Reason and the Gods

The content and quality is somewhat undersold by the title but this session from IAI HTLGI (not sure which year?) has some fascinating examples of the key dialogues.

Titled “Reason and the Gods”
Subtitled “The necessity of religion and spirituality”

Gottlieb ultimately falling back on – “but what do we mean by religion” – when asked to address some specific assertion about the inevitability and need for religion, by Baggini in the chair. Need to (at least implicitly) classify an ontology as part of the question. Sure, wide / shallow definitions – land-grabs – always kill the dialogue, but in good faith the parts and layers present or absent need to be addressed separately. There are a whole range of “religious” components – and on many dimensions too, from:

  • The spiritual feel of more than the objectified individual in a material world
  • Meaning of life in the good(s) lived for – Maslow and all that.
  • Theistic and non-theistic framework and physical/literal and metaphorical and/or ritual conceptions of these.
  • Dogma and denial or intolerance of alternatives and formal authority of texts and priests and organised ritual, etc.
  • We’re talking about some or all of these (and maybe some more independent aspects I’ve missed) when we talk about religious belief, and whether or not we need a comprehensive religion to satisfy the need for any one part (if at all).

Woodhead – voices a counterbalance to the “all you need is love” and golden-rule consideration idea, that is, you also need truth and courage etc. There’s a word for this amorphous collection of personal good – Virtue (after virtues).

Anyway, the main reason for posting was the people.

  • Julian Baggini I already know and like (much referenced here). In this dialogue Baggini is chair and handles it well, with his knowledgable ability to summarise and ask the next question.
  • Anthony Gottlieb I’ve never seen or heard speak, but was a big fan of his two books “The Dream of Reason” and “The Dream of Enlightenment” (Both of which I saw as supplemented – even completed – by Kenan Malik’s “Moral Compass” – which is relevant topic-wise though he’s not part of this dialogue.) Gottlieb, as my one comment above suggests, is cast as the anti-religious atheist / rationalist / humanist role in this dialogue, so I suspect doesn’t do justice to the nuances of his real position.
  • Linda Woodhead I’m aware of but not previously registered any of her contributions explicitly. Came across as an excellent considered defender of the place of religion, with all the subtleties in the detail. Must follow-up.
  • Myriam François I’d not come across at all before. She was a breath of fresh air. Proper assured dialogue in the role of SOAS Islamist / Journalist in this archetypically God vs Reason caricature. Must follow-up.

Also published on Medium.

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