country, the tradition has always been to follow the lead of the elite. Are they but following the elite opinion away from religion today?


  1. Hey Ben, if you could somehow specify general areas of religion-caused "good" (for example, charitable giving, etc) and general areas of religion-caused "evil" (religiously-motivated terrorism, etc), and then crossed that with the level of education of the people doing such things (good and bad), what would you learn? Are all the religion-caused evil stuff committed by uneducated religious people? Are there any religion-caused evil stuff committed by highly educated religious people?

  2. Very interesting point Paul. It would be a very worthy question to ask.