The disoriented debate on religion

Oscar A. Rudenstam 2012-12-29

Earlier this year, British evolutionary biologist, author and emeritus fellow at Oxford Richard Dawkins took on the Australian Catholic cardinal George Pell in a debate about religion and theism as a part of the Australian TV show Q&A. Dawkins, one of the leaders of the new atheism movement, advanced his arguments principally grounded in science, which were countered by Pell with a combination of religious, moral and historical arguments. Though it made an amusing and interesting discussion, the debate, and many of the debates on the same topic, largely fails to address the central issue at stake – the question of relevance of religion to modern society. This failure, which can be likened to two opposing players in a game of sport playing each other to determine who is better using two distinct set of rules, arrives from the fact that the debate in many respects takes place in the wrong dimensions. While the debate should be in a dimension of religion’s practical good to society today, it all too often turns into a food fight – a debased debate – of attacking and defending religion and theism on the wrong grounds.

The scientific unfeasibility of God and the historical benefit of religion to society matter little when considering religion in society today – why should we assume that truth from scientific proof or religion’s historical benefit to society or a religious context tells us about religion’s importance today? Criticizing verses from the Bible or arguing that science gives man no inherent purpose is meaningless and a waste of time, instead we must agree to disagree on whether God and miracles exist and move to what matters – namely the social and real effects of religion and theism in society. With a culture as sophisticated as ours today, do we still need a supreme being – regardless of him being illusory or not – and old texts to guide us? Does religion, as a practice, give more benefit or detriment to society? Would it be better, or not, for society to abandon a focus on figures like God and Jesus for one solely on humans and human well-being? What is better for society as a whole? It is these types of questions we must confront to progress and develop as a society.

In a future post, I will share some personal thoughts on this issue – the relevance of religion to modern society – by using the approach called for above.

If you want to watch the debate between Richard Dawkins and George Pell from Q&A, please click here.

Oscar A. Rudenstam