The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Savile and Secularism

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1.  The sudden reversal of the public image of Jimmy Savile reminds me of one of the few strong points that institutional religions still have going for them.

2.  Children raised in any environment, religious or secular, will look around for role models, because human beings are naturally imitative and inspiration is a human need.

3.  In an environment that does not subscribe to religion or another all-encompassing philosophy, there is no choice but to seek inspiration in individuals.  Many children, and adults, are left with nothing to look up to but the public images of footballers or singers, even though they can inspire people to nothing more than the acquisition of wealth and obsession with self-gratification, neither of which are particularly helpful life-goals.

4.  How often must Savile have been held up as a particularly inspiring role model, since his celebrity was so largely earned by and directed to the doing of purely secularly-inspired good deeds, from volunteering as a hospital porter to realising the dreams of those in distress?  But in the space of a few days, the inspirational value of his life is reduced to less than nothing, recalling Undy Scott’s dismissive summary of a fellow corrupt politican in Trollope’s The Three Clerks: “Yesterday he was a god; to-day he is a devil; to-morrow he’ll be a man again; that’s all.”

5. In CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, a young woman raised in a vehemently anti-religious environment turns to a fellow member of a resistance movement who has dared to doubt the wisdom of its leader and asks him indignantly whether there is no such thing as loyalty.  Her colleague, a staunch atheist product of a religious background, turns to her with “generations of Calvinists glinting in his eyes” (I cannot find the book just now, but the actual quote is much better than that!) and remarks something along the lines of “Young lady, indeed there is, and as you grow older you will find that it is too precious a commodity to lavish on individual personalities”.

6.  Organised religion is not without its problems; indeed, sometimes it seems to me to have little but problems left.  But it has one immeasurably important advantage: take away the rabbi, priest, imam or other leader who has been preaching the religion, expose him or her as a hypocrite, and the religion remains.  Catholicism has been damaged by the revelations of priestly misbehaviour; but it has not been destroyed, because there is more to it than belief in individual personalities.  If one exponent of the religion is revealed as a shallow fraud, one can always look for another whose life is enriched by his or her religious conviction; and human frailty and dignity being what they are, one will always find both.

7.  As I bored my children by repeating, with very few exceptions indeed nobody is quite as good or quite as bad as they appear to the outside world.  Children who grow up without being offered anything other than individuals to look up to are being condemned to a life of inevitable disappointment.


Written by Daniel Greenberg

October 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

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