Sunday, April 26, 2009

Roger Ebert on Faith

It's no surprise to me that one of my favorite writers in any form can summarize how I feel better than I ever could:

"Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don't. I avoid that because I don't want to provide a category for people to apply to me. I would not want my convictions reduced to a word."
For myself, I wish there was a better word to describe those of us with no religious convictions (I'm going to avoid snarky comments at the expense of those who have them). Maybe there never will be such a convenient term that defines us in a positive light. "Humanist" is too vague for my taste. "Atheist" defines us on religious terms. "Agnostic" implies indifference. "Rationalist" is both cumbersome and serves as a back-handed insult to those opposed to us. And "skeptical" is another term that conjures a weary, jaded approach to thinking.

But in the end, it's the thinking part that matters. It's realizing that all the arguments one could use for and against religious influence are simplistic and tend to pigeon-hole the recipient of whatever convenient label you slap on them.

Which is not to say that I am ambivalent about the strength of my convictions. As Penn Gillette says, I know there is no god for the same reason I know there is not a fully-grown elephant in my car. When the evidence clearly and conclusively and repeatably contradicts that assertion, I'll admit I was wrong. Not before.

There is another line from Ebert's piece that merits comment:
"If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must regard their beliefs with the same respect that our own deserve."
Let's say I don't think he's wrong, but I believe in the truth of that statement on a different level than he does. I think you should have a right to your opinion, but you should never have a notion that your opinion is privileged or protected from ridicule, or--at the very least--close scruitiny. You want to beat me up over my lack of faith, go right ahead. I'll be right there attacking your bronze-age interpretation of the natural world with equal scorn. You want to engage in a civilized discourse about why I feel how I do and elaborating on your positions, I'll serve the wine and cheese.

In the end, it's the relative merits of the idea itself that deserve or don't deserve respect. Young Earth Creationism deserves none because it openly and dishonestly fly flies in the face of the reams of evidence gathered to contradict it. Period.

I believe there is no god because that is where the evidence of the scientific method leads me. Call that what you want. Atheism will do just fine until something better comes along.

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