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Heathen's progress, part one: stalemate

30th September 2011

Julian Baggini | The Guardian

In a debate that has been full of controversy and rancour, there is one assertion that surely most can agree with without dispute: the God wars have reached a tedious impasse, with all sides resorting to repetition of the same old arguments, which are met with familiar, unsatisfactory responses. This is a stalemate, with the emphasis firmly on "stale". My heart sinks whenever I am invited to talk or write about the existence of God, whether science is compatible with faith, or whether religion is the root of all evil. I struggle to say something new, knowing that this is such well-trodden ground, the earth is packed too firmly for any new light to get in. The only hope is to start digging it up.

I do not blame the quagmire on the intransigence of any of the three sides in the debate – believers, atheists and agnostics – but on all of them. Broadly speaking, the problem is that the religious mainstream establishment maintains a Janus-faced commitment to both medieval doctrines and public pronouncements about inclusivity and moderation; agnostics and more liberal believers promote an intellectualised version of religion, which both reduces faith to a thin gruel and fails to reflect the reality of faith on the ground; while the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects.

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