New Zealand’s own Richard-Dawkins-Lite, antitheist Joe Bennet stressed in Holy Week

I have been pointing out in this column for years, all religions are fairy tales

[Apologies to younger readers who have never heard of Richard Dawkins – he was someone who was a good Biologist who thought that being good at Biology meant that he was, thereby, good at Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies also.]

In our post-modern world, when facts and content have been ripped out of discussions and education – including (in schools) out of the subject, English (Joe was once an English teacher), Joe appeals to about half the population who think that Jesus is simply a made up person, a fictional character [you might, of course, have to help them understand what “fictional” means – or they can Google that].

All religions are fairy tales. There was no Jesus. There was no Nazareth. There was no Josephus. The world is flat. We didn’t land on the Moon…

Contrast this with more nuanced thinking that realises that the remarkable life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth weren’t constructed by an anonymous group, and that Christianity hasn’t appeared ex nihilo in history or current day:

Free-thinkers who mock the very idea of a god as a sky fairy, an imaginary friend, still hold to taboos and morals that palpably derive from Christianity. In 2002, in Amsterdam, the World Humanist Congress affirmed ‘the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others’. Yet this — despite humanists’ stated ambition to provide ‘an alternative to dogmatic religion’ — was nothing if not itself a statement of belief. The humanist assumption that atheism and a concern for human life go together was just that: an assumption. What basis — other than mere sentimentality — was there to argue for it? Perhaps, as the humanist manifesto declared, through ‘the application of the methods of science’. Yet this was barely any less of a myth than the biblical story that God had created humanity in his own image. It is not truth that science offers moralists, but a mirror. Racists identify it with racist values; liberals with liberal values. The primary dogma of humanism — ‘that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others’ — finds no more corroboration in science than did the dogma of the Nazis that anyone not fit for life should be exterminated. The wellspring of humanist values lies not in reason, not in evidence-based thinking, but in the past, and specifically in the story of how a cult inspired by the execution of an obscure criminal in a long-vanished empire emerged to become — as the great Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin has put it — ‘the most powerful of hegemonic cultural systems in the history of the world’…

Because of Christianity, wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘the measure of a man’s compassion for the lowly and suffering comes to be the measure of the loftiness of his soul’. The commanding heights of western culture may now be occupied by people who dismiss Christianity as superstition; but their instincts and assumptions remain no less Christian for that. If God is indeed dead, then his shadow, immense and dreadful, continues to flicker even as his corpse lies cold. The risen Christ cannot be eluded simply by refusing to believe in him. That the persecuted and disadvantaged have claims upon the privileged — widely taken for granted though it may be today across the West — is not remotely a self-evident truth. Condemnations of Christianity as patriarchal or repressive or hegemonic derive from a framework of values that is itself nothing if not Christian.

Thank God for western values by Tom Holland

What we need to recover is a knowledge of facts and an understanding of story and metaphor – without these, antitheists will continue to give the impression that religion is silly, and fundamentalists will continue to give the impression that religion is scary.

[Post Scriptum: Nuance and ambiguity is beyond the fundamentalist – be they theist or antitheist. The frame of this post is Rugby-player Israel Folau’s contention that homosexuals go to hell. The first time anyone used the word “homosexual” in any (mis)translation of the original biblical texts (that Folau claims to be quoting) was 1946! As for hell…]

Image source: Neuschwanstein, Germany (NB – this fairy-tale castle actually does exist!)

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