Bishop of London Excited as Britain Heads Toward 'Post Secular Age'

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres, is apparently rubbing his little Christian hands together with glee at the potential prospect of Britain entering what he called a 'post secular age.' A sort of enlightenment in reverse, if you like.

His little show of excitement, expressed at a meeting of the Christian Fellowship in east London last Wednesday, was inspired at least in part by a recent speech by President of the British Science Association, Lord May.
Images: The Bishop of London the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chatres; Lord May, President of the British Science Association.

Speaking about the threat of climate change, and our difficulty in organising any kind of coherent global response to it, Lord May suggested that in the past, religious authority - by invoking an all-knowing, all-powerful deity - was a very effective method of ensuring the cohesion of society or, to simplify, the threat of divine punishment - if believed - is a very good way of getting people to do what they're told.

He also said that the rise of fundamentalism could hamper and threaten a unified response.

I've not been able to find a full transcript of his comments, which is unfortunate, because his speech has been lept upon by those with a religious agenda as evidence that Lord May, who is an atheist, is supportive of the power that religious authority could wield in our efforts to combat climate change, whilst those leaning toward my side of the fence have stressed that he was speaking out against religion's rejection of evidence. I should very much like to read his comments for myself, so if any of you know of a website that has a full transcript, please send me the URL.

As an example of how his comments have been interpreted by both sides, please take a look at the following links, one from the left-leaning Independent and one from the (moderately!) more right wing Daily Telegraph:

The Independent

The Torygraph

As you can see, these reporters could almost have been listening to a different speech.

To return to Dicky Chartres and his evident happiness about this, here is what he said:

“He suggested that only God was capable of evoking an appropriate response to the ecological challenges currently facing humanity. While this country may not be described as religious, we may be entering a period that is post-secular. For those of us who are believers, this is a huge opportunity. It is a very exciting time to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

“Lord May opens yet another opportunity for us because the view of the world that has held sway until comparatively recently is one summed up in a conversation between Napoleon and one of his leading scientists. Napoleon said, ‘Well, what about God’? And the scientist says, ‘Well, your majesty, I have seen no need for that hypothesis’. ”

He also said that:

“The ‘collapse’ gurus who are operating on so many websites are largely not people of faith. Many intelligent people are looking at what they believe is a god-forsaken world.

“So Lord May’s comments point to an extremely significant moment in which our perspective on the world is being refashioned in response to contemporary economic and environmental challenges. And in which a search for a more holistic understanding of reality is rendering the rather flatland, mechanistic, reductionist descriptions of the recent past increasingly unsatisfying.

“Because if the reference to God is edited out, then the world simply becomes a theatre for the human will. We come to regard ourselves as little gods and our will as sovereign.”

This seems to me nothing more than a classical, cynical attempt to capitalise on people's fears. Religion feeds on your fear and ignorance, and could not survive without it. Only God is capable of saving you from the man-made disaster we're walking in to. It is indeed "a very exciting time to be a servant of Jesus Christ." Or Allah. Or any god you like, so long as people are scared and ignorant, organised religion will be there to ease their pain.

The Bishop highlights his own considerable ignorance (or at least panders to that of his audience) by referring to the mathemetician Laplace's report to Napoleon. Indeed he had no need to invoke a divine controller, as had Newton, when he calculated the movements of the planets and their orbits, but to say that somehow since then belief in God has been irrelevant is to neglect history in the extreme.

And what does Dicky boy mean by saying that this view has "held sway until comparitively recently"? At what point in our recent history has the scientific establishment thrown up it's arms and said something like 'you know, we just can't figure out how any of this universe business and life here on Earth could possibly have come about without being designed. Laplace was wrong, we do have need of that hypothesis. We therefore declare that God is responsible, and, furthermore, that we should worship his son the Lord Jesus Christ as our only true saviour'?

To turn to his comments about 'collapse gurus', IE those who think we've already gone too far and a catastrophic (to humans) re-adjustment of the Earth's climate is inevitable; of what consequence to anything is their belief or lack of it in a god? We are (or should be!) only concerned by their evaluation of evidence, and interpretations of models. Whether they believe in the tooth fairy, or are looking forward to an eternity spent feasting in Valhalla is entirely their own concern, PROVIDING WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT THE HERE-AFTER DOES NOT INFLUENCE THEIR INTERPRETATION OF THE EVIDENCE.

If "Many intelligent people are looking at what they believe is a god-forsaken world" then I sincerely hope that many more intelligent people are looking at a world where the existence or non-existence of a god has absolutely no bearing WHATSOEVER on whether we've got our maths right.

If we really do need organised religion to make people behave, then we're absolutely fucked aren't we?

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