Up Front 7/16

Interviewed on Radio 4 recently the American theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, was asked what he would like to be remembered for. The question was posed after a lengthy discussion about science that covered a range of subjects including dark energy, gravitational waves and religion. A confirmed atheist, Krauss was very clear in his answer: ‘I’d rather be remembered as someone that made a positive impact on my own life and the lives of those around me’ he said. It’s precisely the opposite to the thoughts that might go through the mind of a suicide bomber or gun-toting terrorist who believes that their actions will bring them closer to God. Krauss argued that there are those who feel that because they have a religious belief they are better and more moral than those who do not share the same or similar religious belief. When in reality, he said: ‘We become good people by looking at the consequences of our actions and thinking rationally about them.’ He also pointed out that in America it is easier to come out as gay than it is to come out as an atheist. His comments came to mind after the recent murders in Orlando. We may never know what demons—be they physical or spiritual—drove Omar Mateen to murder innocent people. However we do know that in phone calls before his death he searched for excuses to explain his actions and chose to declare himself a ‘religious soldier’. Research published by the New York and Sydney based Institute for Economics and Peace, based on wars in 2013, found that religion was not a factor in the majority of these conflicts. The common motivation was opposition to a government, or to the economic, ideological, political or social systems of a state. It is all too easy to blame religious beliefs for atrocities and question the value of believing in an external force and the release of responsibility that such belief might allow. But this is a flimsy platform. If, as Krauss suggests, what we do is determined by our own actions and not by any external code, creed or force, then what we do becomes our responsibility alone. Dragging up religious beliefs and theological differences as an excuse is simply that—an excuse.