Bad Religion, Finale

This is the final installment in a review of Peter Vardy’s book Good and Bad Religion (London: SCM, 2010).

Let’s recap:

Vardy would have us ignore truth claims in our appraisal of religion, fraught as they are with epistemological headaches and what not. Do not judge Scientology on the credibility of Xenu but by the behaviours and ideologies which Scientology promotes.

But judge by what standard? Vardy uses Aristotle’s “human flourishing” as his touchstone and believes that certain hallmarks of religion — stifling authority, fundamentalist readings of scripture, and anti-science rhetoric — are evidence sine quibus non of bad religion.

And so to the attributes of good religion.

Good religion promotes justice. Abraham’s appeal to God to spare Sodom if righteous people could be found was an appeal to justice and made Abraham “good.” (Should he also have lamented God’s injustice when it came to killing his son?)

But how to answer those who claim that notions of justice are purely relativistic? Vardy offers a useful way of demonstrating to such people that justice is universally understood: “act unjustly towards them and wait to see how long it takes them to complain of injustice” (p.126) Aristotle defined justice as “reason free from passion.” Just wars cannot therefore be characterised by passions such revenge or hate or greed.

Good religion promotes equality; “bad religion tends to tolerate and foster the status quo, whereas good religion challenges accepted practice in the name of justice and calls society forward beyond existing conventions” (p.143).  If it was good to oppose apartheid; if it was good to challenge discrimination against the disabled; then what of the equality of women and homosexuals?

Here, Vardy wades into some of the great religious wrangles of our time but first, there are easy admonitions: “Both believers and non-believers are human beings, so treatment of non-believers is a test of a religion’s basic attitude to human life” (p.136). So much for crusades or jihads against the infidels. But it is more tricky than this: if “[i]dentifying religion with race or nationality” (p. 140) is bad (cf. Catholic/Protestant Northern Ireland), and if “[g]ood religion is usually open to anybody who is interested” (p. 140), what do we make of Judaism or Zoroastrianism? Having spent a lot of time criticising some of the bad habits of Christianity, some readers will perhaps be happy to see Vardy place his sights on other religions, even if solutions to problems such as Hindu caste are not easily found.

It would be easy to dismiss Vardy as too modern, too liberal. But note that his concern is for “human flourishing” and he is willing to admit that when concern for equality leads to a concern to “have it all,” “women’s interests as mothers and, even more, the interests of their children, are not well-served” (p.147). These are the prerequisites of women’s equality, according to Vardy:

  1. They should have access to basic education.
  2. They should be able to determine the course of their own lives.
  3. The leadership roles of women in religion should be open for debate and not silenced by either authority or fundamentalism.

On homosexuality Vardy’s instinct seems to be for equal rights but he allows that even if religions hold that homosexual behaviour is sinful, they should not force those views on others. For example, a “devout Catholic may, permissibly, condemn homosexual behaviour and refuse to practice such behaviour himself, but must be willing to acknowledge that other [legitimately] Christian denominations do not share this conviction” (p.152).

If all of this seems a little tepid, it’s because Vardy isn’t quite able to balance the right of religions to prescribe sin against the need for agape-love and tolerance. But who is? (His discussion of abortion is similar.) What Vardy is able to offer is a sensible baseline of goodness: if you are open to an honest examination of your view, you are on your way to good religion.

Finally, good religion promotes freedom. In Vardy’s scheme, doctrines of predestination are out as is the Islamic claim that everything happens by the will of Allah. For humans to be responsible for their actions they must be free to choose them (vampires too, cf. Edward Cullen’s refusal to accept his bloodsucking fate, p. 161-2). Vardy also turns his attention to religious education, noting the tension between these two positions:

  1. Educating the young into the religious tradition of their parents is acceptable.
  2. Indoctrination is not.

In a British educational context, faith schools are good if they are also teach religions other than their own and allow children the freedom to “question accepted orthodoxy without fear of criticism” (p.164). Religious Education at Anglican schools passes this test; the majority of Islamic madrassas do not.

Conclusion

Vardy’s is an important book because it addresses an issue that both the pop- atheists and most believers tend to ignore. All agree that religion can be bad (with Dawkins et al. arguing that religion is inherently bad), but how exactly? It is easy to condemn al-Qaeda, but harder to admit that some of the seeds of extremism may exist in our own traditions. Vardy offers certain rules for judging between the good and bad. Some will be disputed and tend to be hard to distinguish from secular humanism, but let the conversation between believers continue because we do in fact want our religions to be good. Don’t we?

Comments

  1. Nice summary. This is a model I can really get behind for “good religion”!

    It is easy to condemn al-Qaeda, but harder to admit that some of the seeds of extremism may exist in our own traditions.

    Such a good point. If the traditions of our fathers are bad, it is up to us to address such issues and press forward in favor of human flourishing.

  2. MikeInWeHo says:

    Great series Ronan. Here are couple other questions: How does contemporary Mormonism look when held up to Vardy’s standard of good religion? In a global church, could this vary regionally? Could the Church promote justice, equality and human flourishing in some settings but display “stifling authority” in others?

    Quiet candidly, as I read these interesting posts I kept thinking “Gosh, Ronan sure has his work cut out for him.”

  3. Mike, would such an analysis need to draw a distinction between the Church/Gospel on the one hand and the Church as culture on the other hand? I.e. preemptively speaking, some of the things that could presumably shift the Church out of the good religion category could be cultural accretions rather than inherent in the religion itself.

  4. Mike,

    I am a firm believer in the goodness of Mormonism. At its best it’s wonderfully humanistic and fair. Of course, we can sour this potential if we want and Vardy is useful in alerting us to the warning signs. It’s important to note that he doesn’t seem to have a problem with conservative faith, e.g. not having women clergy, but only asks that such issues be discussed. This is key:

    “If you are open to an honest examination of your view, you are on your way to good religion.”

    I think fora such as BCC do this and are therefore good; BCC is very Mormon; ergo…

  5. MikeInWeHo says:

    That’s a good question, John. Since Church as culture is where the religious rubber meets the road, I don’t see how you can exclude that. Good teachings are nice, but if they’re not reflected in the behavior of the followers who do they matter?The Epistle of James comes to mind here.

  6. John Mansfield says:

    “We don’t want freedom. We don’t want justice. We just want someone to love.”—Talking Heads on the bad religion of “People Like Us.”

  7. MikeInWeHo says:

    I envy your perspective, Ronan. Having just spent my first significant amount of time in Utah, I experienced a shift of opinion in the other direction. Some of the stories I heard were just horrifying. It’s why I asked about regional variations. Your experience as a blogging Mormon in the UK might be quite different from a Mormon elsewhere. Declaring Mormonism “wonderfully humanist and fair” sounds unreasonably idealistic to my ear. Or maybe I’ve just been spending too much time over at FMH. : )

  8. Grat series, Ronan.

    Mike, “the Church” might be global, but “the Church” is local at the most practical level. Therefore, “the Church” really is radically different all around the world – and even in adjacent wards. You know that, but I think it’s important to say that “the Church” is what the local members (and especially the local leaders) make it.

    The ideals are important – critically important. It’s getting US (local members & leaders AND global leaders) to live them – or even just recognize them and strive for them – that is important, and that doesn’t happen far too often.

    Isolation breeds contempt and extremism, and the LDS Church was isolated for generations. It’s not as isolated any more, and what grew in that culture of isolation is breaking down, imo. Pres. Uchtdorf might be the most visible, obvious sign, but there are many others.

    I wish it could happen faster, but we prune according to the strength of the root, so to speak.

  9. I share Mike’s pessimism. However, I think that our religion is rooted in a 19th century approach to religion and the enlightenment. Our theology is the theology of a good religion. Some have moved it in a different direction…but their religion is not mine, even if we belong to the same church. My Mormonism is a good religion, but this is not the only Mormonism.

  10. Of course, Chris, that’s what all bad religion people say, “Mine’s good!”

  11. Yep, that is what I am saying. Pathetic, I know. I guess, I am trying to figure out how to reconcile my beliefs with the drastically different beliefs of my fellow church members. I have come to the conclusion that even though we belong to the same church (and I am glad that we do) that I must have a different religion. I am not even sure that this is possible. But, it is helping me cope in some strange way.

    That said, I am not saying that Mormonism was once a good religion that has gone astray, I am not sure if many groups are all that good practice. Anyways, thanks.

  12. I think most secular left wing academics would consider Mormonism a “bad religion”. I think you would be hard pressed to find this crowd of particular thinkers considering any traditional type of faith as being “good religion”. Under Vardy’s stipulations I think Mormonism is “bad religion”. Most traditional faiths would also be considered bad religion. From a COE perspective the American and British style Anglicans woud be “good religion” while the breakaway Americans and Africans would be ” bad religion”.

    If Mormonism has to satisfy thinkers such as Vardy to be considered “good religion” we would be advised for the future of our own religious movement to ignore his advice on “good religion” vs. “bad religion”.

  13. bbell, do you have specific objections to Vardy’s criteria, such as “human flourishing” as a touchstone of measurement? The three pronged “justice, equality, freedom” also seem like the foundation for a strong and praiseworthy model. Which of the three do you take issue with?

  14. bbell,

    Vardy isn’t secular and does not oppose, to give one example, conservative doctrines such as the all-male clergy. It’s all about how one implements and discusses such doctrines.

    Question for you: how is al-Qaeda bad religion?

  15. And how is the Church of England not a “traditional type faith”?

  16. John F.

    I think it depends on what you mean by the terms Justice, Equality and Freedom. I think its safe to say that the terms are loaded and mean different things to different people.

    Al Q is bad for a variety of reasons but one big one is the use of violence to spread their particular brand of Islam.

  17. Al Q is bad for a variety of reasons but one big one is the use of violence to spread their particular brand of Islam.

    Okay, so there’s a common foundation. I am sure that this qualifies under Vardy’s criteria as well.

    How about “bad religion tends to tolerate and foster the status quo, whereas good religion challenges accepted practice in the name of justice and calls society forward beyond existing conventions” — does this ring true to you? Al Qaeda fits the bill easily. Didn’t Mormonism do this at the beginning? Does it still do it? Before giving an unreflective, defensive answer, think about the many verses in the Book of Mormon referring to the “traditions of their fathers” and in what context those verses come about. Is it really impossible that some cultural accretions have crept into the fabric of life in the Church as lived by many Mormons today such that they tend to diminish aspects of these three criteria (justice, equality, freedom)? Should we not always be on the lookout for incorrect traditions of our fathers so that we can rise above them and continue progressing toward being a Zion society? But how should we measure these bad traditions of our fathers for purposes of exising them? Are not Vardy’s criteria a good basis for measurement?

  18. I love Jacob 5 largely because it says quite clearly that “bitter fruit” will exist in the vineyard right up until the end. Pruning that fruit is one of the main labors of the servants – along with activities associated with nourishing the tree.

    So, “we” collectively have two primary obligations: nourishing the good and pruning the bad. We can’t nourish or prune what we don’t recgnize as good or bad.

    Obviously, defining the difference is important, but the first step is recognizing and admitting that both exist – and always will.

  19. jf speaks wisdom.

    Also, bbell, Vardy explains what he means by justice, freedom, and equality and I hope I have adequately shared this. What do you think of his definitions?

    You may have to read my posts again. After all, you mistakenly believed that Vardy is a secularist and I wouldn’t want you to fall into the trap of exhibiting zeal without knowledge, a certain trait of bad religion if I ever saw it, old boy.

  20. John F,

    Mormonism in its present form is a mixed bag on fostering the staus quo (or at least the old status quo prior to the sexual revolution) or pushing society forward. It kind of depends on what topic you are talking about and where you sit personally with your own views. On the aggregate I do not think that according to Vardy’s criteria we could be considered anything other then “Bad religion”.

    Look at this from RJH’s post.

    1.Educating the young into the religious tradition of their parents is acceptable.
    2.Indoctrination is not.

    Mormonism is clearly doing #2. I think that is a good long term practice to our benefit. One of the reasons I can at least in my own head dismiss Vardy’s three stipulations. I think it is advocating a really soft version of religion that simply is not viable long term.

  21. John Mansfield says:

    Ray, your commission to man the pruning hooks calls to mind a scene in Wole Soyinka’s Isara: A Voyage Around Essay. A conversation on the doctrine of cutting off arms in order to enter heaven ends with one man fleeing from his teasing friends and their machete.

  22. RJH,

    I am familiar with Vardy outside of your posts. I think that he tries to straddle the fence between secularists and those of religious faith. By doing so I think he falls more into the secularist camp in his thinking. I think that is where most academic leaning lefty COE types all end up in the end

  23. If you think indoctrination is good, then you cannot condemn Wahhabi indoctrination. That’s the point.

    And you continue to misunderstand Vardy. He’d have no gripes against Primary or FHE, unless you didn’t also allow your children to be exposed to the basic beliefs of other religions. My parents taught me Mormonism but sent me to an Anglican school. This is good religion, no?

    Vardy is trying to find a way for religions to condemn al-Qaeda/Westboro Baptists/Hindu nationalists without being hypocrites. This is not a beardy-lefty project. It’s common bloody sense.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    “…..that is where most academic leaning lefty COE types all end up in the end.”

    That has been my observation as well, bbell. Many individuals shift from conservative religion to liberal religion to no religion. Whole nations have as well. From my perspective, of course, no religion is much better than bad religion. If those are the options, I’ll take Sweden over Saudi Arabia any day.

    My sense is that Ronan and Vardy would argue that secularization is not the inevitable outcome of liberalizing religion, but it sure would be nice if they could point to some specific examples.

  25. Soft or hard, left or right, doctrine or culture, do we not generally recognize specific events as good and bad at the ward level?

    What is to be done if you live in a crappy ward? How does one define a crappy ward? Does Vardy provide a useful model to identify and improve what is happening at the ward level? I think he does, hypothetically.

    However, does justice, freedom, or equality ever trump Prophet at the ward level? Or rather does it even trump “laying it on the Prophet?” (An expression AA Mormons use to describe local leaders who justify their own personal opinions and interpretions by claiming they align with the prophet’s opinion).

    In my experience, we are not even close. We do or don’t do so many down-right stupid things in the name of obedience it is ridiculous. If the Bishop told the members of the ward that the Prophet wanted them to run three laps around the chapel buck naked during the sacrament next week, I swear some members would be asking why not four laps?Others would say if the 3 laps turns out to be wrong, they will still be blessed for their obedience.

  26. I agree that that’s the historical trend, MikeinWeHo, but I’d argue that the choice has generally been between bad religion and no religion and people have sensibly chosen the latter. Perhaps we can change the paradigm.

  27. Roana,

    I have to really disagree with you on this.

    “If you think indoctrination is good, then you cannot condemn Wahhabi indoctrination. That’s the point.”

    There is simply no western religious indoctrination of any type that can be compared to Wahhabi style indoctrination or practice. Imagine a state owned western TV station running cartoons celebrating suicide bombings. I rest my case

    This is where Vardy gets all squishy and turns in practice into a secularist

    Mikeinweho. (by the way I saw that picture of the present you got when you were 13) I would also if faced with a choice take Sweden over Saudia Arabia. However squishy nations long term run into trouble. I think its safe to say that the Wahabis are currently attempting to colonize Sweden and they might eventually succeed.

  28. And I continue to reject this lefty-characterisation of Vardy’s book. He explicitly rejects relativism, for example.

    Also, bbell, re: al-Qaeda’s violence. Why does that make it a bad religion? Why is suicide bombing wrong?

  29. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think there is any western religious indoctrination that can be compared to wahabism. There are many such indoctrination strings, and by far the most arrests made in the United States relating to terrorism are made on Christian fundamentalist groups, not Muslim. Sorry bbell that you’ve rested your case on something so obviously false.

  30. Steve,

    In think its safe to say that there are no Wahabi style indoctrination of any relevance or size except of course Wahabi’s who reside in the west. Steve can you name any large relevant recognized groups in the US of any size or influence that indoctrinate their followers like Wahabi’s?

    Who would they be? Christian Identity movement people? These groups are so small and irrelevant. Wahabi idealogy is funded and spread with Saudi money.

  31. I’m off to Ward Council to plot the forcible circumcision of the gypsies of Leicestershire.

    Be good.

    And bbell, answer my question.

  32. #30,

    Does size matter?

  33. Here’s a nice little thing for you to explain away, bbell. Isn’t this happening in your very backyard?

    re: relevance of these groups, their relevance is obvious: they create generations of fundamentalists, and have already created dozens of terrorists who have actually attempted (and occasionally succeeded) in killing and hurting people. How much more relevant do you want?

  34. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 26
    You comment reminds of a writer I greatly admire, retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. Have you read any of his work, Ronan?

  35. MikeInWeHo says:

    If you haven’t seen the documentary Jesus Camp, make a point of it. It’s a very thought-provoking movie.

    You guys seem to be talking past each other (bbell and Steve). Wahabism openly embraces systematic coercive violence in a way that even the most extreme Christian fundamentalists reject these days. Fundamentalist Christians will send you to hell if you convert to another religion, but usually not right away.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    No! Our positions are impossible to reconcile.

  37. Thomas Parkin says:

    The idea that God is fundamentally, essentially like us is about as potentially humanistic as you can get with a theology. The belief that He created us in order to flourish ought to be very liberating. The idea that we are to become like Him, full of knowledge and full of life and full of love, and that He has zero stake in keeping us down, ought to create great spaces,- psychological, spiritual, practical, even political,- into which we can grow. This is, in fact, what I think the gospel is. What the BoM says … “I know it is good because my soul doth begin to expand …’

    The whole man with one talent bit that we sometimes have, here’s to hoping we outgrow it.

  38. Thomas cinched it: that’s why Mormonism is good religion (among other reasons). To the extent that our practices don’t reflect those expansive beliefs, it shows we have some work to do, but at bottom, Mormonism is the most “human flourishing” religion out there. Eternal progression could easily be described as “humans flourishing eternally.”

  39. Well said, Thomas.

    and John Mansfield, I don’t believe for a moment that “the bitter fruit” refers to people. I believe it refers to ideas and beliefs and practices. I read Jacob 5 as saying that elements of “apostasy (bad religion)” will grow along with elements of “good religion” until the very end INSIDE the Church. “The Church” isn’t perfect, since it is what we humans make it. It’s never “totally good religion” and never has been.

    Recognizing that and trying to address it properly seems like what this series of posts is all about.

  40. For example, a “devout Catholic may, permissibly, condemn homosexual behaviour and refuse to practice such behaviour himself, but must be willing to acknowledge that other [legitimately] Christian denominations do not share this conviction” (p.152).

    I’m not sure how to take that. It begs the question of what a legitmate Christian denomination is. For instance I have no trouble with some Catholics thinking Mormons are an illegitimate Christian denomination. I disagree obviously. But I can’t tell from your comments if Vardy basically thinks one can’t think other religious movements are illegitimate theologically on theological grounds.

  41. It is easy to condemn al-Qaeda, but harder to admit that some of the seeds of extremism may exist in our own traditions.

    I think it’s hard to admit the seeds of extremism exist in any tradition. One of the greatest South Park episodes was about future Dawkins extremists about evolution. It was a rather funny sendup about the New Atheists being just as extremist as other fundamentalists. (Of course they constantly do sendups of that sort of hypocrisy)

  42. it's a series of tubes says:

    I don’t believe for a moment that “the bitter fruit” refers to people

    So the Lord of the vineyard is laying up “ideas and beliefs and practices” unto himself? I just reread Jacob 5, substituting your phase for “fruit”, and it seemed to render many verses nonsensical and/or contradictory. Just my .02.

  43. #42 – Yes, I was rushing and mis-spoke. That was sloppy. Thanks for the clarification.

    I meant to highlight the pruning of the branches that produce the bitter fruit – that the pruning and the nourishing of the tree itself doesn’t refer directly to people. Obviously, you don’t prune and nourish fruit itself, as I know having been raised in orchard and vineyard country.

    So, I should have said that the branches that need to be pruned doesn’t refer to people – as I’ve said elsewhere on numerous occasions. Those branches produce the bitter fruit – which, again, I think, is what this post is all about.

  44. It seems as if Vardy may have missed the forest for the trees. All religions preach justice and freedom. Most teach equality. But at what granularity?

    The true tension between social contracts (and isn’t that at heart what religion is when stripped of faith?) is between the rights of the individual and the rights of the group. Mormons (and Koreans) sit near the 50-yard line, with most other Western religions more individualistic and Bhutanese and socialists strongly in favor of duty to the whole society and its cultural integrity. Muslims prefer a strong cultural support for faith, monasticists do not.

    From the outside, groupists always appear “coerced” from the viewpoint of individualists, and non-Mormons are quick to see LDS as a cult (in the popular use of the word), because, uh, why else would so many people tithe for the well-being of a group so removed from their microcosm? Am I really my brother’s keeper?

    I imagine that Vardy is neutral on how distant a relationship must be before interests should decorrelate in a “good” religion. Why is it natural for a father to sacrifice his own life to save his child (after all, he can always have more) but it is unnatural for a Wahhabist to sacrifice himself in defense of his God (or at least his God-fearing cultural norms)?

    I do not see any defensible theory of morality without first (rather arbitrarily) defining an in-group/out-group dividing mechanism. I would be interested in Vardy’s (or anyone else’s) views on this.

  45. In as much as Vardy seems to have defined “good” as “just, equitable, & promoting of freedom”, it would appear that the hallmark of a “good” religion is one which creates “good” people. Of course, we can delve deeper and decide exactly what is meant by “justice”, “equality”, and “freedom”, but I have to agree with Ronan that it seems to be a good place to start.

  46. Just now had time to read the comments.

    Regarding the Steve – bbell debate I’m partial to Steve’s side of things. That said I still think there is a big degree of difference between those indoctrinated to perhaps attack abortion doctors and the Taliban. Sorry, there just is. And it is a really big difference. I am worried about radical Christians who are getting indoctrinated in that fashion and who completely close off the outside world.

    I know a few people attempted to say Mormons indoctrinate too. But I just don’t see it. Mormons are encouraged to go to college where even at BYU they learn things like evolution and there are plenty of comparative religion classes taught. Do I wish Mormons learned a bit more about other religions than the sometimes caricatures they do learn? Sure. But I think as a practical matter that might be asking a bit much of the typical American. I mean far too many Mormons don’t know much about their own religion despite quite a large number of resources to do so and constant encouragement. (I mean how many people even do the reading for Sunday School?)

    Regarding Vardy, I’ve not read his book obviously. But going from Ronan’s excellent posts I think he has a fundamental problem that Ronan briefly touched upon in this post. That is Vardy wants doctrines and beliefs to ultimately not matter. Yet he wants Justice to matter. But beyond Justice as a fairly unapplied abstraction, which I agree everyone largely agrees on, things break down. As soon as you start asking what in particular is or isn’t just you get into the realm of belief and doctrine. And more importantly fundamental disagreements. My sense, perhaps incorrect, is that Vardy is treading into the realm of Fowler’s categories of faith where what is wanted is a progression towards liberal Protestantism where most beliefs are jettisoned and one maintains what liberal Protestants conceive of as a solid code of ethics. Roughly secular ethics. Maybe I’m wrong in that, but if so then for all his talk of let’s get along he really does have some significant ideas important doctrines and beliefs about what doctrines should be discounted.

    The other interesting thing is the question of freedom which gets problematic fast. After all there are plenty of secularists who think freedom is an illusion. They may be willing to entertain a discussion of practical political freedom. But Vardy, as presented by Ronan, seems to demand something much more than this. Presumably this means Vardy would find most deists of the 19th century to be bad religion. (Even though a 19th century deist and a late 20th century atheist are pretty similar IMO)

  47. Chris However, I think that our religion is rooted in a 19th century approach to religion and the enlightenment.

    Interesting. I’d say our religion is rooted in a rejection of 19th century approaches to religion and a return to pre-modern approaches to religion. Say what you will about American evangelical fundamentalism but it is deeply rooted in modern assumptions about hermeneutics, authority, and truth. Now 19th century American protestantism definitely had an influence on Mormons. Especially the JFS/BRM wing. But what’s remarkable is how much we reject protestant hermeneutics not to mention their assumptions about spirits, meaning and so much more.

    At best we can say that as a people we are fundamentally American and come out of the American tradition. But the religion is pretty radically different. (I mean just look at temple worship or our willingness to modify and radically reinterpret scripture)

  48. “The other interesting thing is the question of freedom which gets problematic fast. After all there are plenty of secularists who think freedom is an illusion.”

    Then that would be characterized as “bad religion” to the extent that it is a religious belief, and just bad philosophy to the extent that it is not.

    But I think that philosophical discussion is too esoteric for the purposes Vardy is proposing. As I understand it, the question Vardy is asking, in order to determine whether a religion is “good,” is simply whether the religion promotes the general concept of freedom or not. That’s a pretty basic question that can be answered fairly easily.

    For example, If you ask whether Mormonism propmotes the concept of freedom, you need look no further than 2 Nephi 2:26, 27:

    26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

    27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

    That answers the question very clearly, in my mind.

    There are similar passages in the bible that most Christian churches accept as having similar meanings.

    To me, those who would fail in this area to achieve the “good religion” stamp are those who, as Ronan suggests, promote the idea that there is no free will and that all choices are already made or are meaningless.

    Also, religions that are so authoritarian that they allow no meaningful personal choices would fall into this category.

  49. I guess my point MCQ is that I find it very problematic that Vardy avoids the central question of truth. i.e. it may be for Vardy bad religion to believe in truth. Reminds me a tad too much of Voltaire who saw religion of a certain sort as necessary for the masses. Religion gets put into a functionary role with the question of truth completely irrelevant.

    One might say all my comments center around that problem, as Ronan has presented it. It’s less about technical philosophy.

  50. I think he avoids that question because, for his purposes, it’s irrelevant. The question he is addressing is far more functional, as it relates simply to the effect that a religion has on it’s adherents and their society.

  51. Which is, I guess what you just said. What I’m saying is that I think your comments are getting at a question that Vardy isn’t really concerned with in this particular inquiry. He’s not saying that religion should only be functional, he’s just saying that if you want to determine whether it’s good or bad, it’s useful to look at it that way, because other questions (those related to “truth” for example) cannot be easily answered.

  52. Right, I appreciate that MCQ. However that simply is problematic. Effectively he’s saying we should just stick to what we all agree upon when we don’t all agree upon it.

  53. To add, the elements we don’t agree upon which he sees as not important (not just ethical disagreements but the meaning of salvation) seem to me to be exactly what determines what is or is not a good religion. I think what he wants to get at is a socially useful religion. Which is why I see the Voltaire connection.

    The problem is that religion isn’t just about politics.

  54. I don’t think he sees those elements unimportant; just outside the scope of his present inquiry. You have to base the inquiry on something that there is common ground about. You’re never going to get that on the meaning of terms like salvation. Vardy’s inquiry is useful (or at least accessible) to preople of all religious backgrounds, as well as secularists. An inquiry that delved into the meaning of truth and salvation can never have that kind of broad applicability.

  55. Well yes. But once again my point is that if we are talking about whether a religion is good those questions become key. It’s like that old joke about the guy looking for his keys under the lamp post. A person walking by asks why he is looking for them there. The reply is that it’s the only place he can see and have a hope of finding them. I think far too many of these sorts of discussions are like that. We deal only with the knowable information (although as I mentioned I’m not sure all do agree on the ethical basis Varly sees as common ground) ignoring the fact that the significant questions simply aren’t answerable by that common ground.

    Put an other way, it’s a great place to begin the discussion but it’s kind of a hopeless basis for answering anything.

  56. The problem is that religion isn’t just about politics.
    Not to some KevinCraig@KevinCraig.US
    “When the Student is Ready, the Teacher will appear.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,403 other followers