Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not
rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary
rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that
contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things,
but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit
of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions
dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and
Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning "punctuated evolution" and the
unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite
deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by
mutual excommunication. (My own annoyance at Professor Dawkins and
Daniel Dennett, for their cringe-making proposal that atheists should
conceitedly nominate themselves to be called "brights" is a part of a
continuous argument.) We are not immune to the lure of wonder and
mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that
the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and
Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the
mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture,
sustains the mind and--since there is no other metaphor--also the
soul. We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever
find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more
crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. (In fact, if a proper
statistical inquiry could ever be made, I am sure the evidence would
be the other way.) We are reconciled to living only once, except
through our children, for whom we are perfectly happy to notice that
we must make way, and room. We speculate that it is at least possible
that, once people accepted the fact of their short struggling lives,
they might behave better toward each other and not worse. We believe
with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And
we know for a fact that the corollary holds true--that religion has
caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better
than others, but award themselves permission to behave in ways that
would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.
Most important of all, perhaps, we infidels do not need any machinery
of reinforcement. We are those who Blaise Pascal took into account
when he wrote to the one who says, "I am so made that I cannot
Christopher Hitchens

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