I’m beginning to think Julian set a cunning trap with his Heathen’s Progress series. He started with everybody gets it wrong, it’s more complicated than that. He went on to let’s offer a minimal version of religion and see if all those non-literal (sophisticated, “it’s more complicated than that”) believers will sign up to it. He pointed out that he had the most to lose if they wouldn’t, because he’s been saying that new atheists get it all wrong by ignoring the non-literal sophisticated “it’s more complicated” segment of believers.
If it really is the case that lots of mainstream religious leaders and believers can happily sign up to this, then religion really is the much more benign, unsuperstitious thing that liberals and agnostics have said it is all along. If not, then I hope these voices will concede that theirs is a vision for how religion should be, not as it is, and join in the criticisms of the religions that actually surround us today.
And guess what – they fell into the trap. Jonathan Chaplin said pretty much what we pesky new atheists say – that religion really does include some actual supernatural beliefs.
Baggini’s article 1 requires those occupying his putative common ground to affirm that “to be religious is primarily to assent to a set of values, and/or practise a way of life, and/or belong to a community that shares these values and/or practices” and that “creeds” are secondary at best. But no one who wishes in any way to stand within historic Christianity could possibly assent to that reductionist assertion.
Well quite – which is what we’ve been saying all along. Karen Armstrong would assent to that assertion – she wrote a whole book making it – but her claims that that view is central and normal are not believable, as Jonathan Chaplin helpfully confirms.
Admittedly, Christians have sometimes been overly preoccupied with defending creedal assertions at the expense of communal practice. But to imply that an insistence that creeds are essential to religion is to be “hanging on to outmoded doctrines” is crassly pre-emptive. It will simply ensure that the “believers” who huddle together with Baggini on his supposed common ground are all rather like the theologian Don Cupitt, who ended up not believing in anything resembling a Christian God, and whom the atheist philosopher AJ Ayer, in a famous television debate invited (I paraphrase) to “come clean and admit you are on our side”.
Exactly. Julian interviewed Cupitt for TPM years ago, and had pretty much the same thought.
Has he been planning the trap all this time? Sly devil.