I just ran across an excellent article in Geez Magazine, discussing death bed conversions along with the way believers and atheists alike seem to prefer throwing stones across an intellectual void, rather than having useful discussions about the immediate and well-known real world, its problems, and what to do about them.
That is so close to my own feelings that, were I an atheist, I’d be wishing I’d written the piece myself. Since, however, I don’t claim that degree of certainty about issues no one can claim really to know, I don’t consider myself a part of that debate.
My own position is that there is much good and much bad on the believers’ side, and much wasted rhetoric and no little lack of compassion on both. I have virtually no interest in the position of anyone regarding a god or gods, simply because I don’t believe it’s possible to come up with a coherent definition of such “beings” that would make discussion possible. My interest in your beliefs begins and ends with whether or not they interfere with the lives of those who don’t agree with you. More to the point: what did you do today to make the world a better place for everyone?
Atheists claim to be bringing reason into a world of superstition. I suggest that continuing to try to do so, in the face of many decades showing that believers are not amenable to those arguments, constitutes a sort of superstition as well. To bring the whole thing down to a vulgar plane, they’re spitting into the wind, or, as they say in the 12-Step rooms, doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. That sort of behavior, it seems to me, requires at least a subconscious belief in magic.
The reality is that people believe what makes them comfortable, and always exhibit a remarkable ability to substantiate those beliefs with a variety of underpinnings, of whatever solidity. It’s what’s necessary for them to function comfortably in the world and — like all addicts — it takes a great deal to shake their tree. In the case of the atheists, the motivation seems to be a sort of intellectual superiority and a desire to show people the way, dressed up as the “voice of reason” in a world gone mad, and similar protestations. Among the believers, much the same, aggravated by belief in something they aver, but can never prove to a disinterested observer. Both sides are in much the same boat, both are paddling against the current, generating much wasted effort, and no good is likely to come of it.
A cynic might say that both factions are prodded on by folks who stand to make some money out of the controversy, or from achieving more adherents, or from confirming for people their feelings of superiority, but there are no cynics around here. Hardly.
The thing is, nonbelievers simply don’t “get” the idea of faith. Nor do they seem to comprehend that changing the mind of someone who wants to believe is infinitely more difficult than they would like to imagine. Both sides end up preaching to their respective choirs, and little or nothing gets done in the vast arena between the camps, which is desperately in need of attention.
That brings us back to the most excellent article I mentioned earlier. Check it out.