I am, however, neither as well-schooled, as widely read nor as intelligent as either of these famous individuals. Having said that, I believe that my opinion (ie. that of just one person) matters just as much as theirs does - which is really rather pleasing. So after a little internal debate about whether to go to this subject or not, here goes;
I think that the one thing I have heard so far from Professor Dawkins with which I take exception is that he couldn't care less about anyone else's opinion on the subject. I think I know what he means - i.e. that this is a personal issue and he is free to hold his own opinion regardless of anyone else's, but I feel that the wording (witnessed in a recorded interview) was unfortunate. Hitchens said it much more effectively (if indeed he was saying the same thing) when he paraphrased Thomas Jefferson who reportedly wrote: "...it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg...".
I love this sentiment - it very neatly encapsulates my feelings about religious belief - we are all free to believe what we wish. But I do think that there is a frequently crossed line which, if we all showed equal respect for one another, need never be crossed.
Nobody has the right to impose their beliefs in a god or gods upon me. I consider my obligations as a member of the society I choose to live in, to be to observe the laws of the land and to behave in a way which fosters the rule of law and does not incite others to transgress the law. I don't have any obligation to believe what my neighbour (figurative or otherwise) believes with regard to supernatural or spiritual subjects.
Does this make me an atheist? An agnostic? As my own thoughts on this subject continue to develop, I wonder why any generalising label is necessary at all. My suspicion is that people prefer to have labels such as these in order to quickly, efficiently and safely place others into pigeonholes. Others will use this technique whether I wish them to or not, so there is little point in wasting energy trying to change that. Instead, I am not particularly concerned with using a label to describe my beliefs; I prefer instead to describe them in as simple terms as I can manage, just so that there is no room for doubt. However, typically I only do so if asked (this blog being an exception), although I very much enjoy a discussion on the subject.
My beliefs are simple; after spending approximately thirty years wearing the label 'christian' - sub heading 'catholic' - I no longer believe in a supernatural omnipotent being, life force or energy. In the face of a complete absence of any credible evidence proving that such an entity does or has ever existed, I believe that people who do have such a belief are mistaken. Having said that, I do not require anyone else to share my beliefs - they are mine and that's all there is to it.
I wish religious folks would accept that people such as me and those with similar beliefs have a right to believe what we believe, and that attempting to change my/our beliefs is in fact rather presumptuous and in some cases (depending upon the nature of the approach) downright intrusive. It goes both ways - I have a similar distaste for some zealous atheist groups who adopt what I believe is an unnecessarily aggressive posture when choosing to profess their own beliefs. I get their point, but the method of delivery is frequently hard to distinguish from that about which they seem to be objecting.
I am content with my beliefs as they are - I have no need for anyone else to confirm them by also believing in the same things; that would not change what I believe - my beliefs exist independently of anyone's ability, wish or desire to support them. I do wish on occasion that people who wear religious labels would understand that, and that me saying "I don't agree with you." does not have to be an assault on their value system, but instead merely an honest expression of difference between us.
There are flashes of light amidst this kind of murk; last night I learned a little about a vibrant culture wherein they accept not two but FIVE separate and equal genders within society...how wonderful! Perhaps humanity can yet discover similar ways to accept difference of belief and which welcome and nurture free thought and freedom to live.
In the words of one of my all time favourite songs: if only we could learn to "Let it Be"...