Murray’s objection to faith, however, is more coherent. He believes that science and historical criticism have done “most likely irreversible damage . . . to the literal-truth claims of religion.” If he is right, it makes no difference whether faith is required; faith is impossible. You can’t ask a society to pretend to believe in what isn’t so.
But is Murray right? Have science and criticism truly undermined Christianity? Or is it simply that disbelief has become the intellectual’s default conviction?
Mark Dooley, Conversations With Roger Scruton:
Despite having ‘served an apprenticeship in atheism’, Scruton has, I suggest, never been an atheist per se. ‘On the contrary, I have always assumed that religion is necessary to human communities on sociological and anthropological grounds, as well as on metaphysical grounds. People need something with which to root their beliefs, and also their conduct, their sense of themselves and their relation to others. We are fundamentally related beings and all the religions are shaped by this great need. Take religion away and nihilism is the first result, and then chaos, which is what we’re seeing now. That, of course, doesn’t mean that the doctrines are true. This is the great difficulty for people like me who begin from that anthropological sense of what religion is: how do we make the Kierkegaardian “leap of faith” into the actual affirmation of a doctrine? That is something with which I have wrestled all my life.’
When did this wrestling begin? ‘It was a “puberty moment”. When, as a boy, I went in secret to the Anglican Church, I was affirming my own independence and my incipient love of the English way of doing things. But that didn’t last: my life was very soon swept into disorder by the need to leave home and to fend for myself. At Cambridge, I did become fairly atheistical and I have since been persuaded that the truth about our world is given by science and not by any theological doctrine. That is what science is: an attempt to give the truth about our world. It can make no place for the “divine hypothesis” One must therefore find another, non-scientific way to resuscitate the basic contours of a religious worldview, and that is really what I have been doing in my writings. I share with Richard Dawkins the image of the completeness of the natural sciences and the view that there isn’t anything that they leave unexplained, other than the great fact that there is something, and not nothing, a fact that is for that reason inexplicable.
‘I have been very influenced in this by Wagner, and by his attempt, not just to show that art gives you an alternative approach to the deep truths about the human condition that religion advances, but also that it enables you, to a great measure, to resuscitate the idea of the sacred — which is the idea upon which human communities ultimately depend. The sacred is something which one has to find in one’s own life if one is to live that life correctly.’