But my worry is more about social issues than it is about the metaphysical. I'm worried about falling into the same trap as I would in a Sunday School class: challenging the popular opinion. If you are a freethinker who has every gone to a Bible study or Sunday School class in a typical evangelical protestant church, you may have found out quickly that they are not usually interesting in academic discussions that challenge their traditional religious views. They don't want to talk about things like, say, how paganism influenced the origins of Christianity. Or how perhaps the biblical author was mistaken, or how their agenda to convert people may have influenced their writing . . . NO! Just the mention of this sort of thing will get you some dirty looks, at the very least. And don't dare sit in Sunday School and say something like "As an atheist, this is how I understand ______." (fill in the blank).
But sometimes at the Unitarian meetings I still get that old familiar knot in my stomach, that feeling that I must not speak out what I'm really thinking, that I must sensor myself. I have gotten looks when expressing my skeptical views that seemed to say to me "Don't you dare even suggest that astrology, or near death experiences, or life after death, or whatever is not true!" I do get away with a whole lot more than I would at any evangelical church, I take it as a cost of inclusion that I must be able to tolerate the holders of some viewpoints that I think are totally bunk.
In the last SMART meeting I attended, the topic was "books that have influenced your life." One of the books I took was Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I wanted to read a passage aloud to the group but had a bit of difficulty finding something that would not offend believers in the paranormal too badly. This is a portion what I chose:
Science, Ann Druyan notes, is forever whispering in our ears, "Remember, you're very new at this. You might be mistaken. You've been wrong before." despite all the talk of humility, show me something comparable in religion. Scripture is said to be divinely inspired--a phrase with many meanings. But what if it is simply made up by fallible humans? Miracles are attested, but what if they are instead some mix of charlatanry, unfamiliar states of consciousness, misapprehensions of natural phenomena, and mental illness? No contemporary religion and no New Age belief seems to me to take sufficient account of the grandeur, magnificence, subtlety, and intricacy of the Universe revealed by science. The fact that so little of the findings of science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration.
But of course I might be wrong.
There was a moment of nervous sounding laughter after that last line. But I can't help it--I think Carl had it right.