Sunday, 28 August 2005

2am eternal

It's 2 am. On the world service: "Reporting Religion".

First up, two rabbis discuss the meaning of Zionism. One of them believes that compromise over the status of Jerusalem is impossible, because the Jewish people have a contract with God.

Next: Delhi is being overrun by monkeys, who have been e.g. attacking children. The monkeys cannot be harmed because they are sacred, in fact divine.

And finally, does the Koran contain truths only recently discovered by Western science? A columnist in an Egyptian newspaper thinks so, and has a page of scriptural reinterpretation every week.

The traditional response to idiocies of this kind has been something like "religion and science deal with different, incommensurable kinds of truth". Here's an alternative way to look at it. All the three ideas above involve empirical claims, which are more or less testable... and completely preposterous. Monkey Gods, contracts between God and his "chosen people", quantum physics hidden in the Koran code: what serious person can regard these ideas with anything but contempt?

There are some complex explanations of the "revenge of God", the resurgence of religion over the past fifty years. Here's a simple one, which I'm sure cannot be the whole truth: enlightened, thoughtful people took their eye off the ball. The others got so angry when we disputed their stories, that it became easier just to go along and to pretend that there was no fact of the matter in these areas. So the nutters grew louder, more confident and madder than ever. Now we should learn our lesson. When someone talks nonsense, we should stand up and call it nonsense to its face.