An Interview with Simon Blackburn


Rick Lewis talks to Blackburn about his atheism in Philosophy Now:

Some theologians have followed the late John Hick in suggesting that religious claims aren’t really about asserting the truth of propositions such as ‘God exists’, but instead are claims about perceptions of God; in other words theism is about an attitude towards the world. Do you think something parallel could be said about some atheists?

I have a great deal of respect for the view that ‘onto-theology’, that is, religious doctrines associated with existence claims, should be abandoned, but that such things as rituals, poetry, metaphor, music and dance still have a role in welding people together into a congregation or a society. This was Durkheim’s view of the function of religious practices. I think they have other functions as well, but that substantially he was right. Of course, on this view the whole subject changes, and the question turns to the value of these practices as they manifest themselves in particular historical and cultural contexts. You can very effectively weld people together by magnifying their differences from other people, and that has always been an aspect of religion, and not at all a nice one.

Marx is admired by militant New Atheists for saying that religion is the opium of the people. But they forget what he said next, which is that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” I think that is right, which is why moral and political questions should occupy all of us far more than ontological questions.

More here.