Physicist Lawrence Krauss, in a recent brief essay for Scientific American, recounts what happened to him when he asked, in a public forum, a simple question of a religious man. Krauss wanted to know how the man reconciled his religious views with his scientific views.
A reasonable question. No big whoop, right?
Last May I attended a conference on science and public policy at which a representative of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave a keynote address. When I questioned how he reconciled his own reasonable views about science with the sometimes absurd and unjust activities of the Church—from false claims about condoms and AIDS in Africa to pedophilia among the clergy—I was denounced by one speaker after another for my intolerance.
Remember that. Simply asking a religious person to give an account—a justification—of his or her beliefs is intolerant. It is a form of shaming. Everybody knows that religious justifications are, if not poor, then highly personal, and so you must not ever ask such a question. It’s embarrassing. It’s like being the little boy at the parade who points and says loudly:
The emperor has no clothes!
If it doesn’t come up, everything can go along smoothly. And so the—“Why do you believe what you believe?”—question must never be asked, or at least not pressed. It’s rude. And it is a person’s right, when it comes to religion, to just believe anything, however ridiculous or cognitively dissonant, and be left the fuck alone about it. To declare one’s belief, if one chooses to do so, is sufficient, and if it is done, then, from that moment forward, others must fall into a hush and back off about it. That’s called good manners.
Got it, Lawrence Krauss?
Don’t ask, don’t tell.