The spectrum of belief

Few debates rage with more fury than that which goes on between theists and atheists. Both groups seem to view each other as being at exact opposite ends of a spectrum and therefore as far from each other as any two things could be. What is often forgotten (or never thought of in the first place) is how much this so-called “spectrum” actually connects them in a very real way.

To sum it up simply and poetically, I would quote from a novel called The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (who, not at all coincidentally, has published her own translation of the Tao Te Ching):

To oppose something is to maintain it.

They say here “all roads lead to Mishnory.” To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk different road.

To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much of the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: and they have broken the circle, and go free.

Today I found an article on Agnosticism which is definitely worth a read. In it, the author makes a similar point: that both theism and atheism are, in the end, leaps of faith, each one lacking an ultimate proof. While we can argue endlessly over which one is less of a leap of faith (and therefore more valid), that — of course — is not the point. The article argues very well for Agnosticism being — rather than just “weak Atheism” — a much more balanced approach to life’s unanswered questions.

This “spectrum of belief” which would have us view theists and atheists as distant opposites is, to me, quite incorrect. The road away from theism has led atheists back to the same faulty peak of dogmatic insistence. They just happen to now be facing in the opposite direction.

And that leads me to Christopher Hitchens, the quintessential poster-boy for militant Atheism. Hyper-intelligent and well-spoken to a discussion-ending fault, Hitchens has recently had to cancel a book tour due to being diagnosed with throat cancer. A great article chronicling the great theist/atheist mud-slinging festival that has arisen in the wake of this news can be found here. It’s an incredibly readable essay exploring all the dirty facets of this orgy of vitriol. In a case where an outspoken critic of God has been struck down by cancer of the throat, it is, of course, the opinion of many, that he brought this “punishment” on himself.

Quite amusingly, the pro-Hitchens crowd fights bitterly back, many times even asking that his detractors “leave him alone” during his time of crisis. What is so great about this is that, in my opinion, Hitchens is at his best when he defends free speech in all its forms. Say what you will about Hitchens. He would never deny you that right. He has spent much of his career (the most glorious moments, if you ask me) inviting criticism and defending the rights of even those who would (and many have) threatened the lives of he and his family.

If you expose yourself to only one of Hitch’s verbose speeches, let it be this one. In this speech on censorship, all of his dirty vices and imperfections are put on display (he spends a good deal of time arguing that all relgions should be openly and viciously derided), but these foibles of his — in the context of the speech — only serve to make his ultimate point about censorship that much more solid.

One Response to “The spectrum of belief”
  1. Very thought provoking post. I hadn’t thought of it until just now, but one could say that agnosticism represents the middle path.

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