Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Atheism And Politics

UK Polling Report, under the heading "WOULD YOU VOTE FOR AN ATHEIST" concludes -

"In the US survey, the most electoral objectionable group was atheists, with 53% of Americans saying they would not vote for an otherwise well-qualified Presidential candidate who was an atheist. One would expect that figure to be much lower in the UK, but actually it is still surprisingly high at 20%. One might not have guessed it, but not believing in God would appear to be almost as much of an electoral handicap for a potential leader in the UK as being Muslim or gay."

I appreciate that becoming President or Prime Minster is somewhat different from being a back-bench MP. But I was an MP for 18 years and an atheist. No constituent ever asked me what my religion was. I went to Civic Services and Church/Chapel Funerals as part of what I saw as being my civic (or personal) duty. On the other hand I attended meetings of the Humanist Society in Parliament. I neither hid nor pushed my atheism. I was fully involved in the politics of Northern Ireland, but no-one even raised religion with me - not even to ask if I was a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist. Politicians (and others) who beat the religious or anti-religious drum worry me. It is, for instance, possible to oppose faith schools without being anti-religious. Politicians should neither do God nor Anti-God. There are plenty of other things to get on with.

Hat Tip NightHawk


Марко Фризия said...

I am a Christian. I actually have more of a preference for secular-minded politicians. I would have no problem voting for an atheist. I am much more afraid of Christian politicians like Sarah Palin and George Bush than I am of anyone who is an atheist. Of course, I realize (as far as Americans go) I am in a minority.

Harry Barnes said...

Mapko : Although I am an atheist, we are likely to share certain important views. Below you will find links to two reviews in which I criticise the brand of atheism which is expressed by Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling.

Harry Barnes said...

Mapko : A second thought - can you come up with a book or a short reading list that would seriously test the views of a non-dogmatic atheist? I have been looking out for such a test ever since I studied Philosophy of Religion with a Catholic Tutor as part of my undergraduate course in the mid-1960s - but without success. For a long time I have believed John Stuart Mill's point that anyone who only understands their own side of the case understands little of that.

Марко Фризия said...

Hi Harry, I agree with your comments about Dawkins and Grayling. They seem to me to be something like fundamentalists in their rigidity and demeanor. But I do respect their right to express their ideas (some in the USA might want their books banned). And part of me is very pleased that their ideas are "out there" and available in the agora. I am 44. I am a retired soldier and not much of a scholar (my education was four years of American university studies with a degree in Psychlogy and History). I really cannot come up with any sort of reading list to test the views of a non-dogmatic atheist (most faith-based reactions and responses to atheism, to me, come across as enraged propaganda). I am something of a non-dogmatic Christian, very open-minded. And I do attend Church regularly and I pray (I am an Anglican). Perhaps I am not the best Christian to have dialogue with because my viewpoints always seem to be evolving. The human suffering, cruelty, and carnage I saw in the military certainly challenged my belief system (which used to be rather conventional). And at times I found that good poetry helped me cope much better than theology. I could not mount a vigorous defense of my beliefs because I am not sure of anything really. I am more of a spiritual adventurer than an apologist. In some ways, it seems as though honest and direct conversations between individuals (for example, if two or more people had a pint at a pub or regular meaningful talks over a garden fence) might better serve the cause of dialogue and testing of ideas more than the written word. For me, human encounters are better agents of testing than the written word (I am not negating, of course, the importance of the orderly expression of ideas via words). Many Christians are too rigid and seem to be constitutionally incapable of having those conversations with atheists. I agree that you and I share certain important views (I found your blog because we both have "Democratic Socialism" listed as a common interest). Many texts are written to convert (for example, Alistair McGrath is a great scholar but his writings challenging Dawkins are more of a point-by-point refutation of atheism from his specific Christian worldview). I am more curious about you as a person than I am interested in trying to win you over to my viewpoint. I have a certain veneration for your humanism, humor, and candor. Admittedly, I am also something of a voyeur in my curiosity about the inner lives of other people. I do not see your atheism as a "problem." Most Christians probably understand atheists and atheism as a "problem" (or even a sin) to be targeted for conversion. I am in Eastern Europe and you are in the UK. So we can converse via your blog and email (I do enjoy your blog -- good ideas are nourishing like a good meal). In line with Mills, my understanding of the "other side(s) of the case" has been helped by reading works by (American writer) Sam Harris and older works by Bertrand Russell (and by studying systems like Buddhism and Marxism). I would much rather have a person like you, Sam Harris or Bertrand Russell in government (or as a next-door neighbor) than some of my fellow Christians. Hope you are having a splendid day!

Stephen said...

Politicians should represent their electorate in the political world. Religion should be kept out of politics and schools. What people want to believe should be their own personal hobby business. I think that France and Turkey have the right attitude about keeping religion out of schools, politics and the workplace.

I am an Atheist and I enjoyed the Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion. Link to my post about Dawkins and Darwin

Harry Barnes said...

Hi Mapko : When I undertook my National Service in a peaceful Iraq in 1955-56, my experiences moved me away from Methodism and mere Labourite sympathies to atheism and a more developed form of democratic socialism. I soon came to believe that what really mattered was whether a person's views and actions showed compassion towards others. If a feel for religion (or humanism) helps them to do this, then that is fine by me.

I have read four of Alister McGrath's books. Many of his criticisms of Dawkins seem to me to be of relevance. But then Dawkins gives him an easy wicket. In other of McGrath's writings and vidoes where he puts his positive case, he seems to me to mirror Dawkins shortcomings- especially in his "The Twilight of Atheism".

I am into a wide range of Bertrand Russell's work, but need to get up to speed on Sam Harris. The religion I have been attempting to understand (because of its current political impact) is that of Islam and its varities. There is a link to this on the thread below this one. My blindspot is poetry. That might explain a lot.

I am sorry to keep providing links to my past stuff, but you might at sometime gut the following lengthy item which goes into the impact of my experiences in Iraq 50 years ago. In the meantime I will have a good look around your own blog.

Harry Barnes said...

Stephen : As you will see above, I am far from impressed with Dawkins' criticisms. Far more telling are the criticisms of the 18th Century Philosopher David Hume. See the selections by Richard Wollheim in "Hume on Religion" (Fontana, 1963 - but regularly reprinted since.) Dawkins (to his shame) only gives Hume a small coverage.