Friday, April 06, 2007

Level Playing Field

I don't know why EJ Dionne gets upset when a couple of atheists start talking about their atheism with the level of certainty that religious people do on a regular basis. I'm not interested in convincing people to abandon their religion mostly because discussion of religion bores the hell out of me. I also think asking whether religion is, in the net, a benovelent or malevolent force is sort of like asking if the weather is a benevolent or malevolent force. Religious belief and institutions are so dominant in our history that one can't try to isolate them and question their value.

Still, the "dogmatism" Dionne discusses isn't limited to those normally characterized as fundamentalists or the Christian Right, it's there for even the new more lovable public face of Christianity, Rick Warren, who doesn't believe in evolution and believes Jews (and, presumably, most of the rest of the world) are going to Hell. He comes off pretty absurdly in this discussion with Sam Harris, and reminds me why discussing religion bores me to death. Consider the intellectual vacuity of this argument:

We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble.

This is the kind of argument an 11 year can take down, as obviously Rick Warren has "lost everything" if his failure to put on a pirate costume and genuflect to the Flying Spaghetti Monster will doom him to to an eternity of being beaten by a noodly appendage.

As I said, I personally am not interested in confronting believers and trying to convince them of "the error of their ways," but the proselytizing of Harris, even in the mean scary quotes Dionne provides, is at its most strident rather meek and mild compared to the equivalent proselytizing from believers which is a steady drumbeat in our mainstream discourse. I'm sure some people agree with things Harris says and some don't, as some agree with Warren and some don't. I'm not trying to suggest a pure equivalence between the two, I'm just saying that to object to Harris's "dogmatism" is to object to Warren's, which Dionne doesn't care to do.