Denouncing bad religion

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The saturation coverage of the assassination of Osama bin Laden is a recent reminder that bad religion dominates media headlines. It provided further ammunition for anti-religionists, like the so-called New Atheists, to make blanket denunciations of religion, that it’s all bad.

The interviewee featured here on Eureka Street TV freely admits there is much bad religion out there. But he makes a plea that if we are to deal with it effectively, we must discriminate between good and bad religion, and there must be alliances amongst the forces for good, including religionists and atheists, against bad manifestations of religion.

British academic, Peter Vardy brings his considerable skills as a theologian, philosopher, educator and communicator to this task. He is recorded here speaking at a seminar in Sydney called ‘Good Religion, Bad Religion’ organised by the St James Ethics Centre and the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia.

Since 1999 Vardy has been Vice Principal of Heythrop College. Begun by the Jesuits in 1614, the college was originally founded in Louvain in Belgium to educate English priests at a time when Catholics were persecuted and priests were outlawed in England. It is now a specialist college of the University of London, and offers courses in theology and philosophy.

Vardy has a Master’s degree in theology, and a PhD from King’s College, London, his doctoral thesis being on ‘The Concept of Eternity’. He lectured in the Philosophy of Religion at King’s College, and other institutions before moving to teach this discipline at Heythrop College.

One of his abiding interests is fostering relations and understanding among religious traditions, particularly the Abrahamic faiths. He is on the academic board of Leo Baeck College which trains rabbis in the Jewish Reformed Tradition in Britain, and he has links with a number of Muslim organizations.

He is much in demand as a speaker, and travels around the globe speaking on such topics as ethics and values education, truth claims in different religions, the impact of globalization, particularly on religion, and nurturing a spiritual perspective in a secular world.

Vardy is a prolific author, and his books include God of our Fathers; And If It’s True?; The Puzzle of God; The Puzzle of Evil; The Puzzle of Ethics; The Puzzle of Sex; The Puzzle of the Gospels; Great Christian Thinkers (editor); What is Truth?; Being Human; The Thinker’s Guide to Evil; The Thinker’s Guide to God; and his latest, Good and Bad Religion.

Peter Vardy will be in Australia in mid July. His books and further information are available from Wombat Education.


Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Vardy, good religion, bad religion, new atheism, osama bid laden, Heythrop College

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks for the encouragement to agitate for ongoing reform. It is right as criticism can be an act of fidelity to 'the good'.
However, it is my preference to emphasise the kind of acts which also teach by witness of joy. This requires critical fidelity to my personal life in the 'friendly trinity of love'.
Louise Jeffree, Sydney | 01 July 2011


A thoughtful speaker. Thanks for these video clips.
Alex Nelson | 01 July 2011


Dr Peter Vardy indirectly touches on the internal struggle and isolation that many faithful people experience in being confronted by both atheists and the 'fundamentalist' strain of Christianity (or other religion). Even as they face the legitimate, intellectual challenges posed by non believers, they have to contend with the indefensible statements and behaviour of those who purport to be Christian or religious. The distinction that Dr Vardy makes between good and bad religion is a constructive line of discussion for such confrontations. Many thanks to Peter Kirkwood for conducting this interview.
Fatima Measham | 08 July 2011


It is simple differentiate between "good" and "bad" religions. All that is required is to read John 10:7-10, "Jesus therefore said to them again: Amen, amen I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All others, as many as have come, are thieves and robbers: and the sheep heard them not. I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved: and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly. While the people belonging to "bad religions" are not automatically "bad", Christ teaches us that only through him and his Holy Church can we be sure of being saved. As Christ himself says, all other religions come to steal and to kill. To hold any other position is to call either Christ or his apostles liars and charlatans. However, you are perfectly right, it would be wonderful to see atheists, pagans, and and Christians alike come together to uphold the only "good" religion, that is, the Holy Church established by Jesus Christ.
Francis | 08 July 2011


Thanks Francis for your clear example of bad religion. Your reading of the Johannine text betrays a failure to understand the context in which such statements are put on the lips of Jesus.I suggest you explore the political and religious motivation behind such texts before you use them as proof texts for your particular world view. For example how do you see this text and your interpretation standing up against Matthew 25 31-46? Given the choice, I'll stick with Peter Vardy's approach rather than Francis'
Tony Robertson | 08 July 2011


Thanks Tony for your clear example of bad religion. Your reading of Mathew's text betrays a failure to understand the context in which such statements are put on the lips of Jesus.I suggest you explore the political and religious motivation behind such texts before you use them as proof texts for your particular world view. For example how do you see this text and your interpretation standing up against John 10 7-10? Given the choice, I'll disagree with Peter Vardy's approach. I must say, I admire the intellectual integrity you use while arguing a point. It is also interesting to note that you seem to use a slightly different approach to Peter in determining bad religion. While Peter uses such markers such as justice and charity to determine bad religion, you seem to condemn those who would dare to interpret and ascribe importance to biblical texts in a different fashion to you. You also seem to have a distinct lack of tolerance towards those who would determine the goodness of a religion in a different manner to your liking.
Francis | 09 July 2011


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