There is an interesting feature article in today’s Australian on Kevin Rudd’s religion.
Time and again during the past couple of months Rudd has insisted upon the basic congruence between the Christian ethic, understood broadly, and the social democratic tradition out of which his party has evolved.
He has pointed to that strand in the Christian heritage that emphasises the basic dignity of the human person, and has stressed – reasonably enough – the links between that heritage and Labor’s commitment to bringing the nation’s more marginalised citizens back into the social mainstream. Contrariwise, he’s attempted to align the Howard Government with a kind of amoral “market fundamentalism” that supposedly denies citizens that type of respect and dignity.
Rudd clearly appreciates the extent to which the timbre of the national character is up for grabs at present. In his eyes, he’s wrestling with the Prime Minister for the heart and soul of the Australian people, and what it means to be decent and fair-minded as a political leader.
Kevin Rudd’s religion does not concern me much, partly because I find I have much in common with it, but more that his ideas on “what it means to be decent and fair-minded as a political leader”, while they may in part derive from that religion, are also capable of acceptance or rejection on quite other lines. I lean towards acceptance, but with more than a pinch of cynicism about politics generally, I’m afraid. But I am not a total cynic.
I am, as I said a few days back, currently reading Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. This post is not a review, but you may be surprised how much I agree with Dawkins. He is not far off the mark about the three major Abrahamic religions, though I find he does paint the blackest picture he can. There is still much that inspires me in their holy texts, but on the other hand I don’t believe these texts, aside from their cultural and traditional significance, are really to be judged differently from any other texts. Belief in God, for me, is not contingent on accepting past notions of divine revelation, which I am quite convinced are utterly wrong in relation to the Jewish/Christian Bible, and from that it flows that the Qu’ran is also not inspired in the sense that fundamentalists or traditionalists believe either, as it is itself bound to the earlier “revelations”. Nor am I too impressed with the traditional proofs for the existence of God. Books which take that line, Paul Johnson’s The Quest for God being just one example and to me the most embarrassing of his books, seem to me unlikely to satisfy anyone, though Johnson did satisfy that reviewer, but mainly because the reviewer found confirmation in it I suspect.
I have been ranting on this for some time. See the Big Archive. You may glean some clues there about what I do believe, but I would be the first to admit that my belief is more Taoist or Buddhist in approach than it is traditionally Christian. Fortunately I am in a church where this is regarded as reasonably normal. To me God-talk simply takes us beyond what human language is really capable of, a point of view that I know won’t satisfy everyone. In practice, I find a certain sense in (rubbish to some) books like Making Peace with God (…you don’t have to believe in God to make peace with God) by Harold Bloomfield and Philip Goldberg, and Faith by Sharon Salzberg. Yes, I know… I told you I am a Romantic.
M, probably an atheist who when doing his first census return in Australia wanted to put “Communist” as his religion, nonetheless was profoundly affected by his personal encounter with the Dalai Lama in India in 1999-2000, and his subsequent reading of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying; but then it is perfectly possible to be an atheist Buddhist or Taoist or Confucianist, as indeed Dawkins recognises.
So far in reading Dawkins I have some quarrels. I really do think he overestimates the role of religion in war, hard as that might seem, as too often he is quite right on this, but I still don’t believe the two greatest conflicts of the 20th century were religious wars. Second, I think the religionless world is a pipedream, so far as it will never happen. Now that may be a bad thing, but there it is. Third, I have reservations about a conscientious application of Dawkins’s approach to other cultures. To take just one example, consider Australian Aboriginal culture. Would Dawkins really prove to be just another missionary? Or is that a silly thought…
As I said, this is not a review, and anything I have said about the book is very tentative at this stage. I am beginning to suspect, though, that Sam Harris just might really be better… But that may prove wrong.
One thing is sure: Dawkins does need to be read attentively by Americans. His message is in some ways very much for them, and it surely is needed. All thinking Christians Jews and Muslims should read Dawkins; paradoxically, it just might make them better Christians, Jews and Muslims.
NOTE: I once said to Sirdan that I go to South Sydney Uniting Church not because I know the answers, but because I don’t. It is a place that welcomes questioning; in fact that is what Dorothy McRae-McMahon talked about last Sunday.
Make sure you read Ric Williams’s stories below. They are not entirely related the the topic, but they are good in their own right.