Block that play

Speaking of the combination of bullshit and bullying – consider the way the word ‘faith’ is everywhere used as a tool of that combination. It’s a bully-word precisely because it’s about bullshit; it gets to bully people on the grounds that it is about unwarranted belief. What an odd arrangement.

Look at Deborah Solomon talking to Ian McEwan for instance.

It seems to me that the impulse to atone is a religious one, and yet you are a self-declared atheist. Yes, I am an atheist, and probably Briony is, too. Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It’s a little easier if you’ve got a god to forgive you.

Not necessarily. Faith in itself is not easy to sustain. Well, we won’t get into that.

‘Faith in itself is not easy to sustain.’ And why is that? Because it’s ‘faith’ – it’s not based on evidence or probability or plausibility, it’s just a choice, an act of will; naturally it’s ‘not easy to sustain’ when there are so many ways it can seem wrong. Yet Solomon turns it into a smug boast combined with a reproof. ‘Faith’ is not easy to sustain therefore people who sustain it are brave or loyal or dedicated or athletic, or some such thing. Faith-people are the brave strong tightrope-walking ones, atheists are the pale weak cowards who stay at home and suck on their pacifiers. That’s sheer intellectual bullying, that is, and McEwan, politer than Solomon, allowed her to get away with it. But faith-people really ought not to play that card, because it’s not a legitimate card to play; it gives them an unfair advantage based on other people’s civil reluctance to embarrass them; it’s tawdry and passive-aggressive to take advantage of that politeness.

The Texas Education commissioner used the same tawdry weapon in discussing the firing of Christine Comer.

The Texas Education commissioner, Robert Scott, told The Dallas Morning News that Ms. Comer was not forced out over the message, adding, “You can be in favor of science without bashing people’s faith.” He did not return phone calls to his office.

‘You can be in favor of science without bashing people’s faith.’ What does that mean? You can be in favor of science without forwarding a message saying that Barbara Forrest was going to be giving a talk in Austin? You can be in favor of science without thinking and saying that science classes ought to teach science and not religion? You can be in favor of science without saying that Creationism and ID are not science but religion? Is that what that means? (In the context, it sort of has to mean that; there’s not really anything else it can mean.) Well, if it is, it’s nonsense. You can’t be ‘in favor of science’ while raising no objection to the replacement of science by religion in the science classroom. That’s not ‘being in favor of science,’ it’s being in favor of religion in place of science. But, of course, calling such a view ‘bashing people’s faith’ is just the way to prevent a fair and open discussion of the question and to substitute a sweaty atmosphere of guilt and shame and apology – if people buy it, that is. Chris Comer didn’t buy it; good; no one should buy it. Everyone should be highly sensitized to the deployment of the ‘faith’ guilt-trip, and should ward it off with contumely and scorn.

9 Responses to “Block that play”