Towards Better Disagreement: Religion and Atheism
Paul Hedges JKP 2016
I happen just to have returned from the Swindon office of BBC Wiltshire where I was tasked to review the Sunday papers. I turn now to catching up on some pieces of writing but especially book reviews that have been sat on my desk for too long.
Reading the Sunday newspapers reminds me that we live in a complex world struggling to make sense of itself and easily distracted by trivia and gossip. On a morning that saw the devastation of many lives in Istanbul and continues to grieve over Syria and the prospect for world peace we learn of celebrities and their unfaithfulness and there is extensive coverage of the Prime Minister and her dress sense. Much of the excitement that is being generated around Christmas is inevitably preoccupied with the commercial necessity of selling and buying gifts alongside a great deal of speculation about the relative popularity of each of our TV stations competing for viewing figures.
It is against this background that I offer this short review of very important book that explores the narratives and differences between those who find some spiritual sense and meaning to existence and those that do not. Paul Hedges is an extraordinarily fluent, courteous and wise writer. He covers a great deal of ground with admirable brevity and clarity. In particular the text is shot through with examples and theories that ground the discussion and debate over eight chapters.
Hedges in Chapter 1 sets the debates inner broad context and this is followed in Chapter 2 by the important subject of how we read and give authority to particular texts and the beliefs contained therein. Chapter 3 deals with authority figures in religion, but, in particular the figure of Jesus. We note that history is not just simply about their lives but the way in which their lives have been understood both inside and outside of their traditions. Chapter 4 looks at the variety of beliefs and non-beliefs which exist and asks how far we can give any credibility to such beliefs in a historical and contemporary context. In particular Hedges tackles head-on the problem of evil.
Chapter 5 attempts a balanced view about whether religion is in the end of force for good. Hedges deals with the legacy, both positive and negative of our religious heritage. Chapter 6 deals with the vexed question of women, sexuality and for many the negative views of much of religion around the Body. Chapter 7 deals with a variety of disputes between science and religion as well as environmental concerns. Finally Chapter 8 addresses the number a number of factors in our contemporary world with a realistic hope that humankind might wish to live together for the common good. This world might be characterised by a maturity that can to embrace difference and disagreement.
The result is a readable and accessible book that I shall be commending to my students here at Sarum College. In particular I think that it would be of practical use to A-level students or undergraduates wanting to explore the nature of religion. This text will certainly inform the development of our learning life here in Sarum College.