Counting memes

It’s 2am and, for the umpteenth night in a row I can’t sleep. I’ve tried reading, music, just laying there… even cricket commentary (as 10CC sang, I love it).

Eventually I decide to check into my Facebook. A bit of social media browsing can’t do a worse job than anything else, can it?

Its busy. Mainly because, although its 2am, I am currently in Mumbai, India, so I’m 4 1/2 hours ahead of my friends in the UK, for whom it is only 9.30pm. 

After a minute I stumbled upon this post, shared by a friend, by the British Humanist Society.

The much mourned “Hitch” was an incredibly erudite, passionate and intelligent speaker and writer, even though I disagreed with him strongly on matters of faith. However, here he is spot on. Human decency is certainly not derived from religious practice or tradition. The BHA are right, the non-religious are as capable of good, sound moral actions as those who adhere to religions, and they do not need religion to help them do this.

There is literally nothing wrong with these statements.

There is, however, something badly wrong with the premise they are made upon.

They assume that all religious beliefs are centred around the idea that you need religion to have morals, or to be good. That the only way to be a truly good person is to follow religious teachings. That those outside of that religion are incapable of becoming a moral being.

I’m sure those arguments have been made, but I’ve not heard anybody making them.

I have heard the argument, however, that you cannot be good without God. Even if you don’t actually believe in him. It’s known as the Moral Argument and I would describe it for you, but it’s 2.25am now and I’m too tired to do so. So here’s a short video.

That is harder to argue against than needing religion to be capable of good. Not impossible, I’ll grant you, but harder.

And this is the problem when we try to reduce argument and debate to short Facebook posts, tweets or memos.  You lose nuance and find it easy to fall into the trap of making the wrong point. Unfortunately it’s also easy to fall into the trap of believing it, sharing it and forming values and beliefs based on it. I know I’ve fallen into that trap. Most people I know who go online have as well.

This isn’t just the case with religion. Politics is another area where debate is reduced to soundbites and infographics which, whilst eye-catching, don’t always stand up to scrutiny. But they seem to be shared and used in argument and debate all the same.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to think more. Think before speaking, or posting online, or even before hitting that share or retweet button. The important things in life are usually more complicated than we would really want them to be, and to reduce them to single quotes or trite statements is to do them, and us, a disservice.

Now, I really need to sleep.