It’s been an unusually busy week, so I apologize for the lack of original posts, but I just came upon Christopher Hitchens’ latest piece in Slate reflecting on the many debates he’s had with religious proponents in the last few years. His new film, Collision, looks fascinating and I look forward to reviewing it.
What struck me in Hitchens’ article, and what I’ve found when discussing religion with theists as well, is how few of them hold literally to the doctrine that they espouse. It is one of the curious aspects of religion today that people will join movements insisting that religion be taught in science classes, but won’t agree on which parts of that religion they even believe in.
As Hitchens writes:
Usually, when I ask some Calvinist whether he is really a Calvinist (in the sense, say, of believing that I will end up in hell), there is a slight reluctance to say yes, and a slight wince from his congregation. I have come to the conclusion that this has something to do with the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality: You can’t very easily invite somebody to your church and then to supper and inform him that he’s marked for perdition. More to the point, though, you soon discover that many of those attending are not so sure about all the doctrines, either, just as you very swiftly find out that a vast number of Catholics don’t truly believe more than about half of what their church instructs them to think. Every now and then I read reports of polls that tell me that more Americans believe in the virgin birth or the devil than believe in Darwinism: I’d be pretty sure that at least some of these are unwilling to confess their doubts to someone who calls them up on their kitchen phone. Meanwhile, by any measurement, the number of those who profess allegiance to no church (I am not claiming these as atheists, just skeptics) are the fastest-growing minority in America. And don’t tell me that warfare increases faith and that there are no unbelievers in foxholes: Only recently I was invited to a very spirited meeting of the freethinkers’ group at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where there has been a revolt against on-campus proselytizing by biblical-literalist instructors.
I can only see this as a good thing and think that if more skeptics, freethinkers, agnostics and atheists would discuss religion more openly with true believers that reason would ultimately win out. Perhaps that’s just “faith” on my part, but I don’t think people want to believe in erroneous ideas. They may just never have been asked to critically examine what they believe.