Skepticism or Fundamentalism?

Christopher Hitchens, when asked, said that he has never doubted his atheism. He claims to have tried, but apparently the thought that God exists was too ridiculous for him to seriously consider.

Anywhere outside of fundamentalism (be it Christian, Hindu, or atheist), the open admission that one has not seriously questioned one’s position since the age of nine comes at a deep cost to one’s credibility. Surely, Richard Dawkins should have immediately pointed out that Hitchens has nothing like a “scientific mind” on this issue – for good scientists do not go a lifetime without questioning their propositions.

But Hitchens knew what he was doing. As much as any thoughtful person would be taken aback by this admission of prejudice. He knew that his fans would revel in it. For this group, calling something too ridiculous to seriously consider is preferable to actually considering it – never mind that real criticism requires real consideration.

Of course, Hitchens has praised doubt – not about his own cherished view, of course – but doubt about the beliefs of others. He has claimed that doubt is deeply important for the advancement of society. Doubt is good, so long as it is doubt of religion: never doubt atheism.

But I agree that doubt of religion is good. Those who do not doubt their faith are no better off than Hitchens, who can hardly have been said to understand religion well enough to have rejected it. Indeed, Hitchens barely seemed to understand that doubt and rejection are different things. But an open mind requires more than trading one form of fundamentalism for another, and a mind too narrow to question its own beliefs is not inherently better for accepting atheism.

That is to say, doubt is a very good thing; unthinking rejection is not.

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