Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Godless Pulpit

Can you imagine someone who detested sport being given column inches in a sports supplement? Can you imagine someone who detested television and never watched it being appointed a television columnist? If a man declared he had no sense of humour, would you be keen on reading his musings upon comedy?

For the third time in a month or so, the Irish Times has opened its "Rite and Reason" column (which presumably is a religious column) to the chairman of Atheist Ireland, Michael Nugent. His latest piece appears today, and though I should at least acknowledge that it is written courteously and respectfully, he has nothing original or thought-provoking to say. It is yet another variation on the theory that faith is dangerous because it is irrational.

I don't really object to the Irish Times asking an atheist to contribute an article to the religious section. It is a valid outsider's perspective, perhaps even a gust of fresh air into a room grown stuffy with unexamined assumptions. But three in a matter of weeks?

Perhaps the editor would reply that Rite and Reason is not a column on religion per se-- that it is a space for reflection on ultimate questions, for "spirituality", for examining the deepest themes in human existence. And that would be all bosh. Because we all know that, once we come to that whole perspective on existence-- the perspective that comes from imaginatively stepping back and wondering what right anything has to exist, what value existence has in itself, what ultimate meaning we can attach to our life-- we are in the realm of religion, and atheism has nothing at all to say.

Those ultimate questions are questions that must be answered by faith, or not answered at all. Talk about the dignity of the human person, or about the transcendental, is pure poppycock from a non-religous perspective.

I fail to see what interesting contribution an atheist has to make upon religious matters, any more than someone who hated music might have anything interesting to say about music. We know what the atheist thinks, and we know why. Even if we consider it an untenable position, we can sympathise with it. The world seems to whizz along of its own accord. We have no television footage of angels or demons. Bad things happen. The atheist position is understandable. It is clear. But there is one thing that it's not. It's not deep. Once you have said that the universe has no meaning or purpose or guiding intelligence behind it, you really have nothing more to say on the subject of religion.

Personally, I would rather the secular media had no religious content at all, rather than asking religious voices to share a pulpit with the tiresome heckling of the godless.

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