Category Archives: Summer Project 2013

Quick values questionnaire

As part of the preliminary exploration for my HighWire MRes work I’m asking for responses to a quick questionnaire exploring values. If you can spare 5 minutes I’d really appreciate you spending the time to complete the questionnaire. If you leave your email address I will contact you in due course so you can access virtual or physical manifestations of your results.

You can access the questionnaire here.

Thanks in advance!

PS the questionnaire is worded from the male perspective, this will be changed in due course, for now please accept my apologies!

Dogma: murderous or misunderstood?

I think I’ve been boring and frustrating my old friend, and current domiciliary companion, Fred Baker, with all my talk of religion, spirituality, and how I want to reinvent it for my PhD studies. It’s really good to have a counterpoint, although I do wish I were doing slightly better at convincing Fred that there is some benefit in the research I am conducting. I guess this is the nature of exploratory research though: how will I ever know until its been done! Fred emailed me a link to this article by A C Grayling – Dogma will always lead to murder in the end, scepticism is the only answer – a couple of days ago, I’ve just read it, and thought I would comment a little. I, for the most part, agree with what Grayling says.. but I’d like to add some commentary, as it’s really relevant to the line of research I’m currently embarked upon. Firstly, there is the journalistic caveat. The headline, including “Dogma will always lead to murder”, is just that.. a headline. I’m fairly sure that Grayling isn’t suggesting that the very notion of Dogma is murderous or genocidal, and if he is, he fails to explain why. A more structural criticism of Grayling’s comment however, is the logically one-sided nature of the argument. The rhetorically one-sidedness I can forgive, but there are a couple of issues where I thought that Grayling was doing a disservice to egalitarianism.

Religious apologists are eager to point to the charitable and artistic outcomes of religion either as a palliation or an excuse, but non-religious people do charitable and artistic things, too, and it is hard to detach them from the kindness and creativity, respectively, that are a natural endowment of most human beings no matter what they believe

The main crux of the article is how horrendous religiously motivated violence is. For instance the awful events in Woolwhich last week. The quote above points out that “religious apologists” talk about the good things that religious people do, and fail to acknowledge the good things irreligious people do. The screaming omission is the amount of violence carried out by irreligious people.

Image grab from Independent Article by AC Grayling

I know Grayling is writing to comment, and it seems evident he wants to be provocative based on the title. I also think the piece is beautifully written, with powerful rhetoric. But from where I am (an atheist exploring the potential to use the structure of religion, and the essence of spirituality for good) this discourse is wholly unhelpful. It polarises. It angers those with faith, and it gives an unjustified sense of correctness and confidence to those with anti-faith sentiments.

Dogma is a tricky one. I don’t believe in a god, or an afterlife, and ever since I was a little kid I’ve been smugly confident in the paradoxical belief that there is no such thing as a fact. Isn’t it possible to dogmatically believe in entropy, infinity, milky tea, or smiling? Maybe I’m missing a point.. but wouldn’t it even be possible to have a dogmatic faith in atheism? Or, perhaps a way of putting it on slightly stronger grounding, couldn’t dogma, or even religion, explain a belief system that put absolute faith in evidence-based decisions or discourse? I think so.

I do however entirely agree with the sentiments in Grayling’s piece (even if I slightly disapprove of how he articulates them). I abhor violence. But more importantly when that violence is motivated by revenge, and justified by mythology, it is even more abhorrent. Finally, I agree whole heartedly with Grayling’s conclusion: scepticism, critical thinking, asking for evidence are powerful things, and I believe we should all engage with and be taught to do them profusely. If we did, then maybe, as Grayling puts it, “in a generation or two, what happened on a Woolwich street might become close to impossible.”

Faith and false starts

I’m going to try and keep a little blog of what I get up to this summer, partly because I’m sure that having notes on my process will help in the writing up, come the Autumn. I had something of a false start. I’d been well committed to doing my ‘summer project’ (for the HighWire MRes, effectively a masters dissertation) on the strand of research that’s taken up most of 2013 for me: Research Impact. I’ve done various pieces of work on that thread, culminating with my work on Communities of Impact.

One of the requirements for the summer project is that we have a ‘live’ (real world) stakeholder: the research impact project was perfect for this because Lancaster University’s marketing team had expressed their interest in being that stakeholder. Furthermore I’d managed get Professor Jon Whittle onboard to supervise me for this project (having a supervisor is another requirement). Sadly I had a massive crisis of ‘faith’ (the reason for the quotes will become clear shortly) with the project after the initial meeting between me, the stakeholders, and Jon. I won’t go into the detail, but the biggest issues were (1) that I and Jon had had a slight mis-communication about our expectations for the project and (2) my passion for research impact is grounded in extremely deep rooted issues: something that I doubt I’d be able to get to grips with over the summer months alone. So there was a change of direction.

The direction came from something I wrote a very quick blog about a few weeks ago: virtual religions, cyber faith, digital spirituality- these are all candidates for what to call it (I haven’t decided on one yet). So… just some quick notes on what I want to do, why, and how I plan on doing it. All of which are subject to change over the next few weeks!

I’m going to build a conceptual or theoretical model of what think a religion is. There is no hard and fast definition, a few Google searches will reveal that… but I’m going to build a model based upon a synthesis of various resources. You could think of this part as ‘religion as formula‘.

Once I have this model in place, I’ll build a software application that allows anyone to enter their own ‘values’ into the model (or formula), and thus create their own personal religion. The software will also allow some form of practice (or you could call it worship) to take place, again as per any individual’s own design.

The reason I want to do this, is that I have a hypothesis that some of the things that make up a religion are really good. I’m not sure what they are, but I think they’re good. Personally speaking I’m an atheist, had some exposure to the sceptics movement, and witness something of a stigma towards religion in general. Maybe, by deconstructing the essence of it, then allowing it to be reconstructed in the vision of an individual, rather than a religious institution, a new way to access the benefits of a spiritual/religious life may emerge.

We’ll see……

Dr Lynne Blair has provisionally agreed to supervise me on this work, and our initial meeting was really positive: so I’m very happy to have found somebody interested in this realm. I don’t however, not currently anyway, have a stakeholder agreed (or group of people). Any ideas?