Some people have wondered why we did not mention religion when we wrote:
And yet, a substantial proportion of our fellow citizens still waste their sense of wonder on rubbish like telepathy, astrology and UFO sightings.
Isn't all that true of religions too?
Well, it is and it isn't. Religions share with those beliefs the property of being factually false, and of defining a sub-culture of uncritical believers. On the other hand, some religious traditions also contain evolved, mostly inexplicit, knowledge which is highly valuable. While atheists nowadays can obtain all those deep truths elsewhere, and in most cases better, that does not make religion rubbish in the sense that telepathy, astrology and sightings of extraterrestrial spaceships are. And religions have all sorts of cultural resonances and historical significance, to say nothing of their more contingent connections with things like the arts. Even if it is true that UFO-loonies once contributed to the discovery of some meteorological phenomenon or other, that is not quite in the same league as having delivered the concept of objective right and wrong, or of the unity of mankind, to Western civilization. To dismiss all that just because the religion isn't actually true is like saying that Shakespeare is worthless because his descriptions of Macbeth or Richard III are historically inaccurate. So in short, when religious people marvel at their religion, they are not necessarily “wasting their sense of wonder” at all.
But now – wouldn't you know it? – just as we atheists are drawing these fine distinctions to distinguish religion from pure rubbish, some Holy Man (or more precisely, Silly Man) in Scotland is busily trying to erase them again:
An exorcist yesterday called for a ‘crusade from the pulpits’ against the growing power of the occult.
Father Jim McManus said paganism and witchcraft were intertwined with evil and needed to be stamped out.
The 62-year-old priest - the only Catholic clergyman to perform the service of “deliverance” regularly - said devil worship could only lead to tragedy.
Fr McManus said: “Witchcraft has as its basis an evil source - devil worship…”
Presumably, unlike the cynical TV executives we spoke of, he doesn't know better. Perhaps he hasn't thought about it – not thinking about such things being an occupational hazard of the Faithful. But nevertheless, by speaking in this manner of the non-existent “source” of non-existent “witchcraft”, what he is doing is endorsing the claims of the lunatics. (So are these people who object to Harry Potter, by the way.) Lunatics who, incidentally, adhere to a rival religion.
Oh well. It's not really our job to set religion to rights, is it? So – as you were, everyone: here endeth the sermon.