Tuesday, January 1, 2008
"In God We Doubt" Review
A few of you may remember at BBC program called, "Humphrys in Search of God," which investigated the claims of religious leaders of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths. The host, John Humphrys, was unconvinced by the answers he received. Broadcast on radio at the end of 2006, right in the wake of "The God Delusion," Humphrys asked tough questions about suffering in the world, even religious violence. How could a God exist who would allow so much violence, even violence in the name of religion. How can belief in God coexist with science? While Humphrey's is not convinced by the major religions, one should note the subtitle of his book, "Confessions of a Failed Atheist." Humphrey is a genuine agnostic, however, atheists and liberal believers will find value in Humphrey's tale of his search for meaning. Humphrys writes plainly, and is skilled at telling his story from a long career with the BBC, including an assignment as Diplomatic Correspondent in the 80s. He is open and honest, not afraid to offend atheists or the religious.
The interviews have failed to move him, as ritualistic responses by priests had failed to answer his questions as a young boy, but the letters which followed the program had a much greater effect. Normally, after a radio program, the BBC will receive a dozen or so letters. The response to Humphrys ' program resulted in thousands of letters, from atheists, agnostics, and believers. The questions asked are big questions. God and morality carry strong responses. However, neither side wins him over, and he is critical of strong and weak arguments from both sides. The arguments from atheists fail for him. While the atheists will use wit and skill, they describe Christianity in ludicrous, but true, terms. An analogy would be to describe a camping trip as slogging about some mountains as if you were a hobo, having the sunrise ruined by morning mist, and complaining about the breaks in the silence by chattering birds. This type of description would be great for people who hate camping, but does nothing but outrage those who love it. There is little progress or dialog by characterizing Christianity, or other faiths in the manner atheists do. It discredits your logical arguments, and the treatment of Christianity in this manner turns off those who may be sympathetic to your opinion. Humphrys wants atheists to do two things, prove mainstream religion is a malign force in the world, and not just showcasing examples from extremists, and provide an alternative to the millions of believers in the world.
"Atheism is easy," asserts Humphrys. "The default position for the human condition is that there is something out there. This can’t all be one big accident. Otherwise, what is the point?" We recognize kindness, wickedness, and evil. There is no country in the world which would condone murder, theft, or rape, no matter its religion, or lack of it. Atheists assert that the rules which determine morality are created for the benefit of society, not handed down by some ultimate authority. Humphrys uses an old argument that if objective evil exists, there must be a God. Humphrys believes that we should fear fanaticism, but we "should also fear a world in which the predominant values are materialism and consumerism, and the greatest aspiration of too many children is to become a celebrity."
Through his story, he never really answers what will convince him to believe in God, or any religion. He has spent his whole life trying to find good reason to support his skepticism, but is instead drawn away and toward this idea of "something." His honesty is refreshing. Like it or not, his feeling about religion and atheism is not unique. There are many out there who are non religious, but unable to accept atheism, or a religion. Should we spend our time telling Christians how their religion is a lie? We have many clever ways of doing that. What should the goals be? Would our position be better understood if we defined things we do believe in, rather then asserting a negative position in opposition to the religious? Despite the diversity of atheists, there are a number of points which can be loosely agreed upon, and further debate about moral issues to be made which could make atheism more accepting to honest doubters, the agnostics.