10 July 2007

"Standing up for God"

In an article in the Daily Mail (8 July) Peter Lewis, referring to the recent books The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, asks ‘Won’t anyone stand up for God?’

The fact is that modern society does not believe in the individual; it owns him body and soul. ‘Social constructionism’ tells us that the individual is what society sees fit to make him, and he is nothing else whatever. Any sort of God represents competition to society. There might be something else that evaluated things differently and might also exert some influence on the individual mind. Cognitive psychology forbid that such a thing might be!

And so the few remaining remnants of belief in anything outside the current belief system are attacked on grounds that are wildly irrelevant. For example: there cannot be a God of any kind, because a lot of people who said they believed in a God did a lot of torturing and killing of other people. (“Not, mind you, that we have anything against torturing and killing except when it is useful for blaming Christians, capitalists and other sorts of evil people, but in that case we mind about it a lot, especially when the numbers involved are very large. Christians and capitalists have caused a lot of suffering and death to enormous numbers of people.”)

Actually the resistance to the idea of God, or of some external influence with which an individual might make contact, is closely related to the fear of the individual having internal psychological determinants arising from his genetic constitution or, indeed, his early upbringing, unless they are easily overridden by social pressures, counselling, psychiatric ‘help’, etc.

I was always very sceptical from a philosophical point of view, and aware of the uncertainty inherent in all aspects of the existential situation; at the same time I found it quite easy and sensible to regard myself as a respectable bourgeois intellectual and had no inclination to deviate from the behaviour suitable to such a person.

At my Catholic convent school I was regarded as a materialist and atheist, because I did not believe in God, although I think what they really minded about was that I did not believe in society.

At Oxford I was surrounded by atheistic socialists who despised my drives to live purposefully and to do research, on the grounds that they arose from internal psychological determinants which I had not been told to have. So now I was accused of believing in God. ‘I know Celia,’ sneered a female senior executive at the BBC, atheist socialist and friend of the Principal of Somerville, ‘She doesn’t want to do research for any sensible reason, but because she thinks she is divinely suited to it.’

Belief in God became a widespread accusation against me, so much so that when I set up (if you can call it that) my first tiny apology for an academic institution, I was accused of intending to start a new religion, and letters for and against this view went to and fro among influential people. But the most supportive of them only went so far as to defend me against this allegation and neither gave me, nor suggested giving me, any actual help in my grim situation.

Actually I had set up my incipient university research department and residential college in desperate response to being thrown out at the end of the ruined education with no research scholarship and no way of entering an academic career that could lead to a Professorship. To do that was to give precedence to my desperate needs as internally determined, even though they had not been recognised by society. So I was paying attention to considerations other than those prescribed by society — which is what it is feared a belief in God might lead to.