I earn a good living making things up. For the last 15 years or so 100% of my income has come from making things up. But I am apparently, by many people's standards, a wild-eyed empiricist.
It feels strange to attach so grandiose a label to myself. I'm not an earnest person. I have a visceral dislike for seriousness and pretense so I'm the first person to admit that I'm not a profound thinker, or an intellectual, or even an artiste. I'm not a philosopher. I'm not an expert on anything with the possible exception of middle-reader and young adult book series. I have a good imagination, decent language skills and good work habits. I'm a B+ genre writer. That's it.
I draw a sharp line between what I know and what I don't know, what is supported by evidence and what is not. This doesn't strike me as being a big deal. But it seems to irritate the living hell
out of a lot of (not all) believers. 2+2=4, that's proven. Jesus died for our sins? Not proven.
People are free to believe whatever they want. I don't really care, so long as they aren't taking my money or liberty as a consequence of their beliefs. Believe in leprechauns for all I care, so long as you don't impose a leprechaun-support tax on me. I don't deny anyone's right to believe whatever they want to believe. It's a free country. Let a hundred flowers bloom. (Yes, I know who I'm quoting.)
But no one has the right to forbid challenges to their beliefs. No one has the right to go through life unquestioned, uncriticized and unchallenged. If you don't want your ideas challenged then don't have ideas. Once you open your mouth and say, "I believe. . ." then I have the right to ask, "Why?" And I have the right to say, "I think you're wrong." I have the right to say, "You haven't proven your position to me."
When I or any other empiricist (ooh, big word again) challenges a person's faith we are accused of arrogance, aggression, meanness, harshness, and blah and blah and blah. Lately a few intrepid atheists have begun speaking up and questioning the beliefs of the 95% of the population who are believers.
We are told, in effect, to sit down, shut up, mind our manners and to stop being uppity.
Well, no. No. I'm not going to concede that any idea, not even an idea that can be described as a religion, must go unchallenged. And I don't accept that I must challenge in an unchallenging way. I don't accept the idea that when approaching an idea I have to tug my forelock and preface every remark with a lot of mealy-mouthed qualifiers. Sorry, but if I want to challenge your idea, I'll do it my way and not with kid gloves.
When I arm-wrestle my seven-year-old daughter I let her win. But I assume when I'm discussing ideas I'm dealing with adults who would be insulted if I let them win. Maybe that's my mistake. Maybe the fact that religion goes so unchallenged in our very religious country has left believers with no capacity to defend their points of view. They've never had their arms slammed rudely down onto the tabletop so they are simply unaware of the possibility of such a thing occurring. Maybe they are, in effect, seven-year-olds.
I guess I'm unusual because I actually enjoy losing. I don't learn anything from winning, I learn from being proven wrong. I still recall losing an argument with a kid in sixth-grade on the topic of evolution. I wish I knew what had happened to that guy. I'd thank him. Part of the reason I'm not blogging much lately is it turned out I was right about the main issue. I was right that Rumsfeld had to go, and that we needed more force, and that we needed a bigger army, and ho hum, where is the education in being right? I gloated over my rightness for a while and then lost interest.
We're doing this documentary project soon and my chief instruction to the screeners is to find people who can defend their positions. I want to be challenged. I want to be roughed up. I want my ass kicked. Prove me wrong and I come out of it wiser and stronger. I profit from being proven wrong. The more right you are, the stronger I get, like some Star Trek creature feeding on the energy of its own error.
But that's where the empiricism thing comes in. I just want the facts. If you can step up and prove to me that God exists I'll say, "Holy shit! Imagine that. Cool: now I know." But believers are not consistent empiricists - although empiricism may dominate every other aspect of their lives. They don't want the facts at all costs, whatever the outcome, and to hell with the consequences, they want their faith. And although they seldom show the slightest reluctance to attack me or any other atheist, or to denigrate us, or to consign us to hellfire, it seems that when we return fire we're supposed to do it with one arm tied behind our backs, sotto voce,
just kidding, qualifier, qualifier, mealy-mouthed qualifier.
Why? God can't take it? Jesus is scared of the kid's book hack? Allah will faint if I cross-examine him? Or is it that faith is really paper thin in most people?
Remember back at the early days of the Civil Rights battles of the 50's and 60's? A lot of whites would acknowledge that blacks might just have a minor point . . . but did they have to be so rude about it? Did they have to speak in such loud voices? Couldn't they just whisper, and keep their places, and not do anything to really challenge the status quo? Couldn't they just stop being so uppity?
Nah, we atheists aren't exactly the African-Americans and no, Sam Harris is not Martin Luther King. But you know what? I think atheists are a little tired of being told to sit down, shut up, and let the majority make all the rules.