No one dares distinguish

Jesus and Mo are appalled that witchcraft and Druidry are on the curriculum for Religious Education in Cornwall. They are not proper religions, Jesus stiffly says. He’s reading Cristina Odone’s recent column in the Telegraph.

I’ve already mocked that column briefly, but why not mock it again at a more leisured pace. These things repay doing thoroughly.

Fear of being judgmental is so ingrained today that no one dares distinguish between occult and Christian values, the tarot and the Torah, the animist and the imam.

That’s the line that made me want to revisit. I didn’t do it justice last time. Here’s what I want to know: how does one distinguish? How does Odone distinguish?

What exactly are “occult values” for instance? I have no idea, myself. I wonder if Odone knows.

But if either of us did know, how would we distinguish? I know how I would do it: by evaluating them according to various secular, human criteria. My guess is that Odone would do it exactly the same way, while not admitting that her criteria were entirely secular and human. That’s my guess because that’s what goddy types usually do – they give “god” the credit for what are secular ideas about morality. (They also ignore or conceal or deny all the “Christian values” that are no longer acceptable in polite society.)

How does one distinguish between the tarot and the Torah? Then again why would one bother, since they’re different genres? She must have included it because of the alliteration rather than the relevance. A more cogent example would be distinguishing between the Torah and the Book of Mormon. How does one do that?

It would be quite interesting to know how Odone would answer that question. Does she despise the Book of Mormon as a modern imposter every bit as fake and risible as the latest Wiccan book of recipes? Or does she “respect” it as the holy book of a Major World Religion? I don’t know. I think my guess is that she secretly despises it as a vulgar American unintentional parody but keeps it to herself because it is the holy book of a Major World Religion. I wouldn’t be very surprised though if I learned that she makes no bones about despising it, because after all, it’s not 3000 years old plus it was said by an American. That can’t be right. That can’t be authentic. Obviously they have to be 1) older and 2) more exotic in location to be authentic.

How does one distinguish between the animist and the imam? Well now it gets really tricky, because I’m not sure Odone thinks much of imams herself, so it’s all the more unclear what she has in mind. How does one distinguish between the animist and the imam? Not age, not degree of exoticism, so how? I really don’t know. I don’t know what Odone’s criteria are. She’s on record as taking transubstantiation literally, so I don’t know how she makes distinctions.

Richard Dawkins asked her the same question in that interview.

RD: But how do you decide which bits to doubt and which bits to accept? As scientists, we do it by evidence.

CO: You can’t boil everything down to evidence!

But then how do you decide? She doesn’t say there; she changes the subject.

As she does even when talking without an interlocutor, as in the Druids shock-horror piece.

Speaking of religious values is as dangerous as playing with the pin on a hand-grenade: it could end up with too many   Britons blown out of their complacency. No one should dare proclaim that adultery is wrong; greed, bad; or self-sacrifice, good. In doing so, they’d be trampling the rights of those who don’t hold such values.

That’s changing the subject, or combining two subjects as if they were one. The epistemology of paganism is not the same as the ethics of paganism, but she treats them as one subject throughout. She’s not what you’d call a careful thinker even within her own terms.

Having said that, let’s look at her claim. No one should dare say that greed is bad? Is that true? No. Lots of people proclaim that greed is bad. Gordon Gecko is the bad guy. The same goes for self-sacrifice. Adultery is somewhat more contingent, but then what’s wrong with that? Some people have open marriages, in which case “adultery” becomes an empty label. It’s up to the people involved whether it’s wrong or not. If all parties are happy with it, it’s not wrong. Saying “yes it is because God says so” cuts no ice. If that’s what Odone means…she’s the one who’s wrong.




  1. peterh says

    Odone may be clever at stringing words prettily together, but by Zahquon’s Knees she’s dumb!

  2. Gregory in Seattle says

    So it basically comes down to, “My ridiculous fables and superstitious hocus-pocus are worthy of respect; yours are just silly.”

  3. says

    …no one dares distinguish between occult and Christian values…

    Well, it’s kinda hard, because in the West at least, most people who follow “the occult” (another scary-sounding misnomer that tends to mean “Pagan”) come there from Christian households, and tend to bring the Christian values they learned in such households (from, you know, the words of that Christ guy) into their new religion. So the differences between “occult” and Christian values (as stated in writing at least) aren’t really as different as the Christian propagandists say it is.

    As for “the animist and the imam,” I’m guessing there’s plenty of imams who would be happy to explain the difference in as much detail as you’re willing to hear. With no dispute from any animists. If you look at am imam and see “fear of being judgmental,” you’re probably hallucinating.

  4. busterggi says

    Wicca & Druidism aren’t religions?

    Since when?

    Why I can see Gaia/Mother Earth/Magna Mater/etc just by looking at my feet. I can’t say that for the Jewish or Christian gods.

  5. eric says

    … no one dares distinguish between occult and Christian values, the tarot and the Torah, the animist and the imam.

    What’s been proposed is a comparative religions class; identifying what makes each different (distinct) is precisely what is going to be taught. Duh.

  6. says

    No one should dare proclaim that adultery is wrong; greed, bad; or self-sacrifice, good.

    That somebody could claim that nobody dare say greed is bad, more than 200 days after the Occupy movement started, is rather amazing.

  7. Michael Fugate says

    Here’s an accommodationist (Nick Matzke) answer to that basic question from the comments on Jason Rosenhouse”s post about Elliot Sober at Evolutionblog:

    Q: Perhaps the philosophers (or maybe Nick) can tell us how one can distinguish between a mutation caused by a god and one that is not. There must be a method.

    A: You only need such a method if one is trying to make scientific assertions about such things.
    Many theists would say God causes everything that happens, including all mutations, both good and bad. You seem to think it’s important that we have a method that can test statements before deciding if they are true or false, so where’s your method that can test for this?

  8. had3 says

    Christian values…hahahaha, like slavery, or 20% off all books at

  9. sailor1031 says

    Well now, I seem to remember that the Rattenfaenger has denounced ‘greed’ on several occasions – during his african tour in 2009 for instance. I believe he has blamed all the world’s problems on greed. He didn’t mention Gordon Gecko though. As for Odone – please folks she is a grade A moron and really not worth the time. It’s telling that she can only get printed in the Telegraph whose owners are themselves religious catholics with their noses firmly emplanted in the anus of the archbish of Westminster….no doubt angling for their papal knighthoods – as if a good catholic would ever wear a nighthood!

  10. iknklast says

    Well, it seems to me if we’re judging things based on age or length of time that they’ve been around, paganism predates Christianity, which makes it older – much older. I realize it hasn’t been very openly practiced over the past 2000 years, but it still is older – a 90 year man who sits in a chair for 70 years is older than a 70 man who has been active for 70 years, even if he hasn’t been doing much.

  11. says

    sailor, well you must know by this time that I don’t think silliness is a reason not to write about something. Besides, it’s not true that she gets published only in the Telegraph – the Observer published her review of Does God Hate Women?!

    But seriously – she gets around. She’s a talking head. She did that chat with Dawkins. She’s not obscure. She’s well worth criticizing.

  12. mnb0 says

    “How does one distinguish between the animist and the imam?”
    Where I live, in Moengo Suriname, quite a few people perfectly combine christian or islam beliefs with animism. They don’t distinghuish either.
    Generally speaking (but it’s not a hard fast rule here either) I dare to say that islam and christianity contains less frightening superstition than animism. Fear for yorka’s and bakru’s, ancestor worshipping and especially all kinds of black magic can ruin the lives of people. Then rather christiantiy and islam, especially in the relaxed forms of Suriname.
    I have my doubts about the Evangelicals though, who also have a church here. I plan to visit them to check what kind of weirdo’s they are. My ex-wife has lost a brother who had more faith in faith healing than in modern medical science.

  13. says

    Obviously they have to be 1) older and 2) more exotic in location to be authentic.

    I’m not sure about the exotic location. All Anglicans know that God is an Englishman, and invented cricket to give us an idea of eternity.

    That’s my guess because that’s what goddy types usually do – they give “god” the credit for what are secular ideas about morality.

    This has worried me for a while. To an atheist, it’s a tautology that morality is a human invention, since it exists and there’s no God who could have instituted it. I think that Russell said somewhere that theologians teach that “God is good” is not a tautology, from which it follows “as the night the day” that goodness is independent of God. I can find neither the quote, nor how the Godly respond to the argument. I would welcome any pointers.

    CO: You can’t boil everything down to evidence!

    Oh, thank you. What a wonderful quote.

    “Believe I’m fixin’ to die.”

  14. Matt Penfold says

    Besides, it’s not true that she gets published only in the Telegraph – the Observer published her review of Does God Hate Women?!

    And what a dumb review it was. Other than picking up a minor factual error, her entire review consisted of pointing out that yes, religious people do horrible things to women in the name of their religion, but that god is does not like them doing it.

  15. Dave says

    It is hilarious [-ly sad] how some people can only understand things as ‘wrong’ if they are given an external code as a reference-point. That we might engage in intersubjective assessment of harms, that we might have an awareness of the interplay of consent and deception, explicit promises and concealed betrayals, that was perfectly adequate to the task of distinguishing ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ on questions of marital fidelity, all this passes them by. The hostile assumption would be that that it because they themselves are incapable of judging such matters in a reasonable adult way, and feel they cannot cope in life without explicit dictation. The mystifying reality is that, of course, those who openly hold to such authoritarian moral codes in theory are no more likely to adhere to them in practice than anyone else.

    One might also note, were one given to psychologise, that Christina Odone is a child of divorce…


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