Not religion again?! Yup, I'm afraid so. Though I have no obligation to explain why I should take as much time on this subject as I have been doing lately, an explanation of sorts will emerge, as it were organically, towards the end of the post, for anyone who's interested in going that far.
Mick, of Mick Hartley, wonders why I took the trouble I did responding to A.C. Grayling. Grayling's was a polemic, he says, part of an ongoing debate, and it would be tedious if every contributor to a debate felt they had to cover the whole ground. If Grayling had written a book on religion and left out the thing I was taking him to task for, then my criticism might be understandable, but as things stand, it's taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
These are my thoughts...
Even a short polemic may be assessed in terms of how effective it's likely to be, and therefore criticizing it for being ineffective, for being bound to miss its mark, to fail to be persuasive, seems to the point.
Such failures are likely if the polemic in question does not even address the key point it will be expected to meet by anyone not already persuaded of the convictions of the polemic's author. This was the case with Grayling's post. Putatively about religion as a force (on balance) for evil, it did not ask in a serious way about how much good religion might be responsible for, proceeding merely by mockery and belittlement.
Mick says that, because Grayling's argument is part of a wider debate, few could be unaware of the view that religion is a force for good - one isn't required to 'list all the points for the other side'. But this, in a way, is the crux. A polemic needs, precisely, to be able to meet the strongest arguments on the other side. The idea that you can simply leave them out, because the other side will be making them anyway, doesn't help you. You want an answer of some kind, beyond poking fun at English churchgoers and their cakes.
As to sledgehammer and nut, now come on, Mick, be fair, be proportionate: A.C. wrote a blog post; I replied, not with a book, not with a journal article, but with a post two-thirds as long. I say - nutcracker.
Still, I'm aware I've been writing a fair bit on religion lately, and it isn't for the first time. How come? Well, as everyone's noticed, there's a certain amount of fanatical religion around today, some of it of murderous inclination. It is important to combat this, to argue for the values of tolerance and secularism and a pluralist democratic society. I hope the overall political alignment of this blog has been such as to emphasize those priorities. But I do not think they are well served, and neither is the argument against fanatical religion, by a stance of mockery towards the religious, whether fanatical or not, of denial that religious doctrine and teachings could have any value whatsover, and of the temptation to deny also - what is patently true - that countless people have been brought by their religious beliefs to act well towards others and to try to lessen some of the miseries of human existence. As a confirmed atheist, I find it dismaying when those on the same side as I am, loosely speaking, discredit our case by the addition to it of lightminded provocation.