“We Should Get Out of the Habit of Worshiping Anything”: Physicist Steven Weinberg on the Importance of Critical Thinking and Skepticism

In an excellent and thought provoking essay in the New York Review of Books today, the physicist Steven Weinberg reflects on his own personal lack of religious faith, but also offers a caution about the dangers of abandoning traditional religious belief:

“[W]e had better beware of substitutes. It has often been noted that the greatest horrors of the twentieth century were perpetrated by regimes—Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China—that while rejecting some or all of the teachings of religion, copied characteristics of religion at its worst: infallible leaders, sacred writings, mass rituals, the execution of apostates, and a sense of community that justified exterminating those outside the community.

When I was an undergraduate I knew a rabbi, Will Herberg, who worried about my lack of religious faith. He warned me that we must worship God, because otherwise we would start worshiping each other. He was right about the danger, but I would suggest a different cure: we should get out of the habit of worshiping anything.”

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to “We Should Get Out of the Habit of Worshiping Anything”: Physicist Steven Weinberg on the Importance of Critical Thinking and Skepticism

  1. Sarah says:

    Weinberg fails to consider that the need to worship is an in-built feature of human nature. We’re wired for it. Ninety-some percent of the world’s population believes in a supreme being of some form, and the majority of the rest worships the Earth, celebrities, political figures, or whatever else is handy. Weinberg doesn’t seem to consider that he and others like him, who find no need to worship anything (except perhaps their own intellects), are a statistical aberration. Chesterton made an observation along the lines of Rabbi Herberg: When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing — they believe in anything.

  2. Walt Haring says:

    Interesting how the previous poster equates “worship” with “belief”… thus completely missing the point of the article.

    Rational belief and direct experience are integral to growth. Worship, especially the mindless, unquestioning kind, is more akin to childish parent-baiting… trying to “prove” your sincerity by fervently demonstrating, rather than living, your beliefs.

    The “need to worship” is simply another form of mental, emotional, and spiritual laziness… and sometimes, just pure ego. “Look, look– I’m FAR more spiritual than you!”.

    I’ll never forget a particular cab driver I encountered in Dubai, whilst serving with the USN during Desert Storm. Like many of the residents he sought to practice his English by conversing with my friends and me, as he drove us to our destination. However, there was a definite smugness to his attitude… he was dealing with mere infidels, you see– westerners who had no understanding of Allah, and the sacred duty of Moslems to close up their shops and pray six times a day.

    He bragged of this, heavily implying that we were lesser humans, hardly spiritual at all, since we “only prayed once at night, before bed” (I assume he thought we were all Christians, and like those he’d seen in the movies). Needless to say, he was quite taken aback when I informed him that I had no need for formal prayer sessions, once, six, or even twenty times per day, that I prayed whenever I felt the need, and if he so desired I would pray right then and there, in his cab.

    Frankly, he almost freaked out. I think he was afraid that a lightning bolt would blow his cab to smithereens, for allowing such blasphemy… but I like to think that it later gave him some pause, some reason to consider foreigners in a somewhat different light than as mere “godless infidels”.

    If you feel the “need to worship” your God… well, have at it, sport, whatever floats your boat. But don’t expect to be taken as anything other than the immature, idolizing adolescent that you are.

    Think about it: who’s more attractive– an independent, growing, questioning, THINKING lover, who chooses to interact with you from mutual interest and affection… or a needy stalker who “worships” your every step, hoping to impress you with his/her “sincerity”?

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