From Peter Vardy's Good and Bad Religion

In the conclusion for Good and Bad Religion Peter Vardy declares that bad religion “can often be more about belonging to a group than about personal transformation.” All religions and pseudo-religions simply have to claim to be about changing you and the wider society period. That is the problem. They blame the misbehavers for not using the religion properly. Catholicism claims that its sacraments that do nothing can change people and blames the person when that does not happen. All religions open the excuse box and so all religions are dodgy even if some of them cannot be called bad. Vardy should know the Qur'an teaches that if your good deeds outweigh your bad ones Paradise is yours at death. Bad people have to do enough good or they will cause the rapid collapse of their schemes. So it is safe to say Islam is about being Muslim rather than being good.

Now, “claiming the supposed command of God without any rational basis for determining whether such commands stem from God can be no longer acceptable.” If all he is asking for is for people to show that there is evidence that the command even if we hate it is God's will that could vindicate fundamentalist doctrines. A fundamentalist who finds that a command that God wants woman to be man's servant is wrong can drop that on evidential grounds and maybe he will find that the scripture says it was never meant to be an eternal law may still find that the ban on gay sex is from God. It depends. 

He says “good religion is not afraid of science but will be committed to the view that religion and science are both seeking truth.” Truth is truth. That is why two different methods of trying to learn truths have to find a meeting point and share the truths and come up with a paradigm, an explanatory model. Otherwise they are not seeking truth wherever the search leads but being selective in what truths they want to find. Religion tries to formulate its claims in such a way that science cannot look into them. For example, God is defined as spirit, a non-physical entity, so that blocks science from searching for him. Vardy to his credit seems to agree when he writes, "science and religion are both interested in truth but there cannot be two truths. While the most obvious way to respond to tensions between religion and science is to suggest that one must be in error, it could also be that both science and religion are true and therefore their truths must be compatible." This is a clever bit of obscurantism! The big tension is over whether nature shows signs of a benevolent guide, a maker, or not. That is a huge question. It is not something like the incineration of Sodom where either science or the Bible with their different interpretations might be right. And compatible is not enough. A jigsaw piece is missing and you get one that fits in. It looks like it is in place. Complimentary is what you need. The fact remains that the Bible God encourages nobody to test things with experiments. That just happened anyway. And as many religions have required doctrines that came from men who wrongly claimed to be getting them from God then what religion exactly are we talking about when we say religion can fit science? Assumptions and lies be they religious or not are inherently a danger to science. Disingenuous Vardy does not tell us what religion fits science. He knows he can't just say that. He needs to lay out the work and show the fit. He does not for he cannot.

He says a religion must confront the unjust in its ranks for silence is being complicit “The demand to practise justice is one of the strongest, most powerful and most universal of all religious demands. God is held, above all, to require justice”. This is a shameless lie for he regards, as do most Churches in his country, capital punishment as wrong. Yet the Muslim tradition and the Bible endorse it. Jesus even told the Jews off for letting boys who God said should be executed away with it if they paid a fine. And Buddhists do not believe in God. Karma is seen not as justice but as how a bad or good deed rebounds on you. Its reaction not justice. We know that no religion says much when people are punished too lightly or too harshly. And religion like the rest of us does not have a good idea of how to treat people who do harm. The inconsistency in the courts is shocking. It has never been any different. The talk about justice is just hypocritical whitewash.

This point here should be the be all and end all. It solves all the problems with bad religion. If your religion is ridden with error or bad for you then walk. “Good religion respects human freedom. It does not seek to coerce people, is willing to educate young people into alternative perspectives other than its own, while being confident in its own position”. By their fruits you know them. Jesus said. No religion obeys the principle except Wicca and some groups within Buddhism. 99% of religion does not respect religious freedom and it was no different centuries ago. Solidarity with those who were oppressed means you cannot just overlook it. Protest. Walk if you have to. Find the door.

“Bad religion can often be a text-based religion. Texts are dangerous because they can so easily be misused. They can be held to justify so many different interpretations. Some uses of texts may be legitimate, others may not. Bad religion frequently results from an illegitimate use of the text, and also always occurs where there is a lack of humility about the way in which the text is read. Neutral readings of any text are impossible, and anybody who claims to have literal textual authority for a religious doctrine or practice needs to be subject to severe scrutiny. Good religion should be open to discussions about the meaning of any text.” That is fine as long as clear attempts to distort are avoided. A text has to mean something. You need to put yourself in the writer's place. But Vardy should admit that tradition or oral teaching based religion can be easily distorted too. And as speech is fluid and you depend on memory we conclude that liberal religion where you have vague doctrines and where spiritual feelings are put first and persons care more about "my truth" is going to lead far more quickly to people being fooled, lied too, confused and hurt. There is nothing in writing to refer to.

I like this line for we too often use sincerity as an excuse for looking the other way when a religion is abusive or manipulative, “sincerity is all too often present in bad religion, but this cannot excuse its badness.”

We read then, “bad religion has forgotten that religion is a human response to a mystery that is never more than partially understood. Good religion respects and values its history and traditions but recognizes that it is a living tradition, open to the possibility of change and development. Good religion is a journey towards God however one considers the divine, and is grounded in the freedom and autonomy of the individual. Its
practices are tools and food for the journey; they are not ends in themselves.”

This is an argument for dangerous liberal religion. Fundamentalists too call God a mystery who can be partly understood in himself. But they hold that God's action is what we can know of. That is why they regard the Bible as so important and as a record of how God engages with his people. They deny that is a mystery. How God works is a mystery but what he has done is not. The way some religions such as Catholicism and Mormonism use sacraments as food for the journey and limits them to their members does make the rites ends in themselves. It is about othering those who are not Catholic or Mormon. What would you think of a soup kitchen that would not feed anybody aged 25?

If religion can hurt or heal as this book says, what if it is God’s religion? It does not even matter for no religion has a monopoly on helping people. If God is good then the followers of his religion are somehow injecting harm in it. They turn what is innately good into something that is innately both good and bad. God is still to blame for he makes humans responsible for religion and he knows what they are like. If God did not set up the religion then we are blaming the people wrongly for turning something innately good into something that is both bad and good. Nothing human can be innately totally good. Dangers happen once a human construct is seen as innately good. The only answer is to reach for the exit door.

Religion is also not something that accidentally hurts. We are talking here about something that does good to you but with a but. It might turn nasty.
The book lists what good religion would be like but despite itself shows no religion is or has ever been truly good.

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