By Ian Tingen
I’ve been seeing an article written by Owen Jones of the UK Independent pop up quite a bit recently. In it, he takes Richard Dawkins to task for being rather … prickly about Islam. It’s a decent piece, one full of a sentiment that seems to be gaining more and more steam. Even so, there is one small portion of his column that I take issue with, reprinted here:
“What is really meant is that while skin colour is not optional, religious conviction is. This is a claim I simply cannot subscribe to. It understates just how powerful and life-consuming beliefs can be – ironically, something that is simultaneously used as a criticism against religion by anti-theists. Personally, I cannot imagine being me without my atheism or my socialism. For those brought up all their lives in a religious environment, who are strongly emotionally welded to their beliefs, their faith is not something that can simply be switched off. It is beyond unrealistic to describe religious belief as a “choice” like, say, what clothes you should wear to a friend’s party or whether to have a ham or chicken sandwich for lunch.”
Jones is right in one sense – religious conviction is something that is welded to many people’s notion of themselves. Even so, religious belief is a choice – albeit one that is made for many without their consent. Also true is that by the time people are actually old enough to realize the implications and arguments of that choice, it’s a daunting prospect to start unwelding all of the social support and community connections made through their faith. While I don’t want to fall into the trap many New Atheists do (over-reliance on the ideal of individual rationality at the expense of acknowledging the importance of society), it is imperative to remember that faith is a choice; just an extremely hard one to unmake.