Forced Faith

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…

3 thoughts on “Forced Faith

  1. Pingback: Prose Before Hos

  2. It goes to show that pretending is the engine of such faith. Church gatherings serve as a group pretending session, which helps believers to deceive themselves, much as we are able to feel immersed in a movie we’re watching when the actors are convincing. Thus, the act of pretending is important among certain believers, lest we expose the facade. Libby Purves’ statements are revealing in the fact that she endorses the pretending, suggesting that the prayers are insincere, traditional fluff that anyone can recite.

    It is “brave and principled” to refuse the prayer, rather than deny the scholarship. While praying conflicts with the atheist’s position, accepting money from a theist does not. If it were so, then the only way to be a “brave and principled” atheist would be to reject ALL services and courtesies on the part of any theist, which would be (and is) an absurd notion for Purves to suggest.

    Libby’s position is one which, in a cowardly fashion, wishes to segregate believers from non-believers, but lacks the will to do so (or admit so). It is upon the college to reject atheists from its programs if they dislike their lack of theistic behavior. However, to do such a thing might result in great public backlash, or make them appear as fanatical as they really are. They compromise by requesting that their atheist students pretend to be theists.

    Nice post!

  3. Nice comment!

    Maybe it’s just my impression, but there seem to have been a few articles suggesting that religious hypocrisy is acceptable. I’ve even noticed an implicit assumption that people who wouldn’t fake a religion to get their kids into a “good” faith school aren’t trying hard enough for their kids.

Comments are closed.