Force for good
Religion is not a force for good in the world, according to voters at Oxford University Union’s Debating Society.
Paul Woolley, director of Christian think-tank Theos, was invited to debate the motion, ‘This house believes that religion is a force for good in the world’. Backing him up on the proposition were Lord Harries, Adrian Wooldridge – the Economist’s management editor and ‘Schumpeter’ columnist – and Giles Rowe, director and co-founder of investment house Henderson Rowe.
For the opposition were Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association; Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at Oxford University; and Simon Blackburn, professor of philosophy at Cambridge University.
Woolley argued that, while extremists have used religion to justify sectarian violence, such as the 9/11 bombings in the US, atheists have also committed ‘terrible acts of violence and oppression’. Notable in this regard were Communist dictators Stalin or Chairman Mao.
Woolley also argued that the evidence for the proposition, ‘whether measured in the transformed lives of individuals or renewal of communities, is overwhelming’.
However, the motion was defeated by 40 votes, perhaps not so much suggesting that the proponents were unable to carry the motion, as that fewer religious students at Oxford engage in academic debate compared to their non-religious counterparts.