Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Big Questions

I will briefly be on TV this Sunday morning - BBC 1's "The Big Question". I am a "front row" audience member, which means I will be asked a couple of questions. The "big question" for that bit of the show is something along the lines of "Would Britain be a better place if it was a Christian society?" On the panel will be: Lord Carey (former Arch-bishop of Canterbury), Anne Atkins, a druid lady (called Emma, I think), and Prof. Peter Atkins.

So, would it...?

12 comments:

Kyle said...

I think these sorts f questions are a bit pointless.

How can a society be a Christian society unless most of the people in it are Christian? Unless everyone agrees to pretend that they are Christian.

Wholeflaffer said...

No.

This has been another short answer to easy questions.

wombat said...

So which flavour of Christianity did they have in mind?

We alternated between RCC and Anglican in Tudor-ish times and that didn't seem to be a very happy age.

How about the Cupitt version?

Kosh3 said...

What would it mean for Britain to be a Christian society?

-close and undiscriminating adherence to Biblical scripture? (Presumably not! the Bible is full of many awful things no society should encourage of accept)

-the cherishing of a subsection of values and attitudes displayed in the Bible, like love, kindness, consideration of the less fortunate (Yes, but then a) Christianity is not necessary for any of these values, and b) it is dubious to select only the very nicest parts of the Bible and hold them up as essentially Christian).

If we're going to accept falsehoods like Christianity for their social utility, surely we can make up a better story.

Toby said...

We used to be a Christin Society (i.e. everyone believed in the Christian religion) a few hundred years ago. Were things better then? Obvously not: we had slavery, discrimination against women, the death penalty and cruel punishments, etc, etc.

That said, the Battle of the Atkins (Anne vs Peter) should be good value.

jeremy said...

I love the asymmetry:

One the one side, a renowned Oxford chemist and author, and an adroit and successful philosopher.

On the other side, an archbishop and a druid.

Priceless.

Anonymous said...

You are assuming the Druid to be on the same side as the Archbishop?

Tony Lloyd said...

How can a society be Christian? You cannot baptise a society, a society cannot pray, a society has no soul.

It's difficult to see what could be meant by a Christian society apart from:
1. (As Kyle said) a society in which most people are Christian. Or
2. A Christian dominated society. Either:
2a. Domination by way of indoctrinating/forcing most to assume a Christian identity or
2b. A restrictions on the laws that can passed and actions undertaken set by Christian dogma.

Without 2a. it is pretty meaningless talking about 1., it's just not going to happen. Would life be better if Everton always won? Well...yes, but that just isn't going to happen (BTW anybody got a spare for the final?)

So we are looking at 2. and that seems to me to be obviously bad. Should we put away our freedoms and subject the rule of parliament to an Archbishop Carey over-ride? Should we limit our freedom of thought (and that of our children) and subject our very consciences to an Archbishop Carey over-ride?

No doubt the Carey and Atkins would reject this analysis. (A pint says Atkins would call it a "monstrous distortion"). But what can they say they actually mean? Absent a reasonable explanation of what a non-Christian-dominated "Christian society" would look like we're entitled to assume that it means that some decisions will be removed from their current location and given to the clerics.

There's also little doubt that their main thrust will be to try and “sell” the benefits. If we're all Christian then crime will be lower, teenage pregnancy will be down, families will be more likely to stay together etc. etc. All things we want, all laid out in front of you. All you have to do is give in, let us take over. Go on, is “freedom” such a big thing to give up?

qed said...

By now we have seen that this is a rather silly question.

Yet, the answer has to be recorded as emphatic no, because:

(1) such a society would be based on a christian perversion of morality

(2) such a society would be guided by irrationality and superstition

MatthewH said...

I watched it and was severely annoyed, the question is insulting to non-theists like me. How could the audience even take that type of question seriously, it implies those without faith have some sort of flaw and have no morality. Plot a 'wellness graph' compared to a societies number of believers over time and I think you'd find the question should more likely be reversed..

Hugo said...

Crikey, I just watched it and was shocked by the extraordinarily bad quality of the arguments.

Stephen, you were an oasis of reason in a sea of crud. I heard very few decent arguments in the whole hour from anyone else - mostly just non sequiturs, anecdote, assertion, begging the question, and general lack of sound arguments.

A pity you were shouted down by that priest.

What a terrible programme. Nicky Campbell seems to destroy everything he touches.

I notice again with annoyance that the programme is filled under the BBC's "Religion & Ethics" category, as if they go together.

Dick said...

There's an assumption here that Christianity is a set of propositions - dogma - that individuals have to "believe in" (what that means is not straightforward); in which case they are Christian.

But what if Christianity is a set of interconnected stories (some 'historical', others 'legend'), and a vast tangle of conflicting interpretations of those stories - which is pretty much what Christianity seems to be in actuality? In that case it is more like a language which can be used quite regardless of personal "belief".

Christianity then becomes the language which a society speaks. It is sometimes pointed out that a lot of poetry and writing in this country - whether by "believers" or not - draws on Christian imagery and story, and without knowing these often assumed references the important cross-references to other ideas can be missed.

Drive the mythical language of Christianity out of the public sphere and a lot of the subtlety and connectedness of our culture - which is also European and worldwide - is lost.