Since it’s a lazy summer weekend (the first of the summer, astronomically speaking — that is, if you believe the earth goes around the sun), I was lazily contemplating some of the dumbass things said about one of my sciblings, PZ Myers, by another one of my sciblings, Matt Nisbet. The clip Matt embedded is no longer available (taken down at the insistence of the copyright holder; if it’s so bad for the pro-science side, why did they take it down?), but it seems to be the infamous “religion is like knitting” clip. Since that clip is still up on YouTube, here it is again, in case you missed it the first time:
Despite the accusations that the makers of Expelled — Ben Stein’s ludicrous attempt to breathe some life into the corpse of creationism — quote mined an interview with PZ for maximum outrageousness, it’s hard for me to see what’s at all outrageous about comparing religion to knitting. I won’t bother to point out hardly anyone has been killed over knitting philosophies. That’s way too easy and it implies knitting has the better of religion. Instead, I’ll not only agree with PZ (sorry Matt), but say why I think the comparison is particularly apt. Others have [probably] done this already, but that’s why I noted it was a lazy summer weekend. I was too lazy to find out.
So in the spirit of summer laziness, here’s what I like about the knitting analogy: it suggests the conditions under which religion would be relatively harmless, maybe even useful. Knitting is a private, or at least personal avocation. Knitters don’t want everyone else to be a knitter. They are satisfied to knit on their own or with other people who like to knit. A knitting club. It’s social. Knitting is a way for many people to relieve tension, or, when times are tough, to occupy themselves. For these people, knitting is comforting. If you’ve ever seen the products of really good knitters, it can also be creative, so knitting is a source of creative inspiration. Knitting is socially acceptable. It doesn’t set a knitter apart from their non-knitting fellow citizens. Whether you are a knitter or not isn’t a matter of personal worth. It is assumed that knitters are just as good people as non-knitters.
In short, knitting is unobjectionable because it is kept personal, it is not the source of invidious distinctions, it can be fun and lead to pleasant social interactions, it is a comfort for many people, and is a source of creativity and even inspiration. If religion were like knitting, I wouldn’t object to it.
But religion isn’t satisfied to be like knitting. It’s even outraged to be compared to knitting. Religion takes its knitting needles and uses them as weapons, not to knit with in private but to attack others in public. So while religion isn’t really like knitting, I agree with PZ. If it can attain the Revelation of Knittingness, there might be hope for it.