We need to open a second conversation concerning the role or usefulness of religion. We note from the press that shortly bill boards will appear from London to Washington saying ”˜There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’. Another humanist group in America are mounting a similar campaign which states: ”˜Why believe in a god? Just be good, for goodness sake’. The inference is that all religions are bad for human flourishing; they are diseased and atrophied vestiges of human life. They make us miserable and do little good. For Dawkins, Roman Catholicism is a virulent virus that should be eradicated as doing great harm to young people, and even Anglicanism, from which he emerged, is but a milder form of the same disease. Hitchens, as we have seen, has a more aggressive approach to religion which ranges from the very crude to the most opinionated. I have to say that the polemical language of such people remind me of the Chinese saying: ”˜Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead!’
So a reasonable and careful conversation is needed for us to overcome the infantile and trivial way matters of ethical behavior are being discussed these days. To those who believe that religion is regressive, the question has to be put: ”˜then why is religion so active socially in the world and in society and why is it that its contribution to social capital is so highly regarded?’ Roy Hattersley, former Deputy Prime Minister wrote in a Guardian article a few years ago that his view is that ”˜most believers are better human beings than atheists’. Reluctantly he acknowledges that unbelievers are less likely to care for the poor and spend time with outcasts of society. He writes: ”˜Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists’.
This candid admission is remarkable and should not detract from the fact that a large number of humanists, agnostics and atheists are also good people who seek to create a better world. My argument is not polemical ”“ it is to say that those who wish to eradicate the world of faiths have to perceive them as they are, and to recognize the tremendous contribution they make to our world.
But does religion make a personal difference to people? Prof Keith Ward in his book ”˜Is Religion Dangerous?’ emphatically says that it does. He cites a survey carried out in the States by the Pew Foundation that shows that ”˜spiritually committed’ people are twice as likely to be ”˜very happy’ than the ”˜least religiously committed people.’
Read it all.