Bad Religion, 4

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

So, to Aristotle we turn — to the notion of human flourishing, to the alignment with God’s natural law which will enable the same, and to the virtues which characterise this alignment. So far, so Aquinas.

Reason, Vardy believes (again, invoking Kant), has largely shown us just what this human flourishing is. After all, people from diverse religions and cultures — “Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Guru Nanak, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela”  — have all discovered “what it is to be a human being at its best” (p.61). We also largely agree on what it means to stunt and oppose human flourishing, an agreement which gives the Nuremberg trials and the international criminal court in The Hague their moral legitimacy.

“Good religion” promotes human flourishing and can be seen “to help people to develop into individuals where compassion, patience, love, pity, the ability to forgive, and absence of anger and humility are all present” (p.68).

Quite what the difference is between “good religion” and secular humanism is not yet clear at this point in Vardy’s book. Next: the danger, according to Vardy, of authority and belonging.


Bad Religion, 3.

Bad Religion, 2.

Bad Religion, 1.


  1. The welfare arm of the church makes me proud to be a Mormon. It’s an island of reassurance when I find myself getting heated about church politics, doctrine, or culture. Service projects, moving people, visiting and home teachers, providing communal support through rough times…these are things at which good religions excel.
    Indeed, friendship is one of the grand fundamentals of Mormonism.

    Whether these human-helping deeds are artifacts of being religious continues to be studied. So far, it looks like being social is more influential that belief in a god when it comes to developing the qualities listed above. This is something that is both encouraging and frustrating to non-believers.,_happy_with_life

    Taking a god out of the happiness equation is heartening, but they readily concede that religions currently have a corner on the social market. Humanist meet-ups and Skeptics in the Pub don’t compare to visiting teachers and ready-made meals when a family member dies. A great deal of discussion is focused on how to catch up to the centuries-long lead religions have on local groups and important life events.

    Human flourishing is a large tent. It is a place where believers and nons can get their humanism/future-godism on cooperatively. People may have different reasons for similar good actions, but those can be reconciled over time.

  2. Human flourishing must always be weighed against spiritual flourishing. Sometimes it will win, sometimes it will lose. We make any claims about having found “human being at its best” at the risk of disagreeing with any opinion that God may have.

    Thus, the correlation between “good religion” and “human flourishing” will reflect an unseen, immaterial spiritual context. Without divine guidance, we have only a partial understanding on which to make our decisions.

    But, in this situation, we have an advantage over Catholics. They consider Aquinas a Saint and “Doctor of the Church”, while Aristotle was considered a (the?) major influence on St. Aquinas. And since most Catholic’s tend to equate Saints to Prophets, they are at an intellectual disadvantage. We need not mistake our logic for God’s judgment.

%d bloggers like this: