The Philosophical Bolas



If religion suddenly took a sudden and acute demise, would there be a need for Humanism? The same could be said for Christianity if every one started to believe in Christ. The same could be said for anything which finds itself without its opposite or its main source of conflict.

Much has been said recently about how “New Atheism” as a movement is failing. That it has not succeeded in winning over the masses from the clutches of monotheism.  Admittedly the most prominent bearers of this message have also been prominent flag wavers for Christianity who will always apply measurement of success with the historically Pauline approach of sweeping nations and gaining converts.

This leads us to a little dilemma as to who is right. Christianity in the UK is unmistakeably on the demise to the point where people of devout faith are in single figure percentages. That said we might also comment that active “atheists” or Humanists groups are in a minority contained in the University educated middle classes. Both, I admit, are almost gross sweeping statements but which have an notable element of truth.

And yet it seems very strange that the debate between the likes of Richard Dawkins and those arguing for Jesus or Allah is ever prominent and ever in the media. One might be forgiven for assuming that there was a battlefield full of angry aggressors and defenders on both sides. That this might be the case in the US is irrelevant to the UK where arguably most people whether Church goers or non believers merely go about their business giving it little or no thought whatsoever.

For me it reveals the telling facts that, firstly:  the God debate is rather irrelevant. Secondly: the measurement of success cannot be measured by traditionally religious standards i.e. how many converts there are; nor can it be measured by the demise of an opposite. I would like to consider the above points briefly.

I have been reading Immanuel Kants’ The Critique of Pure Reason.  For someone untrained in Philosophy like myself, it’s a little hard going but it is well worth the effort.  Kant was a groundbreaker for measuring the quality of truth and knowledge.  Much of his ideas are still used today in Philosophy and Science as well as in the every day life or people such as you and I. The two points I wish to comment on are these.

An object has to conform to the concept. Kant states that, previously, thought involved the reverse; that concepts were built around the object.  He builds a picture of the raindrop as an example.  We call it a rain drop because it is a reflection of our experience of it.  We pull information from our senses, apply it to language and then designate a use and a name.  Actually in reality, if there were no one to call it a rain drop, it would just be a collection of elements bound by magnetic, gravitational forces that reflect and refract light. It would not exist as a rain drop at all.  In this case, our knowledge of the rain drop is based on the object conforming to the way we sense, experience and describe things with language.

Added to this, Kant goes further to say that truth is “knowledge being in agreement with its object”.  Logic and what we think we know about something is based on how it relates to an object. It is a unique relationship between those two individual factors alone in that moment and area of time and space.

With the above in mind, even if it is a little bit of a mind teaser, it becomes evident that life isn’t quite as easy as just deciding something is true or not using logic. That is without even looking at the intentions and sentiments of the person stating a supposed truth and what they base their findings on.

Dawkins for instance is pretty sure that God does not exist, but even he will admit he is not 100% sure of that.  For all his jibes and attacks on religion, it is a pretty humble statement in comparison with those at the end of his criticisms who are not so skilled or inclined towards self directed critical analysis. The point is that the God debate rages on without many people realising that logic and truth cannot be universally applied to it.

Going back to Dawkins; much as he is scientifically skilled and educated and experienced in rigorous logic and scrutiny in finding the truth in zoology; it does not necessarily qualify him to do anything other than comment and give his opinion on the matter about God.  Likewise, a well educated and wise Bishop of the Church of England who happens to write well and is an expert in ancient Greek and Hebrew, really is not qualified to give anything other than their own opinion and experience about God.

This is why  my atheism is based on indiscrepancies in truth and language surrounding the term God rather than jumping on scientific reasons.  That is not to say that scientific experience cannot lead anyone to atheism.  It merely shows how much Kant is true about how truth relates to knowledge and its object. To that end I would even go as far as to say that my atheism is a practice rather than a belief.  I cannot safely sit here and tell that God does not exist but I can say that, in practice, the language surrounding God within monotheism, is not fit for purpose within the confines of my life.  In truth, if pressed against a wall to say what I really am, I would have to use the term agnostic;  but seeing as nothing about the terminology of God and the religions that surround that word have any bearing on how I now operate, I practice as an atheist. When I left the religion of my birth, I let go of a human projection that was no longer helpful to me. That actually has no bearing on whether there is a higher being or not although I am pretty sure there isn’t one which conforms to the concept of monotheism.

                So for me the God debate has become what I call a philosophical bolas.  A bolas is an ancient weapon found around the world but made famous by the mock native Americans of the old western films. It is made up of two or three balls which are attached by rope which, when thrown, will tangle around the legs of the victim and immobilise them.

                The said debate therefore, in my opinion, often works in this way to portray a damaging definition of Humanism and in fact those people of religion who genuinely search themselves to redeem their religion to compassion, who are interested in progressing and maturing their faith into the modern world.  As a military nurse, I have always worked on the idea that in a mass casualty situation, the injured who are shouting the loudest are the ones who need less medical attention. I think this can be true for those who shout the loudest with regards truth.  The simple fact is that regardless of where you sit, if you feel you have pulled yourself out of a pool of quicksand, you are being foolish if you then sit on the side of that pool and throw stones back into it. Move on.

                My point therefore is that from any viewpoint, if we are interested in truth for the sake of bettering the lives of ourselves and those around us, we have to be prepared to let go of labels and definitions which have grown out of resistance.  It may feel a lot more solid and real if who we are is hammered out by the mallet of conflict; but we may find there is nothing left when that conflict is over.  If what we discover stands on its own, in its own right without needing an enemy on which to stand upon to gain height, then we will not need the traditional measurements of success.  If we concern ourselves with living openly and compassionately being less concerned with philosophical conclusions, then actually we will find more common ground with those among amongst.  Inevitably on the journey towards this, there will be fights to be had.  There are still injustices that the likes of Dawkins and the British Humanist Association rightly combat. The point is that when these fights do occur, they will be the right ones and we will be better equipped to fight them.


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