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Reason and faith are like oil and water

Published:Tuesday | February 5, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Hilaire Sobers , Guest Columnist

Hilaire Sobers, Guest Columnist

his column 'An unexamined life is not worth living' (Gleaner, February 1, 2013), Peter Espeut contends, "The greatest enemies of true religion are apathy, sloppy reasoning, and dishonesty." I wouldn't accuse Peter of being apathetic to religion. However, his column was a model of the sort of sloppy reasoning that I've come to expect from Christian apologists. So perhaps in that regard, "sloppy reasoning and dishonesty" are actually the allies of religion.

Peter claims that it is "all the fashion to attack religion, and Christianity in particular". Apart from citing positions supposedly adopted by natural and social scientists, he claims that others attack Christianity out of discomfort with its "ethical demands". This discomfort, he asserts, leads such persons "to discredit Christianity in order to legitimise their lifestyles".

First, Christianity doesn't need anybody to discredit it - it does a superior job all on its own. Second, the "ethical demands" go beyond simply proselytising; they seek and find political expression in laws that have the effect of imposing Christian beliefs on all individuals, whether they subscribe to Christianity or not.

This is demonstrated by the following: 1) Jamaican law continues to criminalise blasphemy and obeah, even though we claim to uphold the principle of freedom of religion; 2) Jamaican law criminalises certain private sexual acts done by consenting adults, even as we claim to uphold a right to privacy and equality under the law; 3) Jamaican law imposes a Christian notion of marriage, even in a country with several groups of non-Christians.

Christianity, given its totalitarian outlook, is the antithesis of human rights and liberal democracy. This is the principal basis upon which many secularists, including me, attack religion, and more particularly, Christianity. Objection to Christian tyranny is not about legitimising lifestyles; it's about combating an institution (religion) that is more interested in imposing its own brand of morality than in protecting the inherent dignity and rights of all.

Contrary to Peter's claim, it's not true religion that leads to liberation of people; it's respect for their human rights that does. That's what the Enlightenment project was, and continues to be all about - ensuring that we do not return to that period when religion was in the ascendancy - the Dark Ages.

I'm rather amused by Peter's tortured treatment of science and religion. For him, science is incapable of refuting the existence of God, contending that "positivist or empirical sciences accept as data only those phenomena which can be observed and measured".


He goes on to say, "By definition, God is a spirit, not detectable by the human senses or scientific instruments." This, of course, raises the obvious question: If God is not detectable by the human senses or scientific instruments, on what basis can Peter (a human, I presume) claim any knowledge of God's existence?

According to Peter, belief in the existence of God is a matter of faith, not science. If God exists as a matter of faith, and not science, does that not mean that Santa Claus, Thor, Zeus, and Mithra also exist as a matter of "faith"?

What Peter seems not to appreciate is that faith and knowledge are not one and the same - this is demonstrated most egregiously in his claim that theology is "queen of the sciences". Theology, given its faith foundation, is more a branch of mythology than science. Atheism is simply lack of belief in a deity. To say that atheism has the characteristics of a religion is as fatuous as claiming that not collecting stamps has the characteristic of a hobby.

Peter complains that many people who enter this debate " are not rigorous enough in their arguments", and "have only a passing acquaintance with religion, or a shallow understanding of science". Given Peter's command of religion, my parting shot would be "two out of three ain't bad ".

Hilaire Sobers is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to and