Theo Hobson Theo Hobson

Don’t blame religion

Theo Hobson says that the suicide bombers are not inspired by a belief in an afterlife so much as by political ideology — like the kamikaze pilots of the second world war

Theo Hobson says that the suicide bombers are not inspired by a belief in an afterlife so much as by political ideology — like the kamikaze pilots of the second world war

Heaven is the problem. That is what the atheists are saying. Religion is dangerous because it hooks us on heaven; it encourages us to prefer another world to this one. Once people are gulled into believing in eternal bliss, they are likely to be impatient for it. Is it any great surprise that some believers lose all respect for this world and its inhabitants, when they have been told that it is a shadowy antechamber to the real deal?

This is what Matthew Parris said soon after the London bombings: that the problem lies not with extremist Islam but with any faith that dangles the afterlife before us. Polly Toynbee agreed: ‘If religions teach that life after death is better then it is hardly surprising that some crazed followers will actually believe it.’ Has Richard Dawkins uttered lately? If so he probably repeated what he said after September 11: that the most dangerous weapon in history is a mind brainwashed by the prospect of eternal bliss.

For these atheists, the suicide bomber is the essential religious believer: in love with another world, careless of this one, cosmically selfish. This horrific potential for inhumanity is present in all religion, while religion denies that this world is all that there is.

Their thesis, come to think of it, is faithful to the gospel according to John Lennon: ‘Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try; nothing to kill or die for, above us only sky.’ If only people would stop believing in another world, then enlightened folk like us could get on with healing this one.

Are they right, these fearless freethinkers? Have they cut through the flim-flam and nailed religion? Have they got its number? Is the lust for eternal bliss the key to religious motivation? Is this why monks and nuns forgo various earthly pleasures, because they think that something infinitely better is waiting? Do they think of earthly pleasure as a matter of impatience, like filling up at McDonald’s en route to the Ritz? Is this why a priest agrees to earn a pittance in a slum parish, to be a fat-cat in eternity? Is it why Rowan Williams puts up with all those bickering factions? Is it why the average Christian tries to behave well, and tries to believe things his clever friends mock?

I think things are a little more complicated.

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