Patsy McGarry Needs To Do His Homework

Patsy McGarry Needs To Do His Homework

Crazy vs Religion
The Irish Times religious affairs correspondent seems like a nice enough chap and a decent writer/journalist too. He and Seán Moncrieff had a pleasant chat on Newstalk during the week, ranging over Catholicism, Christianity, the history of the Jews in Ireland, etc. Most entertaining.

Then Patsy said something which made me drop my monocle into my afternoon brandy.

When Seán politely broached the subject of McGarry's own religious views, Patsy freely admitted to being an agnostic because

it takes too much faith to be an atheist.

At which comment, both men chuckled condescendingly, mentioning 'aggressive secularists' in the same breath as religious fundamentalists.

I was stunned. My head began to spin. McGarry has been religious affairs correspondent for the Irish Times (the paper of record!) for the last 13 years. And he still doesn't know the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Or for that matter, he doesn't even know the definition of an atheist.

Let me elucidate a little for the casual reader.

(For the one millionth time) it takes no faith whatsoever to be an atheist. Atheism is by definition a lack of belief. Does it take 'too much faith' not to believe in astrology? Or in Santa Claus? Or fairies at the bottom of the garden? Zeus, Thor, Mithra, Seth? No, it takes zero faith.

People present all kinds of  religious propositions, for example that plenary indulgences can remove the temporal punishment of purgatory, or that wearing the scapular will prevent death by drowning or fire. No, let's take something simpler–that when we die we go to heaven or hell.

To demonstrate their proposition, these people will be asked for evidence. However, none exists. Thus any rational person would conclude that heaven and hell are just simplistic and arbitrary man-made fictions designed to scare naughty children.

So, the proposition (existence of heaven and hell) plus the evidence (none) gives a final result of: Case Not Proven. Next hypothesis please?

But bizarrely to McGarry, this simple logic is some kind of 'leap of faith.' To be fair, this is probably because of his woeful and inexcusable ignorance of what atheism means. As our usual clientèle here are well aware by now, the term atheism (theos) relates to a belief in god(s) while agnosticism refers to actual knowledge (gnosis) of god(s).

So the terms actually refer to two wholly unrelated magisteria. Thus, one can be (as I am) an agnostic atheist. I don't see any compelling evidence for a divine interventionist creator (thus lack belief), but I also admit to having an incomplete understanding of the universe (lack knowledge).

Following his chummy guffaw with Moncrieff, McGarry added a hasty anecdote about an Anglican who, in response to Patsy's admitting he was agnostic, apparently replied 'well, aren't we all.' And we were assured that was a 'typically Anglican' comment, both presenter and guest agreed smugly. The suggestion being that the Anglican was eminently more down-to-earth and philosophical than any 'aggressive' atheist.

How this canard keeps rearing its head I'll never know. That we are all equally ignorant of those very questions for which religion claims to have the answers, is the default position for us secularists. I mean of course no-one knows what happens after death.

If an Anglican makes the throwaway comment 'we're all agnostics,' then the follow up question has to be: 'if that's true, then how, in the name of Jabba The Hutt, can you claim to know that God himself dictated a rambling instruction book to some superstitious Bronze Age tribesmen?'

Where is your smugness now? You say we're all agnostics, well fine I agree. Then be an agnostic, leave your childish religion, and stop telling everyone that God told you exactly how we have to live our lives.

But of course, harmless old Anglicanism won't be subjected to any scrutiny by McGarry. No, the lazy, comfortable, inconsistent logic that allows Patsy to entirely misunderstand 'faith' is the very thing that keeps him in his job. He's inoffensive and respectful and 'understanding of faith' (as in 'compassionate to' rather that literally 'knowledgeable about' faith) in all its forms.

Though at first I wondered 'what the hell is going on over at the Times? Thirteen years in the religion business and he doesn't even understand his own position on faith?'

But then I remembered John Waters.

And I said 'Oh.'