Tag Archives: Alister McGrath

Ideology and violence

Religious violence a concern of academics too

I want to comment here on some strawmannery from a local theologian/philosopher of religion (Matt at MandM) in his post Religion and Violence. But first two important points:

1: He concentrates on the common perception of a relationship between religion and violence made by atheist writers (he claims these “themes abound in the writings of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens.”). Matt’s obsession with atheists obscures the fact that this theme is also common in academia, and indeed theology. Theologian Alister McGrath, for example, has welcomed the fact that this problem has been brought to popular attention.  And this recognised relationship between religion and violence concerns many people who for governmental or professional reasons have to deal with terrorism and its influence.

2: Any analysis which limits violence and terrorism to the influence of religion is far too simple. Unfortunately this naivety is sometimes advanced by using Stephen Weinberg’s quote:

“With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

I criticised the way atheists sometimes use this quote in my article Sources of evil? Partly because it does lead to them being misrepresented, open to strawmannery.  I pointed out:

“None of these authors [Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris   and Michael Jordan] claim religion inevitably leads to evil. As Richard Dawkins said in a recent Newsweek article “It would be absurd to suggest such a thing: just as absurd as to generalize about all atheists.” Nor are they denying the evil carried out in the name of non-religous causes.”

That’s why I suggested that Weinberg’s quote should have really read:

“With or without ideology you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes ideology.”

Bait and switch? Continue reading


This is a word I had never heard before – but instantly understood its meaning, and usefulness, when I did come across it. It leapt off the page while reading Steven Pinker’s book  How the Mind Works. Talking about  religious food taboos  Pinker describes the ingenious justifications rabbis offer for Jewish dietary laws. He refers to elders cloaking them “in talmudic sophistry and bafflegab.”

I had been looking for a word to describe the gobbledegook that aggressive religious apologists often come out with to justify their claims. Some of these religious spokespersons seem to have training in philosophy, logic, debating and presentation and put these all to use in justifying the unjustifiable. Plenty of form but horrible content.

Anyone following the religion vs science debates will be familiar with the justifications of Alister McGrath (usually preceded by “I would argue that ..”) and John Lennox (especially in ustifying his belief in miracles). I don’t know whether their fellow religious thinkers can understand and agree with these justifications but they certainly cause my eyes to glaze over.

It’s all bafflegab to me. Continue reading