Keeping the Faith in My Doubt

I continue to try to hone my daily information intake. Instead of plowing through three daily papers like I did over the summer, I now only read the NYTimes, local and sports sections of the SF Chronicle, and have given up the Wall Street Journal. Despite my belief that bundled services are headed downhill, the best bundled service in the world remains the Sunday New York Times. Page by page, I get more value out of the Sunday New York Times then most every other information outlet I consume.

Today, there’s an op/ed Keeping the Faith in My Doubt that is packed with a lot of punch and it spoke to me. The writer talks about "Universists" asking the tough question, "Who will fight for the faithless?" Excerpts:

I have no plans to sign up with the Universists or any other areligious group….An organization for freethinkers – one of the Universists’ self-definitions – strikes me as oxymoronic, like an anarchist government. Isn’t the point of being a freethinker eschewing categories like Satanist, Scientologist or Universist?

I’m also disturbed that these areligious groups have exhibited the same sectarian squabbling that they deplore in religious believers. When Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and director of the Skeptics Society, was invited to speak at an atheism convention in Florida last year, some organizers objected because he is agnostic – a mere doubter of God’s existence rather than a denier.

My main objection to all these anti-religion, pro-science groups is that they aren’t addressing our basic problem, which is ideological self-righteousness of any kind. Obviously, not all faithful folk are intolerant bullies seeking to impose their views on others. Moreover, rejection of religion and adherence to a supposedly scientific worldview do not necessarily represent our route to salvation. We should never forget that two of the most vicious regimes in history, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin, were inspired by pseudoscientific ideologies, eugenics and Marxism.

Opposing self-righteousness is easier said than done. How do you denounce dogmatism in others without succumbing to it yourself? No one embodied this pitfall more than the philosopher Karl Popper, who railed against certainty in science, philosophy, religion and politics and yet was notoriously dogmatic. I once asked Popper, who called his stance critical rationalism, about charges that he would not brook criticism of his ideas in his classroom. He replied indignantly that he welcomed students’ criticism; only if they persisted after he pointed out their errors would he banish them from class.

Of course we all feel validated when others see the world as we do. But we should resist the need to insist or even imply that our views – or anti-views – are better than all others. In fact, we should all be more modest in how we talk about our faith or lack thereof.

For me, that isn’t difficult, because I’ve never really viewed my doubt as an asset. Quite the contrary. I often envy religious friends, because I see how their faith comforts them. Sometimes I think of my skepticism as a disorder, like being colorblind or tone-deaf. Perhaps I’m missing what one geneticist has called "the God gene," an innate predilection for faith (although I’m skeptical of that theory, too). But skepticism has its pleasures; I like the feeling of traveling lightly through life, unencumbered by beliefs.

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