Is it right to force people to go through the motions of belief even if they do not hold that belief?
On last Friday’s Faith Central it seems Libby Purves is of the opinion that forcing people to pretend to believe, even if they don’t is better than nothing. Writing about a group of Oxford scholars who have refused to say grace (even though they have accepted a scholarship to a largely religious college) she notes:
But now – reports Cherwell – a prim contingent say they won’t, because they aren’t believers. The Chaplain replies sharply “The personal beliefs of the individual are incidental…There seems to be some confusion about the difference between personal and public prayer, the individual and the role. The scholar/exhibitioner is asked to recite the grace, it is a personal matter whether they also pray it.”
Blimey. Now call me old fashioned but this seems like “forced” observance and somewhat flies in the face of the idea of the whole thing. If it is simply a matter of words, why does any one care? Is the ritual of observance actually more important than the persons beliefs or is this a sneaky way of trying to convert people? Who knows.
Libby seems incensed by this and comes to an amazing simile:
Frankly, if Professor Richard Dawkins can admit to singing Christmas carols with gusto (“O come let us adore Him”), it is hard to see why these clever young things make such a meal of a few words of general gratitude.
By Toutatis! Is singing a Christmas carol with “gusto” really the same as being forced to say grace? We seem to have an issue (as one of the commenters points out) where Libby fails to understand the difference between choice and compulsion. This neatly sidesteps the madness which places the two acts in the same category in the first place!
The piece concludes with this:
Nobody forced them to apply to a 453-year-old institution (there are other Oxford colleges) nor to accept the scholarship when it was offered. It would be brave and principled to refuse the honour and the money on grounds of atheism. This is neither.
Well, while I sort of agree – they chose which college they went to – I dont really agree. The award of the scholarship is not based on a persons religious choice, so why does it force an act of observance? I am reasonably sure that the “pious” people who provided the donations which make the scholarship possible would be more upset that non-believers are there than people aren’t going through the motions of grace. I am really surprised that so many “devout” people would rather have lip service paid than faith exist.
Another one of the comments on the times blog poses an interesting question. If the scholars were forced to say “I renounce the Holy Spirit” would the church be happy with that? They wouldn’t have to believe it, just say the words…