Rendering unto Caesar

I have always thought people were entitled to their own beliefs no matter how silly they might seem to me especially as I am more than capable of thinking up my own share of rubbish.

I live in the town of Lewes in southern England where we pass, every day, a small memorial to a group of  17 Protestants who were burnt at the stake during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary I.  They believed their thing and were prepared to die for it, Mary, of course, believed her stuff too and was prepared to kill for it just as her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I would do after her.  That is the problem.

These days we can look back not only on hundreds of years of religious persecution and religious martyrdom but we can also just look in our daily newspapers to find modern equivalents. Some people seem to need to enforce their views on everyone else. I don’t even have to mention 9/11 for you to know what I mean.

There is an old debating point that looks to all those people who have died in the name of religion but it tends to ignore the 20th. Century’s mass murdering atheist dictators who did more than their share in redressing the horror balance.

So, in spite of the downside of religious fundamentalist fanatacism, I have tried to stay relaxed about other people’s beliefs hoping that they will just get on with their own lives and leave the rest of us in peace. Let’s hope so or, if you prefer, pray so.

As someone who is trying to be a poet, I had noticed the odd rhyming potential of the names of England’s two most distinguished Atheists, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and no doubt someone will think that is all a part of the devil’s work. I don’t believe in the Devil any more than I believe in the other chap but my tolerance for other people’s belief systems has been challenged of late by Richard Dawkins’ (“The God Delusion”) insistence on telling us all that certain things don’t exist. He is, I am sure, a perfectly nice intellectual kind of bloke but his particular form of atheism feels the urge to impose his belief, or lack of belief on everyone else, just like Queen Mary before him. If,  Richard Dawkins, you don’t believe in God then maybe you should rabbit on about something else.

Stephen Hawking, is everyone’s favourite scientist, and I am not alone, I am sure, in finding that electonic voice highly beguiling. He became famous for writing the world’s most bought unfinished book, A Brief History of Time, where he took modern physics to the verge of the possibility of looking into the “mind of God,” if indeed there was one. It was, I assumed at the time, an elegant turn of phrase that was not meant entirely seriously. God does not feature that strongly in Stephen Hawking’s philosophy. Now he has brought out a new book, The Grand Design, in which he develops the idea of spontaneous creation where, he believes, the laws of physics can explain the creation of the universe, and all the other ones, without any need for a creating God.

It sounds like a fascinating book but it has caused another of those media storms where some religious people have responded with anger and contempt and where some atheists and agnostics, have over-reacted the other way by declaring the final death of God.

Science and religion have been quarreling ever since intelligent people got involved on either side and I hope that the debate will continue but without hatred and intolerance. Once, the Christian Church burnt anyone who they thought aired dangerous and heretical views that differed from their own. Nowadays, in trendy non-believing cafe society at least, we symbolically burn believers with our scorn.

I suspect Professor Hawking, is, in this new book, making a point that he knows is irrelevant to religious belief systems.  Most sane and intelligent religious believers have allowed science’s power to explain the World and then the Universe and beyond, without feeling that the significance of religious faith has been challenged.

If we are looking for a scientific basis for religion, it should not be in the world of physics, any more than, with Darwin, it was to be found in biology, if we want a scientific view of religion,  we should look at psychology.

Everyone who finds comfort in religion or even in a spiritual way of looking for meaning in life, should and, I suspect, will feel unchallenged by Stephen Hawking important work in the realm of physics. I hope that some of those interferring, proselytising atheists will leave them in peace.

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