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Not in God’s name!

guest-verdun-1Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex partners, is doing so in the name of God.

The issue is simple: a public official, whether elected or appointed, must uphold the law. If you disagree with the law
you have sworn to uphold, then you resign. You can’t drag God into it.

I am sickened by the number of pastors, prophets and laypersons who invoke the name of God to pursue their own whims and fancies. Some are in it for the money, or political gain (like Huckabee), but some are just deluded, like Ms Davis.

I’m coming to the conclusion that religion, not patriotism as Dr Johnson suggested, is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Religion now appeals to me less as a set of beliefs, than as a profound mystery that serves to point us, however ambiguously, to the ultimate meaning of life and the universe, and to a spiritual communion with a higher being or purpose; to put us in a right relation to life and our fellow creatures; to provide solace in the face of evil, suffering and death; to offer ethical guidance in a perplexed moral environment; and to celebrate through prescribed rituals and ceremonies the miracle of life and our passages through it.

As for what’s right and wrong, we have ultimately, in the quiet of our own conscience, to figure that out.

We have to understand the difference between a religious and a secular society.

A secular society is not an irreligious society (indeed it may, like Barbados, be rooted in Christian values while supporting several faiths). It is a society in which everyone is free to practise the religion of their choice or practise no religion.

The laws of a secular society, though they may be based on values that coincide with those of one or more religions (for example, stealing is wrong), are grounded not in the sacred text of any particular religion but in the bill of rights embodied in the constitution. It is those basic rights and freedoms that provide the moral underpinnings of law and public policy
in a secular society.

A religious society, on the other hand, bases its laws explicitly on the prohibitions found in that religion’s sacred text. Thus in many Islamic societies Sharia law imposes severe penalties, including death, for activities that would not be crimes
at all in a secular society.   

Religious beliefs, alas, come packaged in the limited perceptions of the age and
place in which they were proclaimed.

No doubt, women will one day be Catholic priests and Moslem imams, creationist “science” will be seen as the cranky nonsense it is, homosexuals will be brought within the full protection of the law and the blessing of religion, and our grandchildren will wonder what all the fuss was about.

In the meantime, we spew hatred in defence of what both science and common sense show to be claptrap.   

It seems that across the globe our whole legacy of reason and tolerance is being dissipated.

Rational enquiry and discussion in the quest for objective truth is giving way either to a decadent relativism unwilling or incapable of making judgements about anything, or to an infantile fundamentalism that offers instant absolute truth for those willing to stop thinking.

Faith without reason is blind and stupid; and it doesn’t matter whether you’re blindly following an evangelical preacher, a mullah or the pope. Religion that rejects reason is quackery. Religion that dismisses scientific evidence is superstition. Religion that will not embrace human rights is dangerous. Religion that’s obsessed with sex to the neglect of social justice is sick. Such religion is a religion not of love, compassion and justice, but of hatred and intolerance.

And, folks, you can’t win a weak argument by quoting The Bible.

The Bible isn’t literally the Word of God; nor is it a factual history. It’s a compilation of varying and often contradictory viewpoints by many authors, collected over hundreds of years, testifying to God’s purposeful hand in human history as they saw it.

It includes stories, myth, poetry, prophecy, sacred visions, ritual practices and moral guidance. It’s rich, subtle and complex, full of abiding spiritual truths.

But it’s not the last word.

However, just as faith without reason can lead to immoral excesses (religious-inspired massacres have been a constant feature of history), so reason without faith can lead to its own horrors. People are wary, understandably, of attempts in the name of reason to achieve perfect societies that invariably end in mass graves: Robespierre, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the like.

The meaning and value of human life cannot be derived from reason and science alone. They are rooted in a view of human life as sacred because it’s the gift
of a Creator God.

I understand the appeal of tradition. Some people feel more comfortable with the image of God as a bearded old white man. That’s cool. But I prefer to imagine her as a beautiful young black woman. That’s cool too!

After all, despite the sacred texts, the authoritative teachings and other claims to absolute truth, we only ever see
through a glass darkly. So a little humility and tolerance, please.

And instead of obsessing about what’s to come hereafter, let us in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrate this wonderful God-drenched world of diversity:

Glory be to God for dappled things –– For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced –– fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

(Peter Laurie, a former Barbados diplomat, is a noted social commentator.)

4 Responses to Not in God’s name!

  1. June Roach September 23, 2015 at 10:52 am

    A very tolerant and well reasoned article, Peter. Thanks. I too have said from the beginning that Kim Davis needs to resign from her job. It would be the only sensible thing to do, but many Americans tend to overreact to things; extreme diets, vaccinations and the list goes on.

  2. June Roach September 23, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Thanks Peter for a well reasoned article. I too think that Kim Davis needs to resign. You can’t be working for the government and refuse to keep its laws. Thanks for the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem as well. It is one of my favourites of his- as is, “Margaret, are you grieving, o’er golden grove un-leaving?’

  3. June Roach September 23, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem as well. It is one of my favourites of his- as is, “Margaret, are you grieving, o’er golden grove un-leaving?’

  4. david gibbs September 24, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    who actually wrote this article – Bob Verdun or Peter Laurie?


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