At Newsweek, Lisa Miller reviews Collision, a new film featuring a series of debates between Christopher Hitchens and Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson, and calls for a reframing of the discussion about religious faith:
There are other voices out there, and other, possibly more productive ways to frame a conversation about the benefits and potential dangers of religious faith. In 2003 the historian and poet Jennifer Hecht wrote Doubt: A History, an exhaustive survey of atheism. She advises readers to investigate questions of belief like a poet, rather than like a scientist. “It is easier to force yourself to be clear,” she writes, “if you avoid using believer, agnostic, and atheist and just try to say what you think about what we are and what’s out there.” Hecht is as much of an atheist as Hitchens and Harris, she says, but she approaches questions about the usefulness of religion with an appreciation of what she calls “paradox and mystery and cosmic crunch.” “The more I learn, the more complicated things get, the more sympathy I have with religion,” she told me one recent morning by phone. “I don’t think it’s so bad if religion survives, if it’s getting together once a week and singing a song in a beautiful building, to commemorate life’s most important moments.”
This week Harvard’s humanist chaplain Greg Epstein comes out with Good Without God, a book arguing that people can have everything religion offers—community, transcendence, and, above all, morality—without the supernatural. This seems to me self-evident, yet the larger point is important. We need urgently to talk about these things: ethics, progress, education, science, democracy, tolerance, and justice—and to understand the reasons why religion can (but does not always) hamper their flourishing. This new conversation won’t be sexy, but let’s face it: neither is two white men in a pub sparring over God.