Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world


The Daily Telegraph of Monday 17th March has two interesting pieces about religion. One reports statements made by the author Philip Pullman whose main argument is that extremist religious views provoke evil behaviour. That is 100% true. But some of the reported comments are more questionable. In describing one excess he is reported as saying, “That’s what happens when religion gets its hand on the levers of power. As soon as it has any political influence, it does bad things, becomes cruel and wicked.” That is a characteristic of humanity rather than the abstract concept called religion. Religion began as a means of giving supernatural sanction to forms of behaviour deemed good for society. Pullman is reported as saying “That’s religion prying into places it doesn’t belong. We should resist it.” If the intention is good then surely prying is OK? The UK is a secular society. The state decides what constitutes a good way to live and legislates accordingly. Its determination of what is ‘good’ sometimes differs from the original ideas of religion because circumstances have changed and religious authorities are constrained by the original tie-up with an eternal God who does not change. But laws are not a total answer  and Christianity supplies the underlying motive of love. It is needed. Where Pullman is right, surely, is in condemning the use of power. Power has always corrupted its holders and it makes little difference in which organisation they gain it.

The other piece reports the view of Sir Trevor Nunn that the works of Shakespeare show “more wisdom and insight about our lives” than any religious tract. He rates The Bard above The Bible. This is easy to agree with if you apply one criterion only. Shakespeare wrote to entertain, and his understanding of human nature is what makes his work so marvellous to watch or read. The Bible is a multi-purpose document, intended to record and to explain and to instruct. It attempts more than Shakespeare did, and there are many passages which are up there with The Bard. 


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