The truth about Religion

Atheist Richard “there’s no God nor Santa Claus” Dawkins is at it again. His recently formed Foundation for Science and Reason has revealed this week the outcome of a survey which reveals that many of those who tick the “Christian” box (or one assumes the Muslim one) aren’t that Christian at all. Less than half actually go to church regularly. Only 28% of the people who called themselves Christian in the 2011 Census say they are so “because they believe in the teachings of Christianity“. 15% admitted to having never read the Bible outside a church service, with a further 36% not having done so in the previous three years. The majority (60%) have not read any part of the Bible, for at least a year. And 64% were not able to identify Matthew as the first book of the New Testament. In short if many of these people are Christians they clearly ain’t very committed. Although Dawkins didn’t help himself by getting caught out on radio 4, when he turned out he didn’t know the original title to the Origin of the Species (then compounded his mistake by saying “oh God”…language Richard! You should have said “oh Darwin”).

Of course it would be unfair to conclude that other religions are any different, I suspect that if you did a similar survey of Muslims or Jews you’d find a similar trend…thought you’d be a braver guy than me if you undertook it!

The point I would make about all of this is that it’s a myth that the majority of people are actually that committed to a religion. Many who claim to be Christian or catholic or Muslim are, I would argue, merely identifying on ethnic/cultural grounds, which just happens to come with the baggage of a faith…a faith which the majority, a few fanatics aside, generally pay mere lip service too.

And the lesson of history suggests that this is by no means unusual or a recent phenomenon. Recall that in the space of a hundred years, during the 16th century, the UK went from Catholic to Protestant (under Henry “six wives” the VIII), then back to Catholic (under Queen Mary), then Protestant again (Lizzie the 1st). While a few fanatics did get themselves beheaded or burned at the stake for not going along with their tyrant’s delusions. Under Queen Mary for example, a total of 283 executed out of a population of 4-5 million, certainly she weren’t a nice gal but no worse than other rulers of the age (her “bloody” title is perhaps an element of 16th century tabloid journalism at work). But clearly the vast majority of brits took this repeated changing of the sign on the door in they’re stride. And this was at a time when superstition and myth dominated rather than science.

So its no surprise to discover, in more enlightened times, that the majority of people just ain’t that bothered. The majority I suspect merely identify as Christians either for, as noted cultural reasons, or because they are playing Pascal’s Gambit (if god exists they by believing in him you get to go to heaven, but if he turns out not to exist you don’t but loose nothing by betting he does, i.e. you are choosing between a 100% certain negative answer and something with a tiny but still larger probability of being correct, video about that here).

This is noteworthy as regards the attitude of Jesus towards wealth and the rich. To be blunt, he wasn’t that keen on the rich. He indeed would count, by the standards of Fox News these days, as a whinny socialist liberal. If you’re wealthy and consider yourself Christian then you should be doing everything you can to help the needy, e.g. tithing much of you’re salary to charity, washing the feet of beggars on your day off, giving alms to the poor in you’re lunch break, etc. This is why there’s this big flap going on outside St. Paul’s and the Bishop’s in the House of Lords are voting against government welfare cuts. At least these Bishop’s actually practice what they preach. What a pity many so called “Christians” supporters of the Tory’s don’t.

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