Oh so reluctantly I head back into the murky waters of the religious debate. Today I am a fully self-assured secular agnostic but memories of the intellectual slaughter I would subject myself to in college philosophy classes are still raw. Back then I had a curious, wilful belief in god that was ever at odds with the subconscious always rapping. “Idiot,” it would chime as I ran head first into another logical obstruction to this forced faith.
It only took a couple more years of increased exposure to higher education, simultaneous to my withdrawal from the grand and imposing edifices of public school religiosity, before the façade began to slip. Not being in a beautiful church five mornings a week unsurprisingly takes the mind away from these things, but more than anything in was Mr. Paine and The Age of Reason wot did it. Far from rationalising my dwindling faith, deism killed it.
Perhaps trying to rationalise faith will inherently kill it but the crux of the matter for me was that no faith could be possibly true when all claim to be true and divine and so on, so forth. And if you can’t reconcile divinity with divinity, how exactly can you reconcile divinity with humanity? Are we to just take a stab in the dark like some Pascalian wager? Indeed, how can something even be divine if it can be dissected and selectively reconstructed by humans?
Paine’s attempts to make this ancient faith system compatible with the modern world and its improved understanding, (always at the expense of increasingly redundant theological reasoning) made me fully commit to the notion that mankind dealt in theological reasoning in lieu of understanding, until understanding was gained. If that wasn’t enough, along came Hume’s Natural History of Religion just to throw the last confirming clump of sod on the grave.
There is no question anymore, I have no faith and that is fine. But this doesn’t mean Richard Dawkins, in my humble estimations, isn’t a bit of a dick. Just to catch you up, Dawkins went on the Twitter warpath with Islam and one Mehdi Hasan, socialistic journalist of Guardian, New Statesman and Huffington Post fame. Dawkins challenged Hasan’s professional integrity and aptitude on the basis that Hasan is a Muslim.
To paraphrase, “Should we take a journalist seriously, who believes in the Islamic faith, which in my douche-bag opinion is like believing in a flying, winged horse.” Essentially, should we allow a person of faith to deal in the trade of facts? For an intelligent man I have to say this was a stunningly unintelligent assault on a journalist who, although I caustically disagree with on a near daily basis for political reasons, never earned derision for his expressions on faith.
In fact, Hasan has written some excellent pieces on the need for Muslim communities to properly integrate with British society and is generally very constructive in his approach to faith and the modern world. What is not constructive at all is this recent collective of hyper-smug, liberal intellectualism, so well embodied by the likes of Dawkins, which believes it has the run of the “right way” of thinking. Religion is an antiquated superstition. Conservatives are morons and dicks. Disagree with these things and you’re a dick too. And stupid. And a dick.
This aggressive tendency towards those of competing, or even of slightly more nuanced views, was rather cringeably played out on last week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. The silver-haired HBO demagogue conducted an abysmal interview with security expert Brian Levin, going at loggerheads with the guest over his bigoted views on Islam. Maher’s view is that Islam is a problem faith, more so than other faiths, and this should be the outspoken position of anyone with a brain.
He threw buckets of water on the idea that his show was a forum for debate when he informed Levin, off the back of the suggestion that perhaps one could look at these things more carefully, utterly bluntly, “You’re wrong”. Two or three times actually. And sure enough, people like Maher and Dawkins are ever pushing themselves into the realm of iconoclasm, one they would logically want to avoid given their views on religion. They betray what is to me a fundamental value of secular agnosticism, that being humility.
I’m simply not interested in going around and telling people that they or what they believe in is stupid. It achieves nothing but the defensive ire of those you’re attacking and sheds a poor light on those who have less harsh interpretations. The modern world, always advancing, is putting an inexorable secularising force on everything that will in time accomplish more than a million Mahers and Dawkins combined.
Religious institutions for the most part recognise this and are in “terminal debate mode” over their traditional values versus the need to adjust to contemporary climates, if terminal decline is to be avoided. This process is only hindered by the disgust of people like Maher and Dawkins, who with so much disdain for the lack of science and logic in these belief structures are equally complicit in creating entrenched opposing forces.
When I was a bit younger and breaking into my present beliefs, I treated them like heroes of the New Faith of Reason. But they’ve become too much like preachers for my comfort and they don’t speak to or for me anymore. Maybe it still appeals to the reactionary freshman, militant atheist type. If the two of them gain satisfaction from impressing that particularly gaggle then bully for them. It’s just a bit sad really.