Last night I was on a panel discussing religion, as the token skeptic. For me, such events often highlight differences in mentality and temperament, as much as differences in ways of describing the world.
There was a Hindu and a Buddhist on the panel, both Westerners following Westernized versions of their traditions. So predictably enough, their views of spirituality came across as a form of therapy mixed in with magical beliefs about minds. Their pronouncements on peace and happiness weren’t too objectionable, if you could remove the magical thinking from the picture. If mental peace is the sort of thing you want, well, maybe meditative techniques and all that sort of thing can help. It’s not implausible. Mind you, I’m not sure I want to turn into a zombie who drivels about universal benevolence with a strange smile on my face. And for all the talk of selflessness, I can’t help but think there’s something egocentric about the therapeutic focus of Western Buddhism and so forth.
The Catholic, the Muslim, the Jew and the Mormon talked about the teachings of their faith, and about trying to get closer to God. They didn’t say much about why they should believe their particular teachings rather than those of their neighboring panelists’. It seemed like it came down to loyalty to the tradition they were brought up in. It worked for them, after all. Which is, I guess, a reasonably pragmatic attitude to have. They all did a lot of squirming, however, when some audience members questioned them about the less woman-friendly aspects of their traditions. I’m not sure why they bothered. Women are generally more inclined toward supernatural beliefs than men, regardless of whether women are allowed to be priests or imams or whatever.
The Protestant representative, a religion professor, was interesting. Much of what he said revolved around quasi-liberal Biblical interpretation, especially trying to get into the head of Paul. Interesting, and since much of this sort of thing tries to twist the writings of ancient religious fanatics into something acceptable for modern political correctness, harmless enough. But I have to admit, I don’t see why anyone should care about what the Bible says, even assuming it any coherent “message” at all, which I am fairly sure it does not. No, I didn’t say anything. No point in antagonizing colleagues, especially by implying I don’t think their discipline should exist.
I probably gave the impression that I was an arrogant bastard who had a very science-centered way of looking at things. Which is accurate enough, I suppose.