Religion… a Panopticon for the future?

I am a liberal atheist, by which I mean that I do not seek in any way to persuade others to my belief that there is no god of any kind, nor do I seek to encourage others to adopt a rationalist stance on the matter.  If people wish to believe in a god or gods – and there do seem to be quite a few gods in religious belief systems – and enjoy their beliefs,  that is their right … but, inevitably, because this is a law blog I introduce a Benthamite caveat…provided it does not cause more harm to others than it provides pleasure to believers.

I used to teach Jurisprudence… a subject, sadly, which many universities now consign to the larder of obscure options and which legal regulators appear no longer to regard as a subject which will help the young lawyer become an expert in conveyancing, prosecuting and defending criminals or become a highly paid maven on mergers and acquisitions or… indeed…. legal work of any kind.  Be that as it may.

It was Voltaire who said “If god didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him” and history reveals that it was remarkably convenient to have a god and a structured system of rules as an instrument of social control.  I hesitate to go further lest I find myself banged up at a secure police station in West London for breaching the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

I would like it to be perfectly clear, as a liberal atheist,(Lest some police officer is behind with his ‘nickings’ this month)  that I have no intention of breaching s. 29B of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act because I am, just that, a liberal atheist – tolerant, inclusive, relaxed and  laid back, about the things fellow human beings believe in.

I would, however, like to commend a piece written by Professor Turley, a US academic, on Blaspemy laws.

Professor Turley writes in USA Today…

Perhaps in an effort to rehabilitate the United States’ image in the Muslim world, the Obama administration has joined a U.N. effort to restrict religious speech. This country should never sacrifice freedom of expression on the altar of religion.

I leave you with one thought – is it sensible to have prime ministers, presidents, ayatollahs, et al who believe in so many different gods, running our various countries?  Perhaps the world would be better served without the influence of so many religions?  I am just asking, in a spirit of reasoned debate, and not inciting.

PS… One of the great ironies of Jeremy Bentham is that he designed the Panopticon, a prison designed is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the “sentiment of an invisible omniscience.”[1]

5 thoughts on “Religion… a Panopticon for the future?

  1. It all points to a secular approach to civil life and separation of state from faith, with respect for the latter where that is respectful of others.
    On the subject of belief I can thoroughly recommend the work of Don Cupitt and his definition of God as “the personification of the relationship a person has with their own existence”.
    Not only is this the best definition I have heard for personal purposes, under such a definition all differences become reconciled and even Richard Dawkins would be subdued.

  2. Respect for others is perhaps the scarcest commodity in the modern world. With a reasonable, and evenly distributed, supply of it, the separating faith and state might be unnecessary. And there would be no need for ASBOs or PCSOs.

  3. A secular state was introduced in the UK after 1680 and led to a period of great prosperity and advances in science and culture. (Somebody should persuade Nick Griffin to read Addison’s Spectator to stop him making silly statements about London being full of foreigners, btw.)

    However, we seem to be slipping from protection of religious freedom to protection of religious orthodoxy. In a society where the majority of people are not affiliated with any church or sect, I regard this as a potentially serious curb on religious freedom.

  4. I’m am not a cultural relativist so therefore not a fan of the Administration’s move with regard to the UN.

    It is too bad they are not paying attention to the English experience. When the blasphmey law was on the books here, the great debate was whether to open it to cover all religions – or to get rid of it all together. I’m glad it’s gone.

    Think about it – who’s going to decide what’s blasphemous or not – the believers themselves? Who will the self-appointed experts be?

    No thanks.

    I am offended by other people’s speech every day. Why is my outrage any less worthy than someone’s religious sensibilities being offended.

    Offend me as must as you like. I’ll be able to shoulder the uninformed’s views in print or speech – and they should equally be able to deal with mine.

  5. Religious scholars generally agree that writing a single definition that applies to all religions is difficult or even impossible, because all people examine religion with some kind of critical eye, and the term is therefore fraught with ideological consequences for anyone who might want to construct a universal definition. Talal Asad writes that “there cannot be a universal definition of religion … because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes”[5]; Thomas A. Tweed, while defending the idea of religion in general, writes that “it would be foolish to set up an abstract definition of religion’s essence, and then proceed to defend that definition from all comers.”[6]

    The earliest definition of religion is from Johnson’s Dictionary, which simply calls it “a system of faith and worship”. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the late 18th century defined religion as das schlechthinnige Abhängigkeitsgefühl, commonly translated as “a feeling of absolute dependence”.[7] His contemporary Hegel disagreed thoroughly, defining religion as “the Divine Spirit becoming conscious of Himself through the finite spirit.”[8] Clifford Geertz’s definition of religion as a “cultural system” was dominant for most of the 20th century and continues to be widely accepted today.

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