Battling Fundamentalisms

I have on occasion likened the extreme assurance that certain high profile atheists seem to feel about the rightness of their beliefs to the fundamentalism of many of those on the more theist side of the equation. And I make no apology for the fact that I probably spend more time arguing against atheists than theists here – in fact, I regard that as a major part of this series of posts.

But there’s a limit to that. The differences between atheist fundamentalism and theist fundamentalism are somewhat more significant than the differences between, for example facist totalitarianism and communist totalitarianism. For instance, of these four ideologies, atheist fundamentalism has by far the best human rights record.
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The most common characterisation of agnostics that I’ve come across, from both theists and atheists, is that agnostics are simply indecisive. (Rather amusingly, Richard Dawkins mentions this in “The God Delusion” – it seems that this is the one part of the Christian dogma he was taught in school that he has inexplicably failed to subject to his normal heroic scorn.) There is an overall sense that agnostics are somehow weak-willed, pusillanimous folk who really just need to show some backbone.

As if standing up to this pressure from both sides to make a decision – any decision being better than none, apparently – did not require considerable backbone.

We’re all familiar with managers and politicians who need to be seen to be making decisions, leading to an endless and pointless stream of changed decisions. The usual cure proposed is that they should make up their minds once and for all. (The idea that persisting in an error might well be worse than not making a decision – Iraq, anyone? – seems just a foreign.)

Let me ask you something: Why?

Why is it so important to make a decision, now, today, before all the facts are in? Generally speaking, in this life, anyone who wants you to do that is selling something – and hiding some nasty surprises in the small print. That’s what I would assume about any salesman or politician who tried to it on – why should I assume any differently just ‘cos it’s a preacher talking?

But let’s assume good faith (so to speak) on the part of those pushing us to make this decision.

I think they suffer from a failure of the imagination.

They don’t seem able to see that there might be more information on which to base decisions later on. They don’t want to admit that there will probably be more options to choose among if the decision is delayed (despite the fact that even the most cursory glance at religious history will show that there will most likely be some new splinter faith formed in the next five minutes or so).

Most insultingly, they don’t seem willing to acknowledge that choosing not to choose is a valid (or in extreme cases of this narrow-mindedness, a possible) choice.