Monday, October 15, 2012

Do We Value Sincerity?

I had this little Twitter dialog over the weekend and it needs some expansion, but I don't want to harass Dawkins or be confined to 140 letter thoughts.

Richard Dawkins:
Romney believes a religion which is not only barking mad and utterly unscientific. It is also deeply racist. Mr Deity:

David Pecchia:
@RichardDawkins Obama also claims to be a Christian. Are we assuming that this is somehow different, or that he is being insincere?

Richard Dawkins:
@dpecchia I hope he's being insincere. I'd hate to think he really believes it. But even Christianity is not in the same league as Mormonism

He is saying a couple of things here:

1. Mormonism is especially weird.

2. Obama is probably faking his religious belief, which is apparently a good thing.

I'll take the first point first: It is a little odd in the first place for atheists to debate which belief system is the most bizarre. Isn't belief in something for which, in the mind of a good atheist, there is no evidence at all, really the main gripe? Another way of looking at members of the LDS is more operational: Do they engage in behavior that is unconventional? I have spent time around Mormons and to my experience; they are anodyne to a fault. A final note: Romney grew up in a Mormon household. It is very common for people to stick-with the faith they grew-up with. Obama took-up his Christianity as an adult. I usually regard people who find religion as an adult as being more sincere in their belief--unless they do it under duress, like if they have to convert in order to marry. It seems that Obama's conversion may have been in the service of his "community organizing" and so may not be a typical conversion story.

As an aside: I sometimes make fun of my wife's Hindu background, to which she retorts, "But you don't even believe in God"! My (former Catholic) answer, "Yes, but the God I don't believe in is the one true God"!

As for the second point: I will start off by agreeing with Dawkins. I think Obama is really agnostic or atheist and is only pretending to be Christian. Where we depart is in how it makes us feel about Obama and Romney.

Neither of us know what is in the heart of either of these men: Romny could be secretly an atheist and Obama really a devout Christian. Somehow, people as different as Dawkins and me both think (on this point at least) that Romney is being honest and Obama is being deceitful. Now, as a point of first principles, one should favor an honest man over a liar. Maybe even Dawkins would agree, but I think that to Dawkins, it is better to be a liar than a believer in God. But doesn't the lie go to the heart of what a politician in a representative democracy stands for? Why would an atheist even want to lead a nation which is highly religious and which would never elect an admitted atheist? If you so utterly disrespect the belief of a people, why would you want to waste your time serving as their leader?

Added: Another part of the conversation via WSJ Best of the Web Today...

Richard Dawkins
@TheRiler @jamestaranto I don't like it, but a president who lies out of political necessity is a lesser evil than a stupid president

Wow! So Dawkins is calling anyone who believes in God, stupid? Amazing! Thoughtful people on both sides understand that this is not something which can be proven, right?