The title is partly for my punk buddy John Fowles, but also because I intend to spend a few posts reviewing a new book by Peter Vardy, Good and Bad Religion (London: SCM, 2010).
You may have noticed that the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens recently squared off in another one of the popular atheists vs. intellectual believers debates. It’s worth watching for its style only: Blair the charming, disarming politico, Hitchens full of bite and wit. But the content is stale, alas. Religion is bad, says Hitchens
Dawkins, Harris. Not all religion, rejoins Blair. Etc. Etc. You’ve heard it all before.
Vardy’s book is an admission to the new atheists that much religion is indeed bad, and that rather than rush to defend faith, believers should use this as an opportunity to root out the bad. He agrees with Marx, and Euhemerus millennia before, that religion is often used to do evil: “Marx was rejecting religion as a political tool of oppression by the powerful against the weak. In other words, he was rejecting bad religion” (p.9). He also thinks Philip Pulman is right (as do I).
Vardy writes that “[b]oth atheists and supporters of ‘good religion’ need to be on the same side in resisting ‘bad religion’” (p.14). The first challenge is to identify the “bad.” What are the “clear criteria” (p.11) for identifying bad religion?