I have recently read Christopher Hutchins’ book, God is Not Great.
It is worth a read. Mr. Hutchins undercuts his own, often insightful, arguments with his self important, condescending, and deliberately offensive tone. He clearly has genuine anger with religion. The worse part is that I agree with him more than I disagree. Religion as a force in history has been a stooge in political struggles, an excuse for genocide, a vehicle for bigotry and hatred. Yet Mr Hutchins and I draw very different conclusions, but a little about this later.
The fundamental idea beneath Mr. Hutchins’ philosophy is a form of rational skepticism. Bravo. We could could use more of both.
When someone tells us something is true but it seems false, we should challenge it. When we read something that appears mistaken or misguided we should view the facts and analyze before rendering judgment. It does not matter whether if it is supposed to be divinely inspired. Any belief system left unchallenged is not worth believing in. It is only by questioning your beliefs or faith deeply, can you begin to plumb the depths of its meaning. And we should not be afraid to question our beliefs. The beliefs that we hold that cannot stand up inquiry, deserve a second look to toss in the mental spring cleaning heap.
Skepticism can also ask you to dump the dregs of a philosophy or religion. When someone tells you that the universe was created in seven days, you have two choices (three actually, but we will get to third choice another time). First, ignore all scientific evidence to the contrary and believe, because someone told you that is what you should do. Or, second, you can come to some other conclusion. That perhaps the creation story is a myth. And not meant be take literally in our time, with our scientific knowledge. Like all good myths it is meant to impart a story with useful ideas for the human species.. OR not. Maybe this particular myth is not useful to you, or insightful. Maybe it seems even juvenile to you. The point of myths, and all stories is for us to find a kind of resonance, an agreement, or description that helps make the seemly unmanageable and indeciferable experience we call life, more, well human. But if a story or myth doesn’t work. Don’t feel abliged to hold on to it. That is skepticism. Rejecting a myth because it is a myth is not skepticism it is ignorance.
When our religion suggests that slavery is ordained by God, as was promulgated by Christian sects for hundreds of years, we should be skeptical. When our religion commands that justice is an eye for an eye, we should question whether we want to be left in the blind world that would result, to paraphrase Gandhi. There is much to be skeptical of in religion, new and old. Because something is new age does not make it more true than the old religions, just less well known.
Ultimately, I suggest we are not just rational beings. We are emotionally, intellectual and for some, spiritual beings. For Christopher Hutchins, the world is reduced to rationality and skepticism. What a limited view. Rationality is terrific for reasoning about the physical universe, but useless when enjoying a piece of art or watching a film. We do not use our “rational” mind to enjoy music or enjoy a good book. But this idea is for another post.