Note: Barry Kosmin did not participate in this discussion. He was replaced by Ron Aaronson (spelling); history professor at Wayne State University.
Wow, what is it with people not knowing how to speak into a microphone! This goes for both the speakers and for the audience asking questions. The whole thing cuts in and out like a bad radio broadcast! I don’t know whether this is the fault of the organizers or the technical people recording it, but it sure is annoying!
Other than that issue, the only thing I really care to comment on is Phil Zuckerman’s pro-belief rant right at the end of this half. First of all, he throws in this jab about soup kitchens and homeless shelters with a strong inference that only the religious take part in such volunteer work (see 56:31). He was talking about hypocrisy on the part of non-believers at the time, but I fail to understand his point here. This tangent seems totally out of place with the rest of his comments and is rather insulting to the non-believers who are doing such charitable work.
The main theme of his “speech” (that what a person believes doesn’t really matter, only what they do) is naive and misguided because we can almost never predict the future harmful effects of seemingly harmless present-day irrational beliefs. I’m sure people never saw any harm in granting special properties to a Catholic Communion wafer. “Let them do their ritual. It’s harmless.” That is, until you treat said wafer improperly. Then it becomes “Host Desecration”, a crime for which people were jailed and even executed.
The penalties for Jews accused of defiling hosts were severe. False confessions were coerced by torture, and accused Jews were condemned and burned, sometimes with all the other Jews in the community, as happened in Berlitz in 1243. in Prague in 1389, and in many German cities, according to Ocker’s writings in the Harvard Theological Review. According to William Nichol in Christian Antisemitism, “over 100 instances of the charge have been recorded, in many cases leading to massacres.”
- from Wikipedia
This is only one tiny example of a seemingly harmless irrational belief having unforeseen harmful consequences. These kinds of beliefs are the real problem, because the harm is not immediately apparent, and thus difficult to guard against.
If a group has irrational or openly hateful beliefs, it doesn’t really matter that they don’t all act on them because, eventually, someone who has been raised with these beliefs and is surrounded by others who share and reinforce them will take that final step into acting on them. Again, it’s kind of naive to dismiss a belief as not harming anyone right now when the potential for harm in the future is so high. This would be like ignoring a smoldering powder keg. “Sure, it’s making a bit of a stink and smoke, but it’s not harming anyone. Let it be.” Wouldn’t it be more prudent to just go and dump some water on it before it blows up?