11 May 2007

Ripping up religion

Recently there's been a spate of attempts to criticize religion from a ‘scientific’ viewpoint. Many of these are little better than ‘hack work’ compared to genuine social criticism. The authors often express contempt for ‘literal’ readings of scripture without recognizing that the job has already been done (with more skill) within religious communities themselves. A reader investing great value in a scripture has far more motivation (and capacity) to reveal the shortcomings of a ‘literal’ reading than a cynical observer who doesn't care what the scripture means. This kind of critic, barking at religion just as dogs bark at the unfamiliar, generally indulges in attacking straw men while ignoring both the differences and the similarities between religious and scientific readings. Some even claim that any non-literal reading of a scripture is dishonest, on the ground that most members of the religious community take it literally. But a straw man is still a straw man regardless of how many crows are scared by it, and rending it limb from limb remains a rather childish exercise.

In the Buddhist idiom, grasping is the great mistake. Dogmatic acceptance of an idea is one way of ‘clinging’ or ‘grasping’; dogmatic rejection of it is another.

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