The voice of reason – AC Grayling

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Although I have a copy of Grayling’s ‘The Good Book’ on the shelf at home, I haven’t actually dived into it yet (I admit that I find the thickness a bit daunting!).

But I’m now more motivated to start it, after catching a recent episode of The Spirit of Things, which airs on ABC Radio National here, which featured AC Grayling being interviewed about the work. For those unaware, the Spirit of Things is one of those unapologetically religious programs, taking as given all manner of faith-based belief. You may recall my previous writing on this in relation to one Jeremy Begbie, and his ridiculous synthesis of religion and music.

In the Grayling episode, host Rachel Kohn gives the book a fair run, including several readings from it, but unfortunately can’t resist trying to score points in favour of the bible, and trying to minimise Grayling’s arguments. In one example, after discussing the issues of cleverness versus wisdom, there is this exchange:

Rachael Kohn: And may I ask you who you would look up to as the pre-eminent embodiment of a wise man?

Anthony C Grayling: […] For myself, I admire many, many people, many great achievers, creative minds, thinkers. I could range very widely from recent times, people like Einstein and Russell, right the way back through history to David Hume, to Descartes, to Copernicus, to Galileo, to everybody who ventured to think and to use this rather remarkable thing that human beings have which is an insightful, incisive, creative intellect, to understand our world a bit better and to move us forward in making some progress in it.

At this point, Kohn has a dig at him, and then tries to move on quickly:

Rachael Kohn: Well, I must say Einstein and Russell have dubious personal reputations. They may have been brilliant, but there has certainly been a lot of criticism cast on how they behaved in their personal lives. But I know you’re going to be coming to Australia to address the Global Atheist Convention, and this whole movement I suppose has been dubbed in the UK as the kind of ‘God wars’. How do you see it and what sort of message will you be bringing?

Clearly, Grayling wasn’t going to let her get away with it, and responds:

Anthony C Grayling: On the point that you just made about Einstein and Russell there, if we allowed people to go through our (figuratively speaking) rubbish bins, each one of us would not escape whipping, as somebody once said. We’re all human with our failings, and we would admire nobody if we didn’t think that we did them some generous act by looking at the best things that they managed.

In another example she tries to wedge him on the notion of free will:

Rachael Kohn: One of the things that atheists really resist and I would say a lot of religious people too, is the notion of obedience. And right in the Genesis chapter of your secular bible you urge people to do nothing against their will, to covet nothing of anyone else’s, and in so doing they will encounter no resistance and they will be free then to do what they wish and life will be lovely…. Gosh, I can easily see your secular bible being quoted out of context at the way the Bible often is, and people often saying, ‘It says there to do nothing against my will, so I’ll just go ahead and do this.’

Followed by Grayling’s wonderful response:

Anthony C Grayling: You do need, I think, to look at the surrounding verses to put that into context a little bit, because you could just as easily quote St Paul where he says ‘love and do what you will’, which seems to be a kind of a licence for everything. And nobody I think who has any capacity for reflection would want to just take five or six words or a few lines out of context and act on them.

To his credit, Grayling is calm and measured throughout, and the real feature of this interview is his articulate and measured response to all of her questions. In my view, he is easily the most articulate and accessible presenters of the philosophy of non-theism, Dawkins included.

In this brief discussion he clearly demonstrates that is is possible to talk about all the ways to live a good life without any reference to a deity.

Worth a listen for that alone.


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