AGNOSTICS INTERNATIONAL (Agnosticism)

by dhw, Saturday, October 08, 2011, 20:08 (2119 days ago) @ George Jelliss

GEORGE: Julian Baggini thinks "the God wars" have become stale, and need to be freshened up - he's going to say how next week.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/oct/07/how-not-to-be-a-dogmatic-fun...

"What's needed to clear this issue up is to think through where the boundary lies between legitimate strong belief and dogmatic fundamentalism. There clearly is such a boundary, but by talking as if there were none, religious ultra-liberals and agnostics (the "fluffy brigade" as I affectionately call them) manage to make it look as though the only reasonable position to take in this debate is one where the sole passionate commitment is to a lack of passionate commitment."

GEORGE: I'm sure dhw belongs to the fluffy brigade.

Well, I'd rather be fluffy than huffy and puffy, but thank you for this stimulating contribution, George. Now read on:

BAGGINI: What is really objectionable is not conviction and clarity, but the abuse, mockery and refusal to acknowledge any weakness that signals a lack of openness to the possibility of being wrong, and sadly, this is all too common.

It certainly is, and it characterizes the militants on both sides, whereas we agnostics are by definition permanently open to being wrong, because one of the alternatives we are unable to believe in (there is or there is not a God) has to be right. Come to think of it, George, when did you last admit that you might be wrong? Now read on again:

BAGGINI: That's why the fluffy brigade can be as guilty as engaging in pointless argument as their supposedly more aggressive peers. It may appear respectful and polite not to challenge your opponent at all, but in reality, all that means is a refusal to engage with the deep differences between you. As Frank Furedi puts it in his latest book, "instead of serving as a way of responding to differences in views, tolerance has become a way of not taking them seriously."

If you don't challenge and you don't take either side seriously, you haven't even entered the debate. That's not agnosticism and it's not tolerance. It's apathy. Since, George, you have pointed the finger of fluff at me, let me assure you that I would not have written the "brief guide" or set up this website if I had been lacking in passionate commitment, but the commitment is to the issues, not to any one answer. Nor should my "tolerance" be equated with not taking your own faith in chance (which you hate to acknowledge) as seriously as I take David's faith in a UI. Now read on again:

BAGGINI: There is no automatic virtue in softly advocating accommodating beliefs, nor any vice in strongly advocating clear, divisive opinions. What really matters is that whatever we believe, however strongly we believe it, we genuinely engage. It's because that happens so rarely that the God wars have become so stale, and we desperately need to freshen them up.

Firstly, in my view the God wars are anything but stale. Proselytizing atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, Pullman and Co. have done the world a great philosophical service in putting the debate on the front pages, while the blinkered Catholics, the divided Protestants, and the fundamentalist Muslims also hit the headlines by blundering or blasting their way through one controversy after another. Secondly, I doubt if you will ever get the really strong believers on either side to "engage", other than through the sort of public discussions to which we ourselves are making our own minuscule though, in my view, unfluffy contribution. But let's wait and see how Baggini proposes to freshen things up.


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