The Virtue of Doubt
When God Is Not Great is not great.
Las year a new group appear on my Facebook news-feed. It was a “Religious Discussion Group”, which was really nothing of the sort.
Created by a group of militant atheists, it was designed to attack their (and my) hristian friends. Unfortunately, they wielded their debating skills with all the subtlety of a maimed bear, and only served to highlight their own ignorance.
But for me, this was the last straw in my gradually souring relationship with atheism. While we are all well-versed in the idea of intolerant religious people we seem to have forgotten the toxicity that can spread from an avid, misinformed, follower of atheist idols Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.
While it is not true that all atheists are the equivalents of bible-bashers, foisting great works of anti-religious writing on any person who is even vaguely querulous about unbelief, we have to realise that some of them are, and that this is damaging to our community. Just as there are religious extremists, there are extreme unbelievers. It’s sad, but some people are just so narrowly self-righteous that they will use any opportunity to preach from on high, lacking even the most basic awareness of other opinions. Many of them will likely become politicians. But while we denounce these people when the viewpoint is religious, we seem to do nothing when they’re promoting atheism. Why is this?
Perhaps it’s the way that atheism is presented. It implies that we live in a completely secular society, that disbelief is the base setting for most people, and that anyone following religion is a deviation from the norm. And because atheism is closely tied with scientific advancement and experimentation, it promotes itself as the rational, scientific view of the universe.
Any religious person is immediately un- intellectual and ill-informed. Faith is the last refuge of the idiot, they say.
Which is my main problem with atheism; its inherent hypocrisy. Because, for all the espousing about lack of faith, atheism is a faith-based position. It’s a position which bases itself on the belief that there is no God and the faith that a secular society will somehow be kinder, better and more efficient than the one we have now. Which is funny, when you think about it, because I see nothing kind about homogenising society by systematically attempting to remove the thing that gives someone’s life meaning.
Faith is an act of looking into the infinity of the universe and devising from it some sort of pattern. Whether this is held in the workings of sub-atomic particles, an interventionist deity, or a combination of both, is irrelevant. It is an act of staying the realisation that we are small and insignificant and, quite frankly, stupid. Religious believers think that if they can search hard enough amongst God’s texts then they will find meaning. Atheist believers think that if they can search hard enough amongst the annals of science then they will find meaning.
Both these acts are ways of attempting to remove doubt from the world. But doubt is precisely what we should be preaching at this time. Doubt is what keeps us from yelling at passers-by on Lambton Quay or, as someone I once knew insisted on doing, attempting to, daily, “rationalise” believers in a Christian school. It encourages us to accept that faith is all very well and good but there are many opinions in the world, and yours might not be the correct one. Statistically speaking, it probably isn’t.
But more than that, doubt saves us from being rude. I’m talking real, invasive rudeness, of the kind that is commonly called offence, as if the onus is on the offence-taker and not offence-giver to monitor language. Rudeness like I saw my friends encountering online. Far from being a petty thing, not accepting this is a marker that we live in a civilised society, where we tolerate differences of opinion and where we’re sufficiently grown-up to not throw tantrums at the fact that diversity of belief exists. If there is a God then, I am told, He wouldn’t want this intolerance. And if there isn’t, we’re going to die soon and for ever anyway, so why in His meaningless name are you wasting your time yelling about it?