Religion helps people, absolutely no doubt about it. Leading a theistic life can allow someone to believe in something greater than themselves, and it also helps alleviate fears of death. Followers of a religion have been known to do great things for others, in the name of their faith. Thus it is absolutely understandable why people would choose to follow a certain God or religion.
Oftentimes when people discover my absence of faith in our Christian-dominated society, they will tell me the benefits of being religious, or inquire as to why I am not. The urge to put a label on me as an atheist is quite prevalent. I am not dismissive of such a label, but I think that it almost puts atheism on the table as a religion in and of itself. This is a mistake, because it is not a collective group that gathers to perform anti-worshiping practices. Instead I, like Alan Alda, simply do not believe.
Two groups of people have been described, each one has its merits and pitfalls, but a third group of people exist that do not seem to be willing to choose a side. Many people should be able to get on board with the idea that the only thing worse than the side that disagrees with you is the one that refuses to choose a side.
Agnosticism in the religious context according to William Rowe is basically that human reason is incapable of knowing if a religious deity does or does not exist. Essentially, these people are fence sitters, unwilling or incapable of making an important life decision. Richard Dawkins agrees, stating that permanent agnosticism is “intellectual cowardice.” Basically, agnostics are the Switzerland of the (non)theistic world.
It is extremely important to know where you stand on very key issues, things that are central to the identity of human existence. While a temporary position of doubt of a deity would hopefully lead to a full time position in the permanent disbelief department, going in the other direction is also more preferable to stagnant unemployment. Blaise Pascal argued that even if there were no proof of God, it is better for an individual in the long run to believe in him, just in case. Essentially, the expected value of God is greater than just living a life in denial. Thus if you are strictly looking at the odds, Pascal suggests one takes the theistic route.
JFK was once described by his wife as saying “I’d better keep my nose clean, just in case He’s up there.” It appears that Kennedy was at least perhaps at one point, more concerned with covering all the bases than being explicitly devout. This seems to be a common theme or problem with agnosticism: that people are forced to keep up what has become a charade for fear of dislike by others. Kennedy would likely never have been elected had he said “I am an agnostic.” Thus, it appears that a choice of agnosticism is more about pleasing others than knowing oneself. This is the main problem of this position; it forces people to live life as a lie. If they would choose one side or the other, they could drop all the silliness of feigning belief.
A 2012 report published by the Pew Center shows that agnostics make up about 3.3 percent of the United States population. A very small number, especially compared with the whole world, which is about 16 percent agnostic or non-religious according to the study. The United States is nearly alone in the Western World in terms of religious belief, ours being considerably higher than nearly all other similar nations. While there are a variety of factors that play into why so many more of us believe in an unobservable deity, hopefully it is not due to the “intellectual cowardice” of being an agnostic.
There is perhaps some merit in saying “I cannot prove if a deity exists, and neither can you.” Thus people take the position of I’ll “wait and see.” But staying there for the term of life seems a bit ridiculous. Imagine standing and staring into a microwave, and waiting for the meal to be cooked, but instead the countdown never finishes. Sooner or later, you either have to walk away, or take the unsatisfying cold meal out and eat it, perhaps washing it down with some Kool-aid.
The moral of this story is that picking a side and risking being wrong is infinitely more appreciable than sitting in the middle and not choosing at all.
Res Stecker is fine with his lack of belief, because at least he’s chosen a side. Love and hate can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
I simply do not believe, but this is better than sitting on the fence.
Covering your bases when it comes to religion is not appropriate to avid believers.
Risking being wrong is worse than not choosing at all, and that needs to stop.