Thursday, February 14, 2013

God and Reason part 4: "Doesn't the church produce hypocrites and injustices?"

It's taken me a couple days to find the time to write this blog post. Largely because I didn't really find anything objectionable. Actually, I didn't find much at all in the talk.

This 4th talk was given by Prof. David Matthews (no, not the musician, but the statistics prof). As I've come to expect, the talk was well delivered by a thoughtful and experienced speaker.

However, I found the talk to be devoid of any content. To go back to the question, "Doesn't the church produce hypocrites and injustices?", Prof. Matthews says yes. He gave examples of religious people being hypocrites (Peter).

He said we are all guilty, and described the church as a hospital for sinners. He posted the quote by General Norman Schwartzkopf,
The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.
I don't think it's that simple. Indeed, the problem only exists for those who believe that there is a strictly-defined right and wrong. According to whom?, I ask. Everyone has competing drives. But to label a bunch of our intrinsic desires as sinful is a strategy that religions have evolved to keep their followers coming back. Check out my blog post and interview with Dr. Darrel Ray about his book The God Virus.

Prof. Matthews spent a lot of time talking about grace. On this point he became quite emotional. I admire that. But since grace was not really defined, all it amounted to was people interpreting what they wanted to interpret, backed up by emotional oomph.

One of the only messages I could grasp was that trouble arises when the church mixes with politics. Yes, I agree. When one dogma enforces its creeds on others, that's a problem. Prof. Matthews was quick to point out that some non-religious regimes also ran into trouble trying to push ideology down people's throats; he gave the examples of Russia under Stalin, and Cambodia.

During the question period, I asked why highly secular societies such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland are superior according to many measures of societal happiness. He pointed out that each had a history of religion, and he said that their success is a legacy of that ideological foundation. So I pointed out that we should see a decline in their happiness in the near future, to which he replied "not necessarily". It's true that cause and effect is almost impossible to establish, but I think I made my point. Prof. Matthews reiterated that mixing religion and politics causes problems, and pointed out that the Taliban banned the flying of kits, and that music was banned by Muslims in Mali.

I agree, so I don't see what his point is. If it's that religion is fine as long as it does not influence public policy, then I'm on board. But that's not usually how it plays out. Counter-examples include gay marriage, birth control, abortion, and apparently music and kites.


  1. The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.

    Utter crap. Consider the following: you're a professor and a foreign student comes to you because he did poorly in your course. He's only in Canada on a student visa. If he flunks your course, he flunks out and has to return to his own country where he will be persecuted by the current regime or even killed. Should you stick by your university's standards and flunk him (he really deserves it), or pass him so he can stay alive?

    Is it obvious what the right thing to do is there?

    1. Nice example Jeff. I've been faced with similar grading decisions (though not life-and-death). I expect most profs have.

    2. I started teaching university classes in the late 1960s. I not infrequently got an appeal from a male student for a better grade on the ground that if the poor grade stood, the student would flunk out and be drafted and sent to Viet Nam, where he very well could die.