If You Wanna Be Serious, Lighten Up


– Rant # 170 –


Some conceptions of God are incoherent. On pain of irrationality, those can be rejected ab initio. Others are coherent but they violate Occam’s Razor. Those can be rejected but they don’t have to be. And still others are coherent, and they do some explanatory work, but they don’t do that work as well as any number of alternative hypotheses. Those can be embraced without pain of irrationality because there’s a certain subjectivity in what counts as better and worse workmanship.

Let me come clean. I am (what I call) a sympathetic atheist. I’m sympathetic to theism on two fronts. First, and as just noted, I don’t think someone has to be an idiot to believe in a God provided her conception of Him is not incoherent. And second, though I would – and apparently I have – bet my immortal soul on there not being a God, I wouldn’t bet the family farm on it. (Though to be honest, the latter is made slightly easier by the fact that, being Jewish, it’s probably been a couple thousand years since any of my ancestors owned a farm. Come to think of it, being that I’m a Levite, it’s unlikely they ever did. But I digress.)

Most of my colleagues, on the other hand, are foaming-at-the-mouth atheists, otherwise known as spittle-hitting-the-walls atheists, otherwise known as true-believing atheists. I can say this because a true-believer need not be, as Alvin Toffler thought she must, impervious to any evidence that challenges her belief. There need simply be nothing that could count as evidence that could challenge her belief.

In that sense I’m also a true-believing atheist. That is, if Jebus himself came wafting down through the ceiling, I would reject him today as surely as did my ancestors two millennia ago. The difference between me and my colleagues is that I don’t foam about this rejection. And that’s why I can and do teach Phil of Religion with both integrity and openness.

But openness does not entail reverence. I’m as irreverent about Abraham or Jebus or Mohammed or Joseph Smith as any Jim Jeffries wannabe could be. But I get the impression that my colleagues have this reversed. They think it unseemly to be irreverent but perfectly acceptable to be dismissive. And so they, and their students, miss out on all the fun a Phil of Religion course can be. There’s no fun for anyone in dismissing a student’s most cherished beliefs. But irreverence for those beliefs is an invitation to everyone not to take herself so seriously. And not unlike a good shit, taking oneself less seriously is always cause to smile.

Dismissal is not irreverence, and irreverence is not dismissal. They’re not orthogonal, they’re incompatible. Nothing irrelevant is worth ridiculing, and nothing ridiculous is irrelevant.

But if I’m right about this – and I am – then for God’s sake apply it in your own courses. Have a little fun with anthropogenic climate change, or the irresponsibility of vaccination refusal, or whatever you’re in high dudgeon about this week. You’d be amazed how more seriously your students will take what you hold most dear if they can see that you have a sense of humor about your holding it so dear.

Granted there’s nothing funny about 7000 people drowning this summer trying to make the crossing from Tripoli to Lampedusa. But there is something funny about the media thinking those deaths warrant less attention than some radio show host being accused of not ‘curb[ing his sexual] enthusiasm’.

Humor supervenes on incongruity, and so does philosophy. If it’s funny it’s probably philosophically interesting. If it’s not it’s probably not.

Why else do you think most people are getting their news from John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver? And being far better informed about what’s going on in the world than those who watch Fox News.

Categories: Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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