I am not a religious person. I also happen to believe that religious people bear the brunt of more everyday bigotry than most groups.
I have heard maybe two or three clearly racists sentiments in my life. By which I mean, uttered in my presence. I hear a similar number of slights against religious people every week, probably.
So upon reading Ricky Gervais’ explanation of his atheism, I had to cringe at his understanding of religion. It was, charitably, a (pedantic) swing and a (bigoted) miss.
What he fails to grasp is that faith is an aesthetic choice. It is not rational, and does not claim to be. When people are lifted up by a symphony, or saddened by a tragic play, they are undertaking the same, non-rational choice as people of faith. It is a decision to transcend, and be moved.
To invoke science in this is to dance about architecture. Gervais says that, Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know.
Yes, good science is humble. A good philosopher (of which the scientist is a species) learns humility very quickly.
A person of faith begins with this humility. A belief in God is fundamentally an admission of not knowing.
One does not invoke science in describing how they are moved by a piece of music. One can apply science to this experience (in terms of psychology and such), but your decision to fire up a Yeah Yeah Yeahs track is not a rational one. One might ask if Gervais’ comic inspiration is “rational”.
Why do I mention bigotry? Sentiments like these: I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral.
Does he believe this to be the mainstream of religion? If he were living under a repressive theocracy, and observed these sorts of things on a regular basis, I might be sympathetic.
I rather suspect that he is using headlines generated by a few to impugn any others he includes in the category. A person that harrumphs “See?!” while watching a black guy being arrested on the evening news would be an intellectual compatriot of Gervais in this regard.
I might also point out that the great killers of the last 100 years were atheists. And not simply on a personal level — Hitler, Stalin and Mao considered the elimination of religion to be a fundamental part of their ideologies. Between them, we are looking at, conservatively, 20 million murders.
(We’d need 500 deaths by stoning, every day for the next 100 years, to approach that. I can be pedantic too!)
So believing that religion is a force for conflict and oppression, when compared to other belief systems, is simply…irrational.