Pas du tout

Melvyn Bragg doesn’t like the way A C Grayling and Richard Dawkins talk about religion.

He said: ‘The intellectual slackness and terrorism of these atheists, people who I otherwise respected – Richard Dawkins as an explainer of zoology is peerless, and AC Grayling is a great explainer of philosophy. ‘But when they start discussing religion, it’s disgraceful. Religion is basically a great body of knowledge, and we don’t have many bodies of knowledge.’

No it isn’t. That’s just what it isn’t. It’s anti-knowledge. It’s un-knowledge. It’s a huge body of claims to know things that no one knows. It’s an insult to the very idea of knowledge.

Granted it is certainly possible to know a lot about religion…but it’s possible to know a lot about bears, too; that doesn’t make bears a great body of knowledge.

But he said “basically.” Maybe by “basically” he actually meant “not at all.”




  1. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Particularly weird that Bragg slammed Dawkins for not seeing value in religion, when that slam is taken from the same interview where Bragg averred he’s going to kill himself (assisted suicide) if/when he gets old enough to show signs of dementia. Exactly what religion wants to interfere with! The leaders in the Church of England have officially stated that Assisted Dying should remain illegal. How much value does he see in that?

    Why isn’t Bragg – for his own self-interest, if not for any more enlightened reason – against religion and on Dawkins’ side of the value-of-religion issue? Is it that Bragg thinks that religion is good for the common man of England who need it to sustain them, but he of course is one of the fine intellectuals who are not going to be interfered with because he’s better than common? (Exactly how he will cheat their interference with his suicide, if he needs assistance, remains to be seen, but we can safely assume his privilege status will buy him a solution.)

    Ignorance, arrogance, either one or both could be the explanation for Bragg’s wharrgarbl. Maybe he already is showing signs of senility. He should have a trusted friend give him a checkup.

    [I’d link to the interview but it’s in the Daily Mail, so better not]

  2. iknklast says

    Of course, religion isn’t really much like bears. Bears actually exist; the entity religion centers around is invisible and almost certainly non-existent. What we know about bears we can test against reality. What we know about religion is hard to test, because the religious move the goalposts. Whatever you know about religion, it won’t be the religion of the person you’re talking to…they will believe x, and you’ll be talking y. If you switch to address y, then they suddenly believe z. Bears don’t do that. Bears stay bears.

  3. Dave Ricks says

    I always feel more secure about my Body Mass Index when I see references to bears.

    About AC Grayling, he’s very sympathetic to mythology, and I am too, but we know it’s fictional. Bragg calls this perspective of history, literature, and anthropology “intellectual slackness and terrorism.” Well I’m sorry if it bursts someone’s bubble to say Luke Skywalker is fictional, but it doesn’t make me a terrorist. I want a DVD set that shows how the effects in Star Wars were made. Who’s intellectually slack, me or Bragg?

  4. says

    Umm… also: ‘terrorism’?


    This amazes and amuses me. ‘Terrorism’. ‘Intellectual terrorism’, I guess we’re supposed to understand, but seriously…

    I mean, just what’s the story, here? Did Dawkins plant an IED somewhere in your train of thought, perhaps, and when you innocently drove your argument across it, several of your syllogisms were brutally dismembered? Did Grayling fly a plane into one of your premises, is that it? Did many of your conclusions die horribly, leaping to their deaths to avoid the searing heat of the rhetoric? Oh, the humanity…

    Or is it just that you’re actually so woefully bereft of rhetorical subtlety that you figure you can slap the all-purpose Bad Thing word o’ the decade on this and hope somehow to associate justly vigorous criticism of certain ugly and nasty old hokums that do so richly deserve the same with ideologically-motivated and frequently fatal violence?

    Bah. Seriously. This palooka has no place whatsoever calling anyone else ‘slack’. But hey, he’ll get away with it. You can call vocal atheists whatever the hell you want, on pretty much no excuse. Tell the world you talked to a god and the god gave you your empire or requires all the world follow the following brutally regressive laws, you’re a mystic, fitted for a halo in paintings, regardless of how transparently craven are your aims thereby, or oppressive is the result. Tell the world you think someone claiming the same is full of shit, and you’re a ‘terrorist’. Nice.

  5. nualle says

    I only discovered Bragg’s BBC show about a year ago. In the course of listening to several eps in quick succession, I came to the conclusion that the man is a stolidly conventional thinker. I still subscribe to the podcast because the topics he chooses are usually interesting and the scholars often answer his questions much better than he asked them.

    As hotshoe points out above, Bragg’s two positions (pro assisted dying & anti atheist critique of religion) seem inconsistent. If he really wants to legalize assisted dying, he needs to recognize that it’s religious types who oppose him. But he doesn’t hold those positions as reasoned conclusions; they’re both emotional reactions. He’s horrified at the prospect of going out as his mother did. He’s offended to his core at Dawkins and Grayling’s disrespect for religion. Shame on Bragg for throwing a term like “terrorist” around without bothering to think it through. It is by such indications that we can see who he is.

  6. says

    I once attended a workshop on Ethics run by AC at Birkbeck College. Two Roman Catholic nuns attended it. He was in no way discourteous or hostile to them as people. On the other hand he probably gave them quite a lot to think about!

  7. says

    Bragg should have stuck to screenwriting and presenting arts shows. He was quite good at that, but after becoming Lord Bragg he seems to think he is a major thinker; actually in the Blairite political circles he inhabits he probably is.

        Incidentally he’s an FRS; what the Royal Society was doing admitting him, I have no idea.

  8. says

    This statement of Bragg referencing the great body of knowledge of religion now is
    one that is rather ambiguous now = Because in what capacity is he using the term
    now = Now if he means historical or cultural knowledge then would agree with him
    If he means philosophical knowledge then I would be less inclined to = Now I think
    that religion does provide for some a basic foundation but only in a general and so
    non specific sense = But as we all know one does not need it to be moral = So it all
    rests on what he actually meant since as it stands it can be interpreted in two ways

  9. grumpyoldfart says

    Bragg says,

    Religion is basically a great body of knowledge

    Unfortunately, not all of that knowledge is correct. For example, in Mark 4:31, Jesus Christ refers to, “…a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.”

    Sounds pretty good until you go to this site and check the facts.

  10. Ant (@antallan) says

    Nah, religion is several bodies (varying in size) of contradictory claims.


  11. Tyrant says

    “The intellectual slackness and terrorism of these atheists”

    In light of this kind of idiocy, I can only resort to quoting apocryphal scripture

    Thou shalt not display thy stupidity publicly just because thou artst butthurt, but thou shalt keep thy mouth shut instead, for it is better for everyone involved, and it is the will of me, thy lord.

  12. Ant (@antallan) says

    @ AJ Milne #5

    Did Grayling fly a plane into one of your premises, is that it?



  13. Ulysses says

    The reason why religion is such a vast field of knowledge is there’s so many different types, forms and brands of religion. Hinduism is quite a bit different from Buddhism despite them having common origins. So someone well-versed in Buddhist theology might have only scratched the surface of Hindu theology and know absolutely nothing of Islamic theology.

    “Religion is basically a great body of knowledge” is basically a non sequitur.

  14. says

    I thought he had more sense than that. Bragg is a great ‘drawer out’ of knowledge in his BBC R4 programme ‘In our Time’.

  15. says

    I looked at the piece in the Daily Mail to see if I could figure out what Bragg was trying to say, but it is just as incoherent. (I have virtually no respect for Richard Dawkins, by the way, but if he really did say that teaching religion in schools is child abuse as Bragg claimed in the article, good for him.) Bragg starts by saying that “Religion is basically a great body of knowledge”; if so, then we have many great bodies of knowledge. (Astrology, for example.) But when he immediately goes on to say that “we don’t have many bodies of knowledge”, he runs into problems. His only supporting point as quoted is “It has sustained people for 1,500 or 2,000 years. You’ve got to be interested in it.” Slavery has been around a lot longer than that, and certainly sustained a handful of people at the expense of others; so has patriarchy and traditional medicine and the lunar calendar. I don’t see how antiquity adds any charm to any of them. And in any case, religion has been around a lot longer than that; most of the oldest bits of writing we have are essentially religious texts. And inventories. And the varieties of religion that humankind has invented over the millennia are indeed quite interesting. So are bears.

    Many years ago, when I was young, in the days before computers or even handheld calculators, I used to cast horoscopes for people. I basically did it for fun and pocket-money, but in any case I did it. You can put the planets where they belong with the aid of charts and simple arithmetic, but people like them interpreted, and to do that you have to essentially belong to one or another of various schools of thought in astrology. (It also helps to be good at cold reading, which I suck at, but that’s neither here nor there.) So I adopted a school and was off and running, so to speak. During that time one of the science popularizers I read did a humorous take-down of astrology. I don’t know where he got his notions of what astrology is from, but they had nothing to do with astrology as I knew it. It was a caricature of the “great body of knowledge” that is astrology, and as such, had I been a believer, I would have found it ineffective. Irrelevant. I might have been more impressed with it had I known less.

    Dawkins on religion strikes me about the same way as Asimov (or whoever it was) on astrology. Entertaining, but ultimately ineffective. To that extent I suppose I have to agree with Bragg. But arguing that there is a lot of it (which I suppose is what Bragg means by a “great body of knowledge”), that it has been around a long time, and that it has sustained people, does nothing to make it either true or valuable. The same could be said of astrology.

    Ursine studies at least have some bearing on the real world.

  16. Tyrant says

    “Dawkins on religion strikes me about the same way as Asimov (or whoever it was) on astrology. Entertaining, but ultimately ineffective. ”

    That is demonstrably false. There are armies of closeted atheists in particular in the americas, which have either come out, or dared to come out, or found solace in the fact that Dawkins gave the atheist thing such a boost, joined by a lot of people who deconverted due to his books and his parttaking in the public discourse.

  17. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    “terrorism of these atheists”

    The shamelessness of religious apologists just never ceases to amaze. “Terrorism” involves actual violence, or at least the threat thereof. The only violence that results from criticism of religion (in all but a few outlier cases) is resultant from religious people choosing of their own moral agency to react violently to a sense of ‘offence’.

    Of course I have read enough leftists at Al Guardian and Huffington Post shrieking about “incitement” to know that many people really do view the very act of criticism as a crime in and of itself. It also relates to that paternalistic racism that is disturbingly acceptable on the left, as in those “brown people” (a phrase they like to use) just cannot help themselves but to start killing en masse because someone posted a video on YouTube.

  18. says

    “Religion is basically a great body of knowledge, and we don’t have many bodies of knowledge.”

    And anyone who disagrees with me is a terrorist!

  19. says

    Religion is a body of knowledge, and theologians and religionists are just like those people who can tell you exactly what Gandalf had for breakfast before leaving for Mordor, or can tell you precisely how to insult someones grandmother in Klingon: it’s that sort of knowledge.

  20. deepak shetty says

    Religion is basically a great body of knowledge,
    Well it is – Knowledge about how you can totally fuck up a good number of people with social approval.

  21. benco says

    I’m pretty sure that there’s a corollary to Godwin’s Law that states that any discussion of religion on the internet will inevitably devolve into accusations of terrorism.

  22. dravid says

    Anything that religion knows can be known without religion. What people thought they knew through religion now disproved by science and rational thought has been an exponential drop to FA2 (Fuck all squared). I don’t want to just pick on Christianity however it’s easy to do so. At its core is the belief that Blood Sacrifice works. How’s that for a body of knowledge (or Christ).

  23. babanani says

    Ohh! Kevinalexander, my daughter and your granddaughter need to get together. You see, my daughter has a great body of knowledge on mermaids. If we get the two of them together, they will figure out the quantum connections underlying the universe and save our souls.

    Or maybe they will just have a great afternoon playing in the sitting room, in their own private fantasy land. Hard to tell…

    More “seriously”, look up Canned Unicorn Meat in your favorite search engine. You will get a giggle, but don’t show your granddaughter…

  24. Nathanael says

    There seems to be a confusion between “claims” (which may or may not be true) and “knowledge” (where there is strong evidence that it actually is true).

    Religions contain a lot of claims. They don’t contain a lot of knowledge. They even lie about their own histories.

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