Tag Archives: religion

Is Materialism the main intellectual opponent of religion?

Almost every religion has an anti-materialistic message.

imagesCAXOHYAEIn Christianity: When the rich man came to Jesus asking what he could do to improve his chances of getting into heaven, Jesus told him to give up all his wealth. The rich man walked away, and Jesus told the growing crowd that it was harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

In Sikhism: When Guru Nanak met Duni Chand, and was invited to his mansion, Duni Chand proudly displayed his wealth to the Guru. But later he told the Guru that he was unhappy, and wished to be the richest man in the city. The Guru replied by giving Duni Chand a needle, and asking him to return it to the Guru in the next life. At first Duni Chand took this seriously, but when he told his wife she laughed. “Are you mad?” she asked. “How can a needle go to the next world?” It was only then that Duni Chand realised the folly of his ways, and rejected materialism.

But if materialism really is the main intellectual opponent of religion, then why is agnosticism and atheism growing in popularity? The picture below shows the proportion of atheists and agnostics around the world today – an image that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago.

Stephen Barr, professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware, argues that quantum science makes believing in God easier, because it provides a strong argument against materialism. Incidentally, if you’re thinking about materialism only as money, this is the definition used by Barr: “an atheistic philosophy that says that all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions.” As I’ve argued in previous posts, quantum mechanics makes a strong counter-argument. In fact the quantum sciences accord much more strongly with the Aristotelian view of reality than modern materialism, since they recognise the importance of potential as opposed to the more materialistic view of things which are already determined. So where a materialist would say that if you had complete knowledge of the universe then you would know exactly what was going to happen and when, a quantum mechanic would say that such knowledge would only afford you foresight into what the probabilities were. Furthermore, the mathematics which describes all physical processes (the Schrodinger equation) does not accurately describe the fluctuations in probability that actually occur in reality. And on top of that, knowledge of events themselves can actually change what occurs (watch ‘What the Bleep do we know?’ if you doubt me:

Barr questions whether if the human mind can transcend matter and its laws, a more powerful mind might not exist, which transcends the physical universe altogether. In other words he pits materialism against God, as His main intellectual rival, and infers that God might be fighting back with quantum science. But after all, religion has grown during a very materialistic phase in our history. So is materialism really the main intellectual rival of religion? Will growing knowledge about quantum science see people returning to religion once more?

Is it wrong to judge God?

Owen had his Baptism a few days ago. As an atheist I struggled to make the vows. But my wife’s Christian, as are both of our families. So I willingly went through with it all, and it was a beautiful day. I even managed to get some history in by organizing the service in one of only 2 remaining Puritan chapels (think Oliver Cromwell). And I plan to introduce him to all religious teachings in any case.

Now however, I’m reading biblical stories to Owen at his bed time (presents from the godparents). This I absolutely do not mind doing, but I’m now half way through Genesis and I haven’t found a single passage where I don’t find myself judging God (sorry to say in a negative way). If this God truly exists, I would not worship Him. In fact I’d be tempted to try and find an alternative so I could fight Him. Now for an Atheist this isn’t so surprising. But am I right to think that I can make such judgements on a deity worshipped by millions? Further, am I right to write this post? Or where such blasphemous issues are concerned, and especially ones where I could offend so deeply, would I be better keeping my mouth shut?

Atheist and Agnostic Churches/Temples

In recent years the number of Atheists (believe there is no God, in the sense of an ultimate Being) and Agnostics (believe we cannot know whether or not God exists) have grown significantly, and the last couple of decades have seen churches founded for both religious groups. As this link shows (http://www.londonnet.co.uk/news/2012/jan/richard-dawkins-rejects-plan-%C2%A31m-atheist-church-city-london.html) there is also now discussion about buildings raised in the name of such religions.

Now if you read the comments on sites such as the one above you’ll see that mostly the reactions have been negative. But as an Atheist myself I completely agree with De Botton not only that Dawkin’s rhetoric has been symptomatic of a ‘destructive’ kind of Atheism, but also that there is a profound spiritual element to Atheism that should be celebrated and discussed. In fact I believe the case for spiritualism within Atheist beliefs is far stronger than the case for it existing within other major religions (with the exception of Buddhism, for which I would say there is a possible overlap with Atheism depending on your viewpoint). My reasoning for this is based on my answer to the following question:

Would you rather live in a world where you were created by one Being to accomplish one ultimate goal after which life would cease to exist or be utterly meaningless; or would you rather exist in a world where no one’s perception of value is any more important than anyone else’s, where everyone perceives wonder through their own eyes, and where everyone decides on not one but many purposes for themselves?

Surely the latter answer means more spirituality right, for rather than a rigid adherence to what you are being told from a certain source about a finite existence, you are exploring an infinite reality with wonder and purpose all around you.

Would you agree with me and De Botton about the merits of coming together to celebrate and discuss such spirituality? Or do you agree with Dawkins and most of De Botton’s critics that such efforts are futile, silly, and a waste of resources?