Sunday, August 09, 2009

Is belief all it’s cracked up to be?

The endless debates and arguments sparked off in recent years by the phenomenal success of books by the New Atheists — an irritating term to describe writers such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens — have a number of strands that are not always clearly disentangled. One thread of criticism, developed by writers such as Karen Armstrong, is that these authors have a childish, not to mention foolish, obsession with the beliefs of religious people. For Armstrong, this mistake finds a parallel in the obsessive defence of specific beliefs and doctrines by followers of religious traditions. The problem, in short, is that religion should not really be construed as a matter of belief, but should be seen as a form of practical knowledge, something you do rather than think. I’ve written a short piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free section following up the implications of this recommendation.