Weinberg has a knack for seeing through pretensions. His reference to Sontag’s “piety without content” reminds me of Martin Gardner’s “loyal liars” in his delightful and depressing theological novel The Flight of Peter Fromm (available from Prometheus — I’m going to be using it in my apologetics course this fall).
MR. WEINBERG: In my experience most physicists are not particularly religious. A few are – no question about it. But most are not. In fact, I would say they’re not so much irreligious as simply uninterested in this subject. They don’t know enough or think enough about religion to qualify as atheists. And but I think that’s not so limited to physicists. In my experience many Americans think of religion as important, and want to do whatever they can to support it. But if you ask them what they themselves believe, you’ll find they’re very uncertain about their religious beliefs. They don’t actually accept the theology of their official church.
One piece of evidence I give for this is the fact that I have very good friends who belong to religious denominations whose teaching is that since I don’t accept their teaching I am damned for all eternity. And you would think that these friends would try to convert me. But they never do. Now, you could explain this in various ways. It may be that they really don’t like me very much and are just as glad to see me damned for all eternity — that’s a possible explanation. But another explanation which I tend to think is more likely is that although they know what their church teaches and they give lip service to it, they really don’t believe that if you don’t follow that particular form of worship you’re damned for all eternity. And when you talk to them about what they believe they’re likely to say something like this: “That I think there is a great mystery; we don’t know what it’s all about. Who knows what’s going to happen when we die? Who knows whether there’s a heaven or hell? I was born into this faith. I think it’s important to have a faith, therefore I will continue to attach myself to this faith.” But it really is pretty much what Susan Sontag a long time ago called “piety without content.” They believe in religion more than they believe in what religion teaches.