Again there is little news to dissect, analyze, or critique today, and I haven’t seen anything comment-worthy for a few days. But after I read a few lame columns in The New York Times and Washington Post, I thought, “It would be great to do a column for them.” Of course that will never happen, but I realized that everyone must have a column in them (yes, Hitchens said that about books: “everyone has a book in them, and that’s where it should stay”).
So here is a question for you:
The New York Times has given you 1000 words to write an op-ed column on a topic of your choice. You get one shot. What would you like to tell the readers?
We’re assuming it will be accepted pretty much as is, and will be lightly edited for style but not substantively altered.
This is a tough one. You could write on a current event or stuff happening lately, or you could write a more general column, like Charles Blow’s column today on “colorism.” Remember, you are trying to change people’s minds.
My first thought was to write about atheism—or rather, the proposition that “faith is not a virtue”. The topic would be the advantage to you and to society of adopting an empirical attitude, so that your opinions, insofar as they purport to be based on facts, are indeed based on empirically verifiable facts.
I wrote a piece for Slate along these lines some time ago, but that was intended to distinguish religious faith from the colloquial way people say they have “faith in science” or “faith in my doctor”, which are really “confidence based on experience.” This time I’d like to describe why faith, construed as belief without evidence, is not a virtue but a vice. As I say in the last sentence of Faith Versus Fact, “Above all, I’ll have achieved my aim if, when you hear someone described as a ‘person of faith’, you see it as criticism rather than praise.
I suppose this was inspired by Tish Harrison Warren’s repeated osculations of the rump of Anglicanism in her weekly NYT column, in which she makes assertions with no facts behind them. There is never a column calling out this kind of palaver. I make no pretense that I’d say something that others haven’t said before, but my view is that the more people decry faith and religion publicly, the faster it will disappear. The problem would be that I’d have to defuse counterarguments (e.g., “religion isn’t based on facts but is a big metaphor”), with not much space to do so.
But I digress. What would you write on, and why?