Daniel Cowdrill 6.01am
David Cameron’s speech at Christ Church to commemorate 400 years since the publication of the King James Bible was a commendable attempt by the Prime Minister to engage with faith in a way that predecessors have tried to avoid.
Mr Cameron makes an interesting point that in politics, as in political history, faith is important.
A study into Margaret Thatcher, for example, would be incomplete without reference to the fact that she listened dutifully to her father, a Methodist lay preacher, every week of her childhood (and a fascinating new book on ‘God and Mrs Thatcher’ is due in 2012). Indeed, future studies of Cameron will also be incomplete without reference to his upbringing next to a parish church where both his parents volunteered.
David Cameron’s thesis is that the realisation that God created man in his own image was a ‘game-changer’ for human civilisation. When each individual has a common power above them, and when every individual is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, it created an irrepressible foundation for human dignity and the basis for Christian values such as responsibility, charity, compassion, tolerance, humility, self-sacrifice, love, and the common good.
As an atheist I think these are all virtues, but I approach them from a different angle. The German philospher Ludwig Feuerbach disagreed with the idea that God created man in his own image, but that man created God in his own image. God is the outward projection of the wise, moral, and sympathetic being that man can only aspire to be.
It is the reverse of the ‘Creation of Adam’, the centre of Michelangelo’s ceiling at the Sistine Chapel. God and Adam hold their hands out towards each another, one passively the other forcefully, poised on the brink of creation. Feuerbach would see it differently. He might point to the obvious fact that although God and Adam reach towards eachother they don’t actually touch. Adam gazes longingly into the sky at a vision of godliness, a projection of his own good qualities.
Where I diverge with Feuerbach, however, is in Part Two of Feuerbach’s ‘Essence of Christianity’, published in 1842. He suggests that the Chrisitian belief in salvation makes us more tolerant of vice than we would otherwise be. In other words, we don’t have to stand-up to bad people because they’ll get their comupance when they arrive at the pearly gates.
However, this seems to jar with the good intentions of so many faith based groups. David Cameron is correct to point to the tremendous work that faith charities and churches do here in the UK and abroad to uphold human dignity and rights, and to their role in the social fabric.
While as an atheist I cannot accept the creation of man by God, as a human being I can agree with the virtues that spring from Christianity. They are, in the end, human qualities.