Skip to content

Food for Thought

Food for the Eagle – Adam Savage’s speech to the Harvard Humanist Society

I have to admit, after reading Adam Savage’s speech, I didn’t quite know what to think or write.  To say that Adam’s speech was unreasoned or ineloquently given would be a falsehood (to be fair I wasn’t there, but the “Adam” that I was “seeing” as I read this was fairly eloquent given the words).  He has a point.  He has several points.  And that’s where the difficulty begins.

There has been a debate raging through the ages that has caused more violence and tragedy than greed and avarice ever could, and it is called religion.  Depending on your sources, you will find that there are around 20-25 major religions currently in the world.  That number does not count all of the sub-religions/faiths/belief systems under a main heading (i.e. Lutheran/Catholic/Protestant/etc. under Christianity).  Some of the religions believe in self-enlightenment.  Some believe in a singular god.  Some believe in multiple gods, though you usually choose a singular god as your main focus.

But all of these religions have one thing in common:  a belief in something that fundamentally cannot be proven.  You can speak all you want about feeling God and seeing His works, or feeling energy flowing through the Earth, or peace and serenity after a ritual or meditation.  But when asked to truly prove something, truly prove it where none can argue (i.e. as universal a truth as gravity), all religions fall short.  They can show you pictures, recite history, point to other people who have seen and believe.  But I have yet to hear a compelling argument from one side that can’t be countered by another compelling argument from another side.  It all comes down to belief in the end.

So who is right?  Is Adam Savage correct?  Is the preacher at the local church (and if so, which church)?  Or perhaps maybe Terry Pratchett is correct.  In the Discworld novels, you literally get what you think is coming to you.  If you believe you lived a good life and should go to a heaven, you do.  If you believe you did wrong and should go to hell, you do.  What’s to say Terry isn’t correct?  Can I prove it beyond a doubt?  Can I prove it beyond your doubt?

That is what makes this whole debate about religion so frustrating.  Oh, not the debate itself.  I rather like to talk and debate things.  It keeps the mind sharp (or at least sharp-ish), and to me blind faith is in some ways worse than no faith.  No, it’s the proving it part.  Actually, no, it’s some people’s incessant need to prove their faith to others.  To be clear, I’m not talking about Adam Savage’s speech.  He was asked to give a speech, and he did.  Nothing wrong with that.

What I’m referring to is some people’s desires to shove their beliefs down my throat whether I like them or not.  The Crusades and the Inquisition were two major examples of this, true, but every day there are religious persecutions happening that make me look longingly at the Crusades and Inquisition.  At least they were honest.  Do as I do, believe what I believe, or I’ll kill you.  There, nice and straightforward.

What do we have now?  If you don’t believe what I believe, I’ll smile and nod, and then I’ll badmouth you to everyone I know, trashing your moral character with more ease than I take out the garbage.  I’ll go to church and listen intently to a impassioned speech about loving your neighbor and forgiving people, and then go out into the narthex and take sides against another member based solely on what I heard from a fried (who got it on good authority from their friend).  Or perhaps I’ll badmouth and be a smart ass to a local Christian because of all the wrongs “they” did to pagans years ago, becoming the very thing that I’m bashing them for.  Or perhaps I’ll become a snide, manipulative politician who can get away with whatever I feel like because I can just say it was God’s will.  He won’t mind; He never writes anymore anyway….

So what am I getting at with all of this?  I’m not sure.   Ah, three words spoken honestly.  Three words I wish more people would memorize.  Three words that I wish I personally could remember more often.  It’s a admission of ignorance.  It’s a admission that I personally don’t have the answers.  Adam Savage spoke from his heart and presented his argument.  But when he said this line, I began to truly respect him and his point of view:

“Though a primary mover is the most complex and thus (given Occam’s razor) the least likely of all possible solutions to the particular problem of how we got here, I can’t prove it true or false, and there’s nothing to really discuss about it.”

That is something I can respect.  Does he bash Christians or any other religion for what they believe?  No, he simply states that he can’t prove it true or false.  And because he can’t prove it true or false, it’s not something he feels he needs to go on about.

Whatever I believe, however I believe it, that’s up to me to decide.  It’s up to me to figure out what I believe, how I feel, and what I do.  What is not up to me, though, and never will be, is what you believe.  I, unless something happens to prove it otherwise, will never, ever have the right to say what you should believe.  You want to say God is in heaven and controls everything?  OK.  You want to say that God (at least that God) doesn’t exist or is just one of many?  OK.  You want to say God is hidden in the fourteenth rivet to the right of the first left on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower?  OK.  How can I truly prove you wrong?  Maybe God likes heavy metal….

Which religion is the right one?  I’m not sure, and I never will be.  Well, I suppose one day I will be, but then it won’t be belief anymore:

“Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn’t believing. It’s where belief stops, because it isn’t needed any more.”  Terry Pratchett, Pyramids