Faith as Dangerous Nonsense

4 08 2007

Christopher Brookmyre in The Guardian

Faith is not a form of mental fortitude, but an absurdity – which can give rise to atrocity

On June 30 I flew out of Glasgow airport approximately nine hours before the suicide bombing attempt, thereby missing out on the massive Daily Mail-style moral-indignation boon of being able to describe myself and family as intended terrorism targets. Like most people, I was pleased to be able to watch a story of potential atrocity pass into one of black humour and farce, allowing us to depict the Islamist threat as no match for a Glaswegian baggage-handler, and to joke about the perpetrators as the first people to drive to Paisley in expectation of a rendezvous with 72 virgins.

However, what has fairly ripped my knitting in the weeks since has been the concerted efforts to give religion an alibi for the whole undertaking, depicting it as merely misused by extremists and clinging to the idea that faith itself is a virtue, all the while ignoring the very simple equation that no belief in an afterlife equals no suicide bombers. As Voltaire put it, once you can get men to believe in absurdities, you can get them to commit atrocities – and nobody has proved his point more vividly than those carrying out what is literally the ultimate act of faith.

The notion that faith – belief in spite of an absence of proof or even in the face of compelling contrary evidence – is a form of mental and moral fortitude needs not merely to be challenged, but to be given the full point-and-laugh treatment, so that we can see afresh how this absurdity deserves ridicule rather than reverence.

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