The Gulf

It’s all quite interesting, as I said – albeit in a rather depressing way. It shows what a great yawning gulf there can be between secular modes of thought and the non-secular variety; between rational discussion and irrational discussion; between unbelief and belief; between atheism and theism. I’m not sure I think that’s always the case. I think it may be possible for atheists and theists to find some common ground at least sometimes. At least I think I think that – but maybe I only hope it, or would like to think it, or feel as if I ought to think it, because it seems so rude not to. (Which of course is a bad principle, and just the sort of thing B&W is supposed to be against, but it’s not always easy to extirpate every vestige of bad thinking from one’s equipment, is it.) But I must say sometimes I’m just not sure. Thinking airily in the abstract about generalities and likelihoods, it seems possible to think that the two sides can talk (surely?), but then when we get down to it, it becomes rapidly apparent that we can’t.

At least, not unless we maintain a polite silence. Not unless atheists are bashfully tactfully politely quiet about their atheism. Not unless we in fact pretend that we don’t actually disagree with our theist pals about anything. If we pretend it’s all just a matter of taste or inclination – you like blue, I like red; you like pizza, I like curry – then it’s all right. If the atheists pretend or at least allow it to be assumed that they’re atheists because they haven’t thought about it, or they’re lazy, or they just haven’t met the right god yet, then that’s okay, and we can all get along. But if atheists are so aggressive and unfriendly as to say they’re atheists for a reason, and to say what that reason is – then they are ‘strident’. And that’s at best – that’s almost a compliment. ‘X is strident but not actually a homicidal maniac.’ To the really committed theist, atheists are indeed – apparently by definition – homicidal maniacs. Atheists are to be called Madame Defarge and fans of Stalinist outrages – and this by the very people who complain of the fact that secularists don’t always want to work with theists! It’s really quite hilarious, in one way.

But in another way it isn’t, in another way it’s a symptom of the entrenchment of irrationalism in sectors where it ought to have faded away a long time ago. And this is another reason – or another version of the same reason – secularists don’t want to work with theists. It’s because theism depends on irrationalism, and secularists are just never sure that the theists can keep their irrationalism confined to that one area. How can we be sure? How could we? If you let yourself believe something against the evidence in one area, why would you not do so in other areas? What is the difference? What is the bright line that tells people ‘faith okay here, not okay there’? How do people know when to be credulous and when not to be? That’s what secularists don’t know, and that’s why we’re always a little leery of working on secular political issues with people who are not committed to secular ways of thinking. Maybe that’s wrong, maybe there is a bright line, maybe the theists are perfectly capable of keeping things separate. But it’s hard to believe that sometimes.

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