Every ideology has its own culture. By ‘culture’ I mean the common, often unspoken understanding between members of a shared experience and mindset; I’m thinking of the peculiar slang, catch-phrases, and abbreviations; inside jokes and coded language; community idiosyncrasies and the knowledge that you belong and why. This is culture. And as I have slipped from one ideological community to another I’ve also slipped from one culture into another. I learned to spot my ‘kind’— fellow ‘nones’ with religious backgrounds—simply by listening for the twang of doubt in their speech.
I’ve lately discovered that the community of non-believers, like every other community, has its fair share of problems, not the least of which being that we are often drawn together not by our similarities, but our common marginalization in the face of religious privilege. Naturally, many factions have formed to unite people who share more than just the ability to make others frantic by openly rejecting the most popular flavor of cosmology.
I’ve come to embrace that factions are the natural result of the individual’s fundamental need to be understood by her fellows. What worries me more is that having been unified under the vague flag of ‘not them,’ many have picked up the rather (ironically) uncritical practice of labeling all religious people ‘not us,’ a designation that often connotes ‘not intellectual,’ ‘not critical,’ ‘not genuine,’ and ‘not skeptical.’ (Some pockets of religious non-affiliates, such as the ‘new atheists,’ have a tendency to think quite highly of themselves.)
It seems increasingly unfair to me to speak of ‘religious people’ and ‘skeptical people,’ as though these must necessarily be two separate groups. Instead, I think we need to embrace the possibility that one does not have to be an empiricist to be of benefit to society. We need to acknowledge that skepticism (which does not denote empiricism) can take many forms, and that critical thinking is not limited to the sciences, but also stretches to the arts, humanities, and can be applied consistently within a philosophical framework that embraces a spiritual reality (Whether skepticism is or isn’t usually applied consistently by [insert faith-based group here] isn’t the point.) We may disagree, but part of being a critical thinker is taking the time to understand the ‘why’ behind opposing viewpoints, even if that means momentarily adopting what seems like a silly way of looking at the world.
Related articles (from various perspectives):
- ASK A-THEIST: Religion and secularism unite! (tech.mit.edu)
- Steven Novella Takes On Some of the Oldest Clichés About Scientific Skepticism – Again (skepticblog.org)
- Since When is Not Believing in God an ‘Agnostic’ Position? (patheos.com)
- The Way of the Agnostic (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Scientific Skepticism, Rationalism, and Secularism|Steven Novella|Neurologica (theness.com)
…and a blog: Check out Christian Skepticism: A Reasonable Faith to learn what some self-avowed ‘skeptical Christians’ have to say about their worldview.